Civil society organisations around the globe demand a moratorium on genetically engineered gene drives at UN Biodiversity Conference
Berlin, 1 December 2022 – Ahead of the UN Biodiversity Conference COP 15 and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in Montreal over 140 civil society organisations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Australia and the Americas have issued a joint manifesto exposing alarming risks of environmental releases of genetically engineered gene drive organisms which could lead to irreversible ecological consequences and drive entire species into extinction.
Gene drives use new genetic engineering techniques such as CRISPR-Cas to forcibly spread new genetic information within the genome of populations and entire species of organisms in nature, including traits that can cause their extinction. The signatories of the manifesto are urging national governments at COP15 to resolve critical legal, environmental, biosafety and governance issues as well as fundamental ethical and cultural questions before considering any environmental release of gene drive organisms.
The call for a global moratorium is consistent with demands at previous occasions including at COP13 in Cancun and COP14 in Sharm El-Sheikh. „This controversy will not go away“, said Barbara Pilz, who coordinates the international Stop Gene Drives campaign. „We will continue to fight for a global moratorium on this pretentious concept of reprogramming and extincting entire species in nature.“
The manifesto highlights the need for thorough and genuine risk assessment and uncovers the lack of participatory decision-making processes on this topic to date. It proposes the inclusion of multi-disciplinary expertise and respect for diverse knowledge systems in any processes of technology assessment involving gene drives. This should include indigenous peoples and local communities whose territories are among those being proposed for the first releases of gene drive organisms.
Recalling the goals of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, Pilz added:
„We urge decision makers at COP15 to approach the issue of gene drives with utmost caution. Once released, they cannot be controlled, reversed or recalled and will respect no borders. This technology adds immense risks to the conservation of biological diversity and is at odds with the concept of nature protection. Let us not create another destructive legacy to future generations. ”
Representatives of the Stop Gene Drives campaign and of other signatories of the manifesto will attend the events of the Convention on Biological Diversity in person in Montreal this December and can be reached for comment. They will join other strong civil society voices striving for inclusive and participatory processes of precautionary technology assessment and equitable decision making on the subject of synthetic biology and gene drives.
The full text of the manifesto is available here and it is still open for signature.