The Terrifying Implications of Gene Drives: a PSA
From etcgroup.org, Feb. 22, 2018: ‘Movements of Millions Say No to Gene Drives as Brazil Attempts to Legalize Genetic Extinction Technology’
MONTREAL, MEXICO CITY, SÃO PAULO, February 22, 2018—The largest rural movements in Brazil, representing well over a million farmers, are protesting a new Brazilian regulation that would allow release of gene drives, the controversial genetic extinction technology, into Brazil’s ecosystems and farms.
On February 3rd and 4th, the National Coalition of Farmworkers and Rural, Water and Forest Peoples met near São Paulo, Brazil and sounded the alarm about new Brazilian regulatory changes – a resolution passed on January 15th by Brazil’s National Technical Commission on Biosafety that would allow the release of gene drive organisms into the environment.  The effect of this change is that Brazil becomes the first country in the world to establish a legal channel for the release of gene drives into the environment. The new rule could potentially make it even easier to release a living gene drive organism than a GMO seed.
The farmers organizations are concerned about agribusiness giants spreading more transgenic seeds, but also attempts to directly change the nature of wild plants and animals.
Scientists and Peasant Movements’ Concerns About Gene Drives:
Brazil’s new “normative resolution” allows the Biosafety Commission to approve the release of products derived from what they called “Innovative Precision Breeding Techniques” without going through established biosafety risk assessment or requiring labeling, if the Biosafety Commission considers they are not “GMO.” Among the technologies enlisted for such exception are several new genetic modification techniques, including CRISPR technology and gene drives.
Gene drives are a controversial new technology that uses CRISPR-Cas9 to spread a specific genetic trait through an entire species or population – in some cases with the purpose of driving species to extinction. Current gene drives experiments have been conducted on insects, rodents and plants. If the inserted genetic trait results in only male offspring, as is being attempted for rodents and mosquitoes, a full wild population or even a species could go extinct. As far as is known, gene drives have never been released into the environment anywhere in the world.
“Gene drives organisms pose unique threats to nature and livelihoods”, says Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America Director for ETC Group. “It is the first time that the biotech industry has intentionally designed GMOs to spread aggressively in the natural environment and contaminate wild species. It seems surreal that a decision to impose such great dangers to a mega diverse country such Brazil would be taken by a small technical commission, without even involvement of either Congress or civil society”.
[wd here: you’ll want to read the Gene Drives link above. It goes to a Sept. 2016 ‘Reckless Driving: Gene Drives and the End of Nature, A briefing from the Civil Society Working Group on Gene Drives’ page. To wet your whistle, it begins:
“Imagine that by releasing a single fly into the wild you could genetically alter all the flies on the planet—causing them all to turn yellow, carry a toxin, or go extinct. This is the terrifyingly powerful premise behind gene drives: a new and controversial genetic engineering technology that can permanently alter an entire species by releasing one bioengineered individual.
Gene drives can entirely re-engineer ecosystems, create fast spreading extinctions, and intervene in living systems at a scale far beyond anything ever imagined. When gene drives are engineered into a fast-reproducing species they could alter their populations within short timeframes, from months to a few years, and rapidly cause extinction. This radical new technology, also called a “mutagenic chain reaction,”  is unlike anything seen before. It combines the extreme genetic engineering of synthetic biology and new gene editing techniques with the idea that humans can and should use such powerful unlimited tools to control nature. Gene drives will change the fundamental relationship between humanity and the natural world forever.”
Then come sections on how gene drives work, examples of four sorts of gene drives, how they can be used: industrial ag, military, attacking disease, artificially ‘enhancing’ conservation, what are the environmental dangers, all five are in that section are breathtakingly horrifying, of course, but ‘radically altering the course of evolution, and the cui bono? possibilities/probabilities in the ‘dangers to society’ section seem to be the writing already on the wall, imo.] But back to this exposé:
“Concerns About Biological Warfare and Use by Agribusiness/Chemical Giants
At the gathering, the movements and organizations signed an open letter stating that they “emphatically reject the CTNBio’s Normative Resolution 16/2018, which seeks to legalize and release without regulation, assessment or labeling new transgenic organisms which will have an impact on peasants, food sovereignty, health and the environment. We particularly denounce and reject the CTNBio’s intent to legalize ‘gene drives,’ i.e. transgenic organisms that can be used to drive species into extinction and as biological weapons…”
Because of the technology’s power and inherent risks, Gene drive are considered a potential bioweapon. According to 1,200 emails released under access to information requests by a group of civil society organizations, the US Military has become one of the main funders of gene drives research at the global level. (They acknowledge the potential use as a bioweapon but allege that their interest is only defensive.) The second biggest funder of gene drives is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which claims to be supporting the development of the technology to combat pests, such as the mosquitoes that carry malaria, by genetically eliminating their ability to reproduce.
The movements argue instead that it is giant agribusiness corporations who will benefit, as they will seek to manipulate herbicide-resistant weeds to reinstate their susceptibility to chemicals, and they “will be free to invade fields and markets with new genetically manipulated products, free from assessments, regulations or labels, thus expediting releases and hiking their profits.”
“Brazil’s move to include this technology in its legislation now is probably aimed at influencing the outcomes in the [current] discussion at the UN in a effort to preempt a decision on a moratorium. This is unacceptable,” said Toledo. “CTNBio never opened the space for consultations with civil society or independent researcher in its own country. They also choose to disregard the scientific debate at the CBD, which shows that there is not yet adequate capacity nor biosafety frameworks to evaluate the results and impacts of new biotechnologies, particularly gene drives.”
The biotech industry has attempted to exempt new biotechnologies from biosafety legislation in other countries, including at the European Union, the US, Chile, Australia and New Zealand. Argentina approved a similar normative resolution in 2015 – also in an administrative measure and without any discussion. However, the Brazilian resolution is the first to explicitly include gene drives in its scope.”
La Via Campesina Int’l Peasant’s Movement/English.
‘The project of deliberately exterminating species is a crime against nature and humanity… Developing tools of extermination in the garb of saving the world is a crime. A crime that must not be allowed to continue any further.’
~ Dr. Vandana Shiva, India
“It’s fine to fool Mother Nature if we say so!”
The Ruling Class
Even realizing that JtC will need to help me cross-post this at C99%, I’d like to catch up with some Tweets by the dedicated Colin Todhunter:
Crossposted from: café babylon