261,025 of 300,000 signatures

To the Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides, the European Commission, the European Council, Charlie McConalogue, Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Julia Klöckner, German Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture, Svenja Schulze, German Federal Minister for the Environment, Barbara Pompili, French Minister of Ecological Transition, Bérangère Abba, French Secretary of State for Biodiversity, Stefano Patuanelli, Italian Minister of Agriculture, Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Minister for the Ecological Transition of Spain and Michał Woś, Polish Minister of the Environment

Petition

I call on you to prevent the release of gene drive organisms into the environment and to work for a global moratorium on the release of gene drive organisms at the Conference Of the Parties (COP) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Why is this important?

Imagine genetically engineered mosquitoes designed to inherit their genes to all offspring, jeopardise the food chain, and wipe out their natural siblings by making them infertile. [1]

According to scientists there is a risk that the so called gene drive could even spread from mosquitoes to butterflies, killing pollinators in masses, risking crops, plants and entire ecosystems. [2]

Nobody pushing the new technology has a solution to mitigate those risks, but even so there are plans in action to make this a reality. Most of the funding to make this happen is being provided by the US military and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In the lead up to the key UN meeting in 2021, there will be important decisions taken at expert conferences. The EU is represented at all these conferences. The European Parliament has already requested for the EU Commission and its Member States to call for a global moratorium on the environmental release of gene drive organisms. But that is not enough: our voices can make all the difference.

We and more than 200 organisations worldwide are calling for a global moratorium on the release of gene drive organisms to protect biodiversity. [3] The moratorium should remain in place until globally binding rules are found for the following risks and open questions:

  • Non-retrievable and uncontrollable spread: According to the current state of knowledge, once released, gene drive organisms cannot be retrieved. Nor can their spread in time and space be limited. National borders in particular, but also geographical boundaries, are meaningless to gene drive organisms.
  • Risky research: To our knowledge, gene drives have only been tested in the laboratory, but even that is risky. The escape of only a few organisms is enough to start a genetic chain reaction.
  • Genetic engineering tools are prone to error: The genetic engineering tools such as CRISPR/Cas9, which are active in the released organisms, are prone to error. Unforeseen effects at the genetic level are therefore likely.
  • It is at least complicated, but often impossible, to foresee all ecological effects: Gene drives are designed to have an effect in natural populations over generations and to be inherited dominantly. It cannot be predicted how food chains will change and how the behaviour of other animal species will change when an animal species disappears. There are as yet no guidelines for risk assessment, if this should be possible at all. The risks to humans and the environment are largely unexplored.
  • Beyond a risk assessment, a comprehensive technology assessment is necessary before gene drive organisms are released into the environment: Since the technology has far-reaching consequences and raises technical, ecological, ethical, cultural, social and regulatory questions, a technology assessment is necessary before any application in nature. Liability and compensation regulations are also not sufficiently clarified worldwide.
  • Gene drive can also be used for military purposes: The US military research institute DARPA is one of the main sponsors of Gene Drive research. [4] The UN Bioweapons Convention has been discussing for several years how the potential danger posed by gene drives as biological weapons can be limited.
  • Who decides? If gene drive organisms can and should spread worldwide, it must be clarified who is allowed to decide whether to release them. A body and decision-making mechanism on a global level is needed in which this can happen.

References

  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/12/191219142646.htm
  2. There is evidence from insects that a bacteria called Wolbachia can transfer genes between different insect species. So it is theoretically possible that Wolbachia genetic transfer could take place between mosquitoes and pollinating insects.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882834/
  3. https://www.etcgroup.org/sites/www.etcgroup.org/files/files/forcing_the_farm_sign_on_letter_english_web.pdf
  4. https://www.etcgroup.org/content/gene-drive-files

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Personal emails, from the heart, are powerful and can move decision makers. Write to environment ministers and tell them why we need a global moratorium on gene drives. If you need some inspiration pick a couple of the bullet points below.

Don’t forget to sign your name at the end of your message!

