New report questions risky synthetic biology developments promoted under “Climate-Smart” guise

Many of the world's largest agro-industrial corporations are pushing forward the poorly-defined idea of "Climate-Smart Agriculture"(CSA) to re-market industrial agriculture as "climate-ready".

A new report, “Outsmarting Nature?”, uncovers how some advocates of CSA are embracing the extreme genetic engineering tools of synthetic biology ("Synbio") to develop a set of false solutions to the climate crisis.

The report also shows that the multi-billion dollar synthetic biology industry is now actively tying its future to the very oil, coal and gas extraction it once claimed to be able to displace.

To download a pdf of “Outsmarting Nature?” go here:

Report release: Outsmarting nature?

New report questions risky synthetic biology developments promoted under “Climate-Smart” guise
ETC Group, 27 November 2015

Some of the world’s largest agro-industrial corporations will be flying the flag for "climate-smart agriculture" at the upcoming Climate Summit. They will claim that hi-tech crops and intensive industrial agriculture are needed to rescue farmers (and the hungry) from a warming world – a claim widely dismissed by peasant movements and civil society groups. A new report today from ETC Group and Heinrich Böll Foundation uncovers plans to use a clutch of extreme biotechnology approaches known as Synthetic Biology to move forward this industrial "climate-smart" agenda. Extreme interventions range from trying to alter the way in which plants carry out photosynthesis to releasing"‘gene drives" into the wild to alter natural populations of weeds.

Synthetic Biology (or Syn Bio) describes a set of new and emerging genetic engineering techniques and a much-hyped young industry that is designing and engineering life-forms from scratch for industrial purposes. Until now most of the commercial products of Synthetic Biology have been fuels, flavors and chemicals produced by engineered microbes, but the field is rapidly expanding to encompass bioengineered crops and other agricultural applications that will involve environmental release. This report details some of the ways in which synthetic biologists are venturing into riskier and more extreme areas of development that will continue to tie farmers to pesticide-intensive production, all the while using the rhetoric of "Climate-Smart Agriculture" as a justification.

“Farmers’ movements and their allies have already made it absolutely clear that so-called climate-smart agriculture is the wrong fix for climate change. Applying synthetic biology to the challenges that agriculture faces is doubly wrongheaded,” explains Silvia Ribeiro, ETC Group’s Latin America Director, currently en route to the Paris climate negotiations. “To cool the climate what needs to be recognized and supported is agroecological and resilient small scale and peasant farming systems, not falling for false fixes from the Big Agribusiness corporations that brought us climate change in the first place.”

“In Paris civil society will be saying we need system change to fight climate change. What we certainly don’t need are risky techno-fixes,” said Lili Fuhr of Heinrich Böll Foundation. ”Agribusiness corporations would have us believe it is better to change fundamental natural processes such as photosynthesis than to move away from industrial agriculture and its damaging impacts – that is not just insane, but fundamentally unsustainable and unjust.”

The 20-page report includes:

- An overview of the Players lining up behind the “Climate-Smart” brand and the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA)

- Details and critique of public and private research projects to alter photosynthesis pathways in plants and microbes, theoretically to increase the carbon sequestration of plants

- Details and critique of Synthetic Biology projects that aim to increase nitrogen fixation in plants and create ‘self-fertilizing plants,’ theoretically to reduce fertilizer applications

- An exposé of new Syn Bio applications developed by agrochemical giant Syngenta that make the activation of ‘climate-tolerance’ traits dependent on the application of proprietary pesticides – thereby tying farmers closer to agrochemical use

- Proposals to release controversial ‘Gene Drive’ technology into the wild to make weed populations more susceptible to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, altering ecosystems to extend the commercial viability of that agrochemical