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SHARM EL SHEIKH, EGYPT — Today, the African Centre for Biodiversity and Friends of the Earth International held a press conference at the 2018 UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) 14th Conference of the Parties to call for a global moratorium on the environmental release of gene drives, a new genetic extinction technology, and to caution for stronger regulation of synthetic biology.

From November 17-29th, international conservation and environmental leaders will meet to call on governments to protect biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ rights from controversial new biotechnologies. Gene drives have the capacity to wipe out or alter species forever, and to significantly disrupt or modify the ecosystems on which humanity strongly depends for its survival. Gene drives pose serious and potentially irreversible threats to biodiversity and ecosystems, human health, as well as national sovereignty, peace and food sovereignty.

The first proposed application for gene drive is being led in Burkina Faso by the Target Malaria Project, funded by the Gates Foundation, designed to eradicate mosquito populations and thus malaria transmission. This Trojan horse project is exploiting a public health crisis in Africa, despite the lack of underlying science to support its efficacy as a sound medical intervention.

“We should not be used as lab rats in an experiment that could devastate African ecosystems. We ask delegates at COP14 to put the brakes on any release of gene drives.”

Mariann Bassey, Friends of the Earth International and chair of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa

“Burkina Faso is about to face a health and ecological catastrophe. This project risks creating a social and environmental crisis in these local communities. Burkinabe civil society groups are denouncing the project: we refuse to be the guinea pigs of the science of the unknown. We have our own indigenous solutions to put an end to malaria.”

Ali de Goamma Topsoba, president of Burkina Faso based Terre a Vie

Agricultural proposals such as spreading pesticide susceptibility back into weeds that have developed resistance, along with reports that the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the largest funders of gene drive research, highlight wider corporate and military interests in the technology that are being masked by the Target Malaria project.

“Gene drives are threatening food sovereignty and peasant-led agriculture. Small scale farmers don’t need synthetic biology such as gene drives organisms or genome editing to feed communities. La Via Campesina insists that the industrial agriculture process annihilates the human family that is at the heart of small-scale agroecology.”

Geneviève Lalumière, Peasant seed saver from La Via Campesina North America

“Gene drives have the capacity to wipe out or alter species forever, and to significantly disrupt or modify the ecosystems on which humanity strongly depends for its survival. Any release of gene drive organisms, including for research, holds the threat to trigger ecological domino effects with unforeseeable negative consequences.”

Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, Federation of German Scientists

“Twenty years ago the UN stopped agribusiness from pushing sterile terminator organisms. Now it is once again agribusiness who will benefit from these spreading sterile exterminator organisms. The Convention on Biological Diversity must act again to defend farmers and the natural world.”

Jim Thomas, co-director of ETC Group

Given the lack of knowledge to fully assess the possible consequences, it is crucial to strictly apply the Precautionary Principle and an international moratorium on any release of gene drive organisms as the scientifically responsible step.

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Notes to editors:
The term synthetic biology describes the new generation of genetic engineering and is one of the most pressing topics at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD is the only international body discussing the need to regulate this rapidly growing field, which some project to be a $40-billion industry by 2020. Based on past international negotiations, it is predicted that at the Egypt CBD Conference of the Parties, several countries with investments in biotechnology will attempt to undo the progress made on developing precautionary regulations at the international level, while many of the countries with the most biodiverse ecosystems at stake will fight to protect their natural resources and peoples’ livelihoods from the risks involved.

To date, there is no international governance and virtually no national regulations, safety or environmental risk assessment on these new genetic technologies, a crucial step and component to understanding possible costs to people, communities and the environment.

One of the most important debates this year at the COP 14 is about gene drives, a risky new population suppression and extinction technology. This technology could lead to unpredictable, and potentially uncontrollable, consequences for the environment, human health and agricultural systems. These applications are designed to force a particular genetically-engineered trait through an entire wild population by causing deliberate population suppressions and extinctions.

In light of the significant ecological and societal threats posed by genetically engineered gene drives, civil society organizations are calling on governments at the Convention to put in place a moratorium on any environmental release of this new technology and any further experimental application of gene drives.