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Scientists Warn about risks of Gene Editing Deregulation

Scientists Warn about risks of Gene Editing Deregulation

A Gene Drive (GE) study by three independent European scientific organisations* warn of the risks of gene drives being promoted for use in predator control and against deregulation. [1]

This directly contradicts claims by industry scientists that gene editing has no more risks than traditional breeding and goes against lobbyists' calls for new forms of GE pest controls to be deregulated. Yet, predictions for the success of pest eradication are hypothetical and have only been gained from computer simulations.

The report explicitly acknowledges that gene editing (GE) technology “is currently not fit for application due to important uncertainties at the scientific, technical and practical levels and due to serious limitations with their functioning...existing biosafety rules are deficient and not fully equipped to manage the unique risks posed by gene drives”.

Brossard et al. found that GE was being promoted in the media and public fora needed more responsibility in reporting. By not communicating the extent of uncertainties around specific projects, the expectations of the public and the funders were exaggerated. [2]

"This study confirms the concern that industry lobbying to deregulate gene editing is at best misguided and at worse self-serving," says Jon Carapiet, national spokesman for GE-Free NZ.

Other recent scientific publications have raised concerns over the dangers of gene editing, finding that GE causes multiple mutations and unexpected changes to the organism's cells.

Recently New Zealand's Biological Heritage Crazy and Ambitious conference held a session on GE pest eradication using gene drives. [3] Federated Farmers urged the government to change the way GE is regulated, by altering legislation to permit gene editing techniques, as without it NZ science would be left behind.

“This fear tactic was used in the 1990s when transgenic GMOs were introduced and they did not to mention the regulatory approved five GE field tests that have been closed down prematurely," said Claire Bleakley, GE-Free NZ President.

"The failed GE trials left the taxpayer to clean up and resulted in the loss of over 85 scientific positions."

Federated Farmers appears to be still ignoring the warnings about the problems and dangers gene editing technologies pose. They are also blind to alternative solutions to improving agriculture and regenerating the system.

Real world experiments have not been as positive. The Cayman Islands released sterile GE mosquitoes altered to drive extinction but the experiment was closed prematurely. It is unknown why but there were concerns over unintended side effects. Though the mosquitoes were supposed to be sterile males, there were found to be a large number of GE females transmitting disease through their bite. [4]

There are many unknowns for GE and around the complexities of the diverse genetic variations in the wild populations; the effects of differing environments that the organisms have adapted to,and interactions with other species.

“Many people have been promoting GE and lax regulation," said Claire Bleakley. “It is concerning that they appear to be ignoring scientists' warnings about GE when advancing their opinions.”

“It is short sighted and dangerous to try and remove regulatory oversight when scientists who are working closely with these technologies warn us of the unknown and known risks that GE pose."

It is positive that the Minister for the Environment is considering a mix of proven pest eradication solutions, rather than GE 'magic bullets' and future promises.

*Critical Scientists Switzerland (CSS), European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) and Federation of German Scientists (FGS/VDW).

References:

[1] The science, biology and techniques of Gene Drives (2019) https://genedrives.ch/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Summary_GDR.pdf

[2] Promises and perils of gene drives: Navigating the communication of complex, post-normal science (2019) https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/116/16/7692.full.pdf

[3] Govt urged to discuss gene tech for pest eradication Amber-Leigh Woolf, Stuff 20 May 2019 https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/112855176/govt-urged-to-discuss-gene-tech-for-pest-eradication

[4] https://caymannewsservice.com/2019/02/oxitec-evaluation-not-complete/

ENDS:

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