Lobbyists Unite At UN To Put World Biosafety in Danger
Documents released to Corporate Europe Observatory following a Freedom of Information request reveal how pro-biotech lobby platform Public Research Regulation Initiative (PRRI) unites industry, researchers and regulators in ‘like-minded’ groups to manipulate crucial international biosafety talks under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
This discovery is all the more important because two crucial moments which may have a huge global impact on biosafety are to take place shortly. From 2 – 13 July 2018, experts from the 196 countries that have signed this international agreement gathered in Montreal to continue discussions on controversial technologies such as Synthetic Biology and so-called gene drives made through gene editing. And on 25 July 2018 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will publish a ruling about the legal status of new genetic engineering techniques including gene editing.
Biotech developers are trying hard to avoid the food and environmental safety rules that govern GMOs being applied to their products from new genetic engineering techniques, like gene editing. But environmental groups, scientists and farmers are calling for strict regulation of these new techniques, and for careful consideration of the socio-economic impacts of these technologies.
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Even though the UN CBD and its Protocols on Biosafety and on Access and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources, the Cartagena and Nagoya Protocols, have attracted far less attention from the international media than its climate counterpart the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), from the very outset the CBD processes has been carefully followed by large numbers of corporate lobbyists, mostly from the biotechnology sector.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety sets international rules to ensure the safe handling and transportation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or living modified organisms (LMOs), as they are known in the Protocol, with the aim of protecting biodiversity and human health. The Protocol also looks at socio-economic considerations arising from the impact of GMOs on biodiversity, especially with regard to its importance to indigenous and local communities. Biotech companies, researchers and the big exporting and importing countries of GM crops have a huge stake in these issues and thus work systematically to influence the CBD as it develops.
Several batches of emails released through freedom of information laws in Canada, the US and the Netherlands show how PRRI coordinated circles of industry, researchers and regulators through dedicated email lists covering the main topics of the CBD and Protocols. PRRI’s work in this area was diverse, including organising around CBD online consultations feeding into negotiations, holding face to face preparatory meetings, providing a ‘backup team’ to support delegates at official meetings and training groups of students to echo industry positions at lobby and side events.
Corporate interests represented in these circles include Bayer, Monsanto, Croplife International and the J. Craig Venter Institute (developer of the world’s first life form containing human-built synthetic DNA). The emails also reveal the engagement of a group of “like-minded” regulators from Canada, the Netherlands, Brazil, Honduras and the UK, amongst other countries.
Last December the ‘Gene Drive Files’ showed how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) paid lobby firm Emerging Ag $1.6 million dollars to mobilise voices to influence a 2017 online CBD consultation on gene drives in order to counter international calls for a moratorium on this controversial technology.
The forthcoming technical talks in Montreal in July, and the following Conference of the Parties (COP) this December in Egypt will be the next decisive moments for the fate of crucial work on biosafety, which is needed to address challenges posed by fast-evolving genetic engineering techniques and applications.
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