  • On Thursday, politicians will discuss gene drives, a newly developed technique to engineer animals and plants. By producing only male offspring, gene drives can wipe out entire species.
  • I call on you to follow the recommendation of experts to not release any gene drive animals and plants into nature until we understand and know how to avoid the risks.
  • I am writing to you because I am deeply worried and concerned about a novel genetic engineering technology called Gene Drives.
  • We need strict precautionary global regulations on Gene drives. We need a global moratorium because no one fully understands the risks yet.
  • Gene Drives are developed with the aim of redesigning, replacing and exterminating wild populations and species of animals and plants by means of genetic engineering. This comes with high risks. That we don't fully understand yet.
  • I would like to ask you to stand up for a global moratorium at the SBSTTA24 preparation meeting for the COP 15 of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UN CBD).
  • I am very concerned about environmental releases of genetically engineered Gene Drive mosquitoes as part of first ever field trials with this technology, planned in Burkina Faso in the near future. [1]
  • I find this prospect alarming as independent scientists and several nature protection agencies from EU Member States warn of scientific knowledge and data gaps regarding the possible adverse environmental and health effects caused by the deployment of this technology. [2, 3]
  • I worry, based on their reports, that released Gene Drive Organisms would cause harm to biodiversity and irreversibly spread across borders of countries or continents, thereby undermining international rules for prior informed consent. This is especially concerning as there are no means of recalling or reversing effects of Gene Drive Organisms from nature.
  • In line with calls from more than 287.000 other EU citizens, the European Parliament and 78 European civil society organisations, I would like to ask you to advocate for a strict interpretation of the EU’s precautionary principle and therefore urge you to make sure you will advocate both at EU level and in global forum such as the Convention on Biological Diversity for regulations that ensure that Gene Drive technology will not be tested or deployed in nature until there is certainty that adverse effects to biodiversity, human health or economic activities such as farming can be precluded. [4, 5, 6]

[1] European Parliament Research Service (EPRS) (2019). STOA workshop. The science and ethics of gene drive technology. Case study: Eradicating Malaria. (p.6): https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/161962/1-Booklet.pdf
[2] CSS, ENSSER, VDW (2019). Gene Drives. A report on their science, applications, social aspects, ethics and regulations. Online: https://genedrives.ch/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Gene-Drives-Book-WEB.pdf
[3] Dolezel, M. et al. (2019): Gene Drive Organisms. Implications for the Environment and Nature Conservation. Umweltbundesamt, Vienna:
https://www.umweltbundesamt.at/fileadmin/site/publikationen/REP0705.pdf
[4] European petition calling for a global moratorium on the environmental release of Gene Drive Organisms: https://act.wemove.eu/campaigns/gene-drive-moratorium-INT-EN
[5] European Parliament resolution of 16 January 2020 on the 15th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (2019/2824(RSP)), paragraph 13: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0015_EN.html
[6] Joint letter by 78 European civil society organisations calling on the EU Commission to advocate for a global moratorium on the environmental release of Gene Drive Organisms at CBD COP 15: https://update.zs-intern.de/fileadmin/files/SOS/gene_drive/Open_Letter_to_the_EU_Commission_Please_support_a_global_moratorium_on_the_release_of_Gene_Drive_Organisms_30.06.2020.pdf

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Tweet to Charlie McConalogue, Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Julia Klöckner, German Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture, Svenja Schulze, German Federal Minister for the Environment, Barbara Pompili, French Minister of Ecological Transition, Bérangère Abba, French Secretary of State for Biodiversity, Stefano Patuanelli, Italian Minister of Agriculture, Teresa Ribera Rodríguez, Minister for the Ecological Transition of Spain and Michał Woś, Polish Minister of the Environment

On Thursday, EU politicians will discuss gene drives, a newly developed technology to engineer animals and plants. By producing only male offspring, gene drives can wipe out entire species.

We call on the environment and agriculture ministers of EU Member states, to follow the recommendation of experts to not release any gene drive animals and plants into nature until we understand and know how to avoid the risks. Thanks a lot for taking the moment to send Tweets!

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Please can you chip in?

A gene drive is a genetic technology designed to eradicate mosquitoes, flies and rats. Once released into nature it can’t be taken back.

We have a good opportunity to put a global moratorium on this new technology, but we need your help. Can you donate just a few euros to prevent the worst from happening?

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A mosquito, a mouse and a moth titled with hazard gene drive and marked eradicated

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