For Immediate Release
Groups Criticize Presidential Commission's Recommendations on Synthetic Biology as Deeply Flawed
'Business as usual' wins out over precaution in proposals for policing synthetic organisms
WASHINGTON - The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues today
released its recommendations on the oversight of synthetic biology,
provoking strong criticism from public interest watchdogs for its
failure to respond to key environmental and public health risks.
In a letter
to the commission, 58 environmental, public interest, and religious
groups rejected the recommendations as a deeply flawed response to
advances in synthetic biology, including the creation this year of the
first entirely synthetic organism, that demand strong federal oversight.
In particular, the groups critiqued the recommendations for: ignoring
the precautionary principle, lacking adequate review of environmental
risks, placing unwarranted faith in "suicide genes" and other
technologies that provide no guarantee against the escape of synthetic
organisms into the environment, and relying on industry "self
regulation," which is the equivalent of no independent oversight.
"We are disappointed that 'business as usual' has won out over precaution in the commission's report," said Eric Hoffman, biotechnology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
"Self-regulation equates to no regulation. These recommendations give
industry a free pass, while failing to ensure that the environment and
public health are protected. We need stronger, more transparent
regulation for synthetic biology, not less."
According to Jim Thomas, program manager for the ETC Group,
and one of the experts who testified before the commission, "In framing
their recommendations the Presidential Commission has not treated
seriously the threats synthetic biology poses to the environment and the
impact this technology will have on communities in the Global South.
The recommendations do not adequately address the impact escaped
synthetic microbes will have on ecosystems or address at all the impact
synthetic biology will have on land use changes by allowing all types of
biomass to be used as feedstocks for these synthetic microbes to
produce fuels, chemicals, and plastics for wealthy nations."
"The President's Commission is relying on suicide genes as a way to
'contain' synthetic organisms but this technology cannot guarantee any
level of environmental safety," said Andrew Kimbrell, president of the International Center for Technology Assessment.
"The precautionary principle must be implemented for the oversight of
this new technology whose risks are impossible to predict. Once
synthetic organisms escape into the environment, they will be impossible
to clean up."
The letter calls for a moratorium on the release and commercial use of
synthetic organisms until serious study of the full environmental,
health and socio-economic impacts of this emerging technology has taken
The letter to the presidential commission from civil society groups can be read at: http://www.foe.org/sites/default/files/Letter_to_Commission_Synthetic_Biology.pdf
The commission's recommendations are available at: http://www.bioethics.gov/
Friends of the Earth is the U.S. voice of the world's largest grassroots environmental network, with member groups in 77 countries. Since 1969, Friends of the Earth has fought to create a more healthy, just world.