News

07 Dec 2017

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested by U.S. Military, companies and foundations on gene drives, a highly controversial technology aimed at genetic extinction.

This is what emerges in The Gene Drives Files a set of over 1.200 emails, obtained by civil society investigators under Freedom of Information requests. The emails document how the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the largest single funder in gene drives technology, as demonstrated by a stunning financing of some 100 million dollars already invested on accelerating the research. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also heavily invested in the development of the technology with a $1.6 million payment  to the Public Relations firm “Emerging Ad”  aimed at influencing the discussions on the subject at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (see recent article by Jonathan Latham on “Independent Science News”), and at repealing a call by a large number of civil society ngos, including scientist and academic institutions, that the CBD impose an international moratorium in keeping with the precautionary principle. The emails throw light on how the regulatory process, originally meant to protect the environment and the genetic integrity of species on our planet, is deeply influenced by the hidden interesets of proponents of the technology strategically recruited by the Gates Foundation. 

Once again we find far reaching decisions on the future of our ecosystems being made without transparency and through secretive and unethical practices.  Gene drives have the potential to dramatically transform our natural world and humanity’s relationship to it, wiping out entire species, irreversibly damaging the planet’s life-sustaining biodiversity and altering the genetic balance of the ecosystem. But again we see that ethical considerations and ecological consequences are of no import to those who stand to profit hugely from the development of such a technology, be it militarily as a covert war instrument, or materially in the agribusiness and big pharma worlds of power and profit. 

A recent article of the New York Times reports that Dr Kevin M. Esvelt, who was among the promoter of Crispr technology at Harvard University, has recently “discovered an unacceptable risk"  as “altered genes might spread to places where the species isn’t invasive at all, but a well-established part of the ecosystem”. 

The same mindset, which led to the stockpiling of chemicals of war in our fields with the Green Revolution, later developed today’s failed genetically engineered herbicide resistant crops, such as Monsanto’s RoundUp ready soy and corn. But the same weeds that GM herbicide tolerant technology was supposed to control have been developing resistance to the extent that today approximately 92% of RR cotton and soybeans in the US south-eastern states are infested by superweeds like Palmer Amaranth.   In the meantime the consequent increased use of these chemicals in fields has led to  further contamination of our soils and the environment. Monsanto & Co – which includes investors, scientists, corporations, DARPA, and Gates Foundation - continues dogedly  to rely on this misguided ‘techno-fix’ approach, now with gene drives technology to solve the failures they have created themselves,  another tool on the path of unbridled profit and control.

This simplistic approach carries the risk of driving the whole Amaranth genetic population to extinction. The National Academy of Science of The United States, in its report titled “Gene Drives on the Horizon : Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values”,  sponsored by the same DARPA and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, itself indicates the risks: “Gene drives developed for agricultural purposes could also have adverse effects on human well-being. Transfer of a suppression drive to a non-target wild species could have both adverse environmental outcomes and harmful effects on vegetable crops, for example. Palmer amaranth in Case Study 6 is a damaging weed in the United States, but related Amaranthus species are cultivated for food in Mexico, South America, India, and China.” Thus our food security and health are once again knowingly being put at risk through the same blind technological mindset which led to the failure of the Green Revolution. 

It’s clear that the value of Amaranth as a vital, nutritious, sacred and ancient food crop in many areas and cultures of the world is not considered relevant by the “militarised minds” of single-minded scientists who only see solutions to problems through the act of killing (see Biodiversity, GMOs, Gene Drives and the Militarised Mind, by Dr Vandana Shiva, July 2016) and who chose to ignore the potential consequences on food security and health in their narrow perspective. 

Under the guise of doing good for humanity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continues to undermine the scientific debate on the dangers of gene manipulation. Through biased and pseudo ‘science’, disguising public relations as science and directly targeting decision-makers, they directly increase their influence and pressure on governments and institutions. Similar patterns we have seen in the glyphosate risk assessment debate, which last week led to a 5 years renewal of the license in the EU, in spite of the concerns about loopholes, conflicts of interest, corporate interference and pressure on regulatory bodies as described in the  ‘Monsanto Papers.’

The failed industrial agriculture model that has brought us poisons, weedicides, Round-up ready crops, superweeds, is now bringing us gene drives. Gene drives technology is a rough tool, based on an outmoded mechanistic and reductionist paradigm and vision of science, which ignores and denies the self organized, evolutionary potential of living organisms as well as their complex, dynamic evolution. It is sad times indeed when philanthropy embraces such a short-sighted approach, knowingly putting at risk our health and our environment. To quote Dr. Vandana Shiva: “The one who uses public relations disguised as science for driving species to extinction and robs people of their commons, is not practicing philanthropy, but ecocide”.

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