PO Box 13402
Wellington, New Zealand

GE-Free New Zealand

in food and environment (RAGE Inc.)


New Zealand Must Support Global Regulation of Synthetic Biology 'Pandora's Box'


New Zealand must ensure the voices of Maori, other indigenous peoples and scientists independent of vested interests are part of the global community approach to the threat of synthetic biology to biodiversity and natural systems.

The Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) “Synthetic Biology Technical” report raises ethical, social and environmental concerns over the speed and pressure for the global community to adopt new genetic engineering tools and products made from synthetic biology. [1]

Synthetic biology is the new term that covers the use of “molecular biology technology to modify DNA sequence(s) in genomes.” These tools and technology products are covered under the broader term genetic engineering (GE). Synthetic biology already includes laboratory GE microbes, fermented in vats, to produce proteins with patented sequences that are analogues of naturally occurring proteins.

But there is a new scale of 'existential' risk from synthetic biology outside containment that demands global community action.
Some of the tools being used are:
a) Gene editing and gene drives using RNA-splicing tools to alter the regulation of genes and insert synthetically engineered genes into the DNA,
b) Directed evolution, artificial intelligence and machine learning; Metabolic pathway, protein engineering and Xenobiology.

There are lessons to be learned from earlier Genetically Engineered (GE) animals and plants, which by and large resulted in suffering and seriously damaging long-term failures.[2] In plants there is accelerated emergence of herbicide-resistant superweeds, resistance to glyphosate (the active ingredient of Roundup) and insect resistance to pesticides, like the resistance of cotton bollworm to GE cotton crops engineered with Bt, which became widespread in the USA and India. The huge increase in the overuse of herbicides, like glyphosate, resulted in increased toxic residues in the environment and food supply.[3]

The risk from synthetic biology is even greater than the transgenic plants and animals created from engineered DNA, resulting in widespread environmental destruction and the decline of human and animal health.

New Zealand must support the international community in a global level agreement for precaution and restrictive legislation to protect Nature against synthetically engineered GE plants, animals and microbes.

"The complex natural systems that underpin New Zealand farming and other primary production are vulnerable to disastrous mistakes from synthetic biology, " said Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE-Free NZ.

There is existential risk in opening a Pandora's Box of synthetic biology in wild and urban settings in attempts at species elimination or displacement, and promised quick-fixes for issues of climate change, unsustainable agricultural practices and industrial production.

Currently there are two synthetic biology products on the US market, one crop and a nitrogen fertilizer, but there is pressure from the biotechnology industry for more. The products in the pipeline ready for release have no safety data on environmental, human or animal health effects.

It is essential that robust regulations around the potential impacts of new RNA/DNA-created organisms deal with a completely new and different scale of risk.

These risks include those from gene silencing and from down-or up-regulation of genes. Such gene changes can and do cause “off target” effects, like decreased expression of enzymes, that can cause a build up of toxic metabolites and/or the creation of novel proteins that are potentially toxic or carcinogenic.

“There is currently very little research on the impacts of Gene Edited organisms with regard to human, animal or environmental safety and health,“ said Claire Bleakley, president of GE Free NZ.

“We now have a very dangerous drive to commercialise synthetic biology. The global community is under pressure to approve products without any safety information or oversight.”
The issue of the industry and regulators’ revolving door, ghost-written documents and falsified reports are commonly used to approve poorly researched damaging risk effects on the environment.
The free trade deals may place further undue pressure on nations to loosen synthetic biology legislation, so that they conform to the trade rules of countries lacking in legislation.

New Zealand must preserve the stringent legislation around all types of GE, including synthetic biology. Currently, the New Zealand legislation, Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO) is robust and fit for purpose in being able to regulate organisms created from genetically engineered synthetic biology.

As a responsible global citizen New Zealand must advocate for a global moratorium on release of organisms from synthetic biology.

A global approach is needed to help countries work out their legislative responsibilities around the ethical and social issues of all Genetic Engineering technologies.
[1] Synthetic Biology Technical” series 100, https://www.cbd.int/doc/publications/cbd-ts-100-en.pdf
[2] https://www.gefree.org.nz/assets/pdf/GE-Animals-in-New-Zealand.pdf
[3] https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/extreme-levels-herbicide-roundup-found-food


Jon Carapiet – spokesperson 0210507681
Claire Bleakley 027 348 6731
Elvira Domissee 021 057 5123

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