U.S. Presidential Commission's recommendations on synthetic biology: ' Business as usual' wins out over precaution
2.Groups Criticize Presidential Commission's Recommendations on Synthetic Biology: 'Business as usual' wins out over precaution in proposals for policing synthetic organisms
1. Bioethics Commission on Synthetic Biology: "Prudent Vigilance" or Green Light?
Posted by Marcy Darnovsky on December 16th, 2010
The report on synthetic biology released today by the president's bioethics commission concludes that no new regulations are needed for the field, which aims to create novel organisms with techniques that manipulate and synthesize DNA sequences. ”¨”¨A letter signed by 58 public interest organizations from 22 countries - including the Center for Genetics and Society - characterizes the recommendations as "deeply flawed." A press release from Friends of the Earth, International Center for Technology Assessment and ETC Group expressed disappointment that "'business as usual' has won out over precaution in the commission's report." FoE's biotechnology policy campaigner Eric Hoffman put it bluntly: "Self-regulation equates to no regulation."
The letter takes issue with the recommendations for
*ignoring the precautionary principle (the commission instead relied on the completely new concept of "prudent vigilance," a term that it coined and used as its guiding principle)
*lacking adequate review of environmental risks
*placing unwarranted faith in "suicide genes" and other technologies that provide no guarantee against the accidental or intentional release of synthetic organisms into the environment
*relying on industry "self regulation"
Early media treatments of the commission's report suggest different interpretations by top reporters (or at least headline writers): the Washington Post's article is called "Presidential commission urges caution on 'synthetic biology'" while the New York Times headline is "U.S. Bioethics Commission Gives Green Light to Synthetic Biology." Both papers quote the civil society letter. ”¨”¨The Biotechnology Industry Organization's reaction, on the other hand, expressed no uncertainty. Its press release "welcomed" the recommendations, and its executive vice president told the New York Times that the commission's report is "reasonable, well balanced and insightful."
2. Groups Criticize Presidential Commission's Recommendations on Synthetic Biology
'Business as usual' wins out over precaution in proposals for policing synthetic organisms
Friends of the Earth
Thursday, December 16, 2010
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- 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 place.
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/