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December 2015 - Briefing - Genetic Engineering, Risk assessment

Inherent risks and the need to regulate

Dr. Ricarda A. Steinbrecher

Over the last 5-10 years there have been rapid developments in genetic engineering techniques (genetic modification). Along with these has come the increasing ability to make deeper and more complex changes in the genetic makeup and metabolic pathways of living organisms. This has led to the emergence of two new fields of genetic engineering that overlap with each other: synthetic biology and the so-called New Breeding Techniques (NBTs).

As regards NBTs, it is of concern that many efforts seem designed primarily to avoid having to go through the regulatory process for GMOs, whilst choosing names that make it difficult for the public to see that genetic engineering (genetic modification) is being used. This goes alongside efforts to weaken the precautionary principle, which is there to guard against adopting technologies that are considered likely to bring negative impacts on human and/or environmental health in the future.

Currently there is a list of 7 “new” genetic engineering techniques (NBTs) before the European Commission, which is deciding whether or not the products of these techniques, when applied to plants, are covered by the EU GMO laws.

These techniques each bring their own set of risks and uncertainties. Whilst many of these are the same as with older GM techniques there are also serious additional concerns. The briefing concludes that there is a scientific case for classifying all these techniques as GM and regulating their use with as much rigour as previous and current GM techniques.

November 2015 - Article - Climate COP21 - Climate change & Agriculture
Helena Paul

This article gives a brief history of ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’, and shows how currently the term can equally be applied to both industrial monocultures and agroecology. The level of corporate interest is high, including Monsanto, Walmart, Danone, and the big fertiliser companies. France, a keen member of the Global Alliance for ‘Climate-Smart Agriculture’ (GACSA), and the host for December 2015 climate conference in Paris (COP21), has developed a proposal that risks defining the soil as a giant carbon sink to offset continued emissions.

January 2015 - Open Letter - Risk assessment

Open letter to the Commission on new genetic engineering methods

Francesco Panella, Nina Holland, Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher, Andrea Ferrante, Mute Schimpf, Dr Helen Wallace, Saskia Richartz, Christoph Then

In the interest of protecting the environment and public health, genetically modified crops are subject to risk assessment, an authorisation process and labelling rules under EU law. All non-traditional breeding processes that change the structure of DNA using genetic engineering technologies or interfere with gene regulation fall within the scope of these GM regulations. Some are now calling on the European Commission to exempt new genetic engineering techniques from GM rules. The undersigned groups argue that such an exception could threaten the environment and our health, and would violate EU law.

September 2013 - Report - Climate change & Agriculture, Food Security, Food Sovereignity & Sustainable Farming
EcoNexus & Berne Declaration

In just 18 pages, Agropoly shows how a handful of companies have come to dominate the agro-industries for:

  • animal feed production: one third of agricultural land goes to produce animal feed;
  • livestock breeding: in chicken breeding, for example, the top 4 companies have 99% market share of the genetics;
  • seed production: the top 10 seed corporations have a 75% market share of the commercial market;
  • commodity production, processing, trade and retail: the revenues of the three biggest supermarket corporations are larger than the GNP of many states;
  • fertiliser and pesticide manufacture: the latter also controlled by seed corporations.

One result is that many local breeds and food crop varieties have already been lost to us and the decline continues.
This consolidation is relentless, with governments shaping policies to suit corporations and their investors, not citizens. Agropoly highlights the pressing need to act now, working with peasant farmers and small-scale food providers to develop inclusive and just food regimes that provide nutritious food for all.

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January 2013 - Commentary - Agrofuels (biofuels), Food Security, Food Sovereignity & Sustainable Farming

Comments from Biofuelwatch, EcoNexus and Global Forest Coalition

Biofuelwatch, EcoNexus & Global Forest Coalition

The 2011 Report on Price volatility and food security by the HLPE on Food Security and Nutrition provided well-researched and high-quality evidence about the role of biofuels in recent food price rises and price volatility.
We had therefore anticipated that the draft report “Biofuels and Food Security” by the HLPE on Food Security and Nutrition would build on and further develop the evidence collated for the 2011 report. Instead, we have been deeply disappointed by the low quality of evidence and inaccuracies contained within this draft report. While some paragraphs and statements are based on convincing evidence, so many are not that we believe the report needs to be sent back to be substantially re-written before being put out to public consultation again. Below are examples of some of the serious flaws we have found in the report followed by key concerns about the draft recommendations.

April 2012 - Briefing - SBSTTA 16 - (Green) Economy, Agrofuels (biofuels)

Biofuels, Bioenergy, Biochar and the Technologies of the new Bioeconomy

CBD Alliance

Industrial scale bioenergies, including biofuels are rapidly expanding, creating massive new demand for wood, vegetable oil and agricultural products. Already these demands are inflicting serious and irreversible impacts on forests and other natural ecosystems, soils and water resources. Expansion of industrial monocultures, including tree plantations, to meet this demand occurs at the expense of biodiversity and food production, while also contributing to “land grabs”, undermining the rights of peasant farmers and indigenous peoples, and hampering efforts to achieve food sovereignty and agrarian reform.
The CBD Secretariat's report rightly acknowledges many of these negative impacts. However, in line with COP10 decision X/37, it focuses predominantly on 'tools', i.e. standards and certification, to address the often complex direct and indirect negative impacts, without assessing whether those tools are credible instruments.
Standards and certification schemes per se have not been effective and are no match for countering the drivers of bioenergy expansion: targets, mandates and subsidies, especially in Europe and North America. To effectively address the negative impacts, those incentives need to be eliminated.

October 2011 - Submission - SBSTTA 16 - Synthetic biology
The International Civil Society Working Group on Synthetic BiologyConsisting of: Action Group On Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), Center for Food Safety Center for Food Safety, Econexus, Friends of the Earth USA, International Center for Technology Assessment, and The Sustainability Council of New Zealand

The new and emerging issue of synthetic biology is relevant to the attainment of the objectives of the CBD, its thematic programmes of work and cross-cutting issues.
We recommend that SBSTTA, in the development of options and advice on the new and emerging issue of synthetic biology for the consideration of COP11, consider the following actions/recommendations under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress, and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing.

December 2002 - Briefing - Genetic Engineering

Government and Corporate Scientific Incompetence: Failure to assess the safety of GM crops

by Ricarda A. Steinbrecher

The CaMV 35S promoter is being used in almost all GM crops currently grown or tested, especially GM maize. It is the promoter of choice for plant genetic engineering, as it is a strong and constitutive promoter. Failure to recognise or to take into account its capacity to be universally active in almost any organism is irresponsible and careless and shows a serious lack of scientific rigour and commitment to safety.
Any safety assessment can be expected to be flawed that does not resort to actual laboratory test of the capacity of bacteria and fungi to utilise the particular genes and their promoters.