111 organisations call for more controls over use of synthetic
14 March 2012
A broad coalition of 111 organizations from around the world
has released a report, The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic
Biology, to highlight the risks to public health and the
environment from synthetic biology, and to address the field’s economic,
social and ethical challenges.
The coalition is calling for a moratorium on the release and
commercial use of synthetic organisms and products.
The synthetic biology industry is expanding rapidly, with a
market value in 2011 of over $1.6 billion that is expected to reach
$10.8 billion by 2016. However, there has been little to no
governance of the industry or assessment of the novel risks posed by
Synthetic biology is “extreme genetic engineering” — not just
reading and rearranging genetic code, but writing it to create new
genes, genetic traits and possibly entire life forms from scratch.
Call for principles to safeguard public
The global coalition calls for the following seven principles to
be established to safeguard public health and the environment from
the novel risks of synthetic biology and to ensure open, meaningful
and full public participation in decisions regarding its uses:
- Employ the Precautionary Principle.
- Require mandatory synthetic biology-specific regulations.
- Protect public health and worker safety.
- Protect the environment.
- Guarantee the right-to-know and democratic participation.
- Require corporate accountability and manufacturer liability.
- Protect economic and environmental justice.
Milestone in synthetic biology
“The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology marks an
important milestone in the debate around synthetic biology, as it is
the first document from a global coalition of civil society
organizations that outlines how synthetic biology should be
regulated,” said Eric Hoffman, Food and Technology Policy
Campaigner at Friends of the Earth US.
“This diverse coalition of 111 groups from around the world,
including environmental, religious, consumer, scientific, worker
safety and human rights groups, has come together to call for the
proper governance of synthetic biology. Our recommendations are
rooted in the guiding principle of placing the health of people and
the environment above corporate profits.”
Need for new regulations and laws
“Self-regulation of the synthetic biology industry simply won’t
work. Current laws and regulations around biotechnology are outdated
and inadequate to deal with the novel risks posed by synthetic
biology technologies and their products,” said Andy Kimbrell,
Executive Director of the International Center for Technology
Assessment. “These principles outline the positive role
local and national governments, as well as international laws, can
play in protecting communities from the novel risks posed by
“In addition to the risks synthetic biology poses to human health
and the environment, this technology may also deepen global social
and economic injustices,” explained Silvia Ribeiro, Latin
American Director of ETC Group. “Novel organisms tailored
to break down biomass will enable a new bio-economy in which land,
water and fertilizers used to produce food for communities in the
global South will be diverted for producing biomass feed for
synthetic organisms in order to produce fuels, chemicals and other
high-end products for wealthy nations.”
“We are calling for a global moratorium on the release and
commercial use of synthetic organisms until we have established a
public interest research agenda, examined alternatives, developed
the proper regulations and put into place rigorous biosafety
measures,” said Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of
the Science and Environmental Health Network. “It is our
obligation to safeguard the future, to be wise in our development
and use of technologies which could threaten humans and the Earth.”
The full report is available at: