May 21, 2024

Synthetic biology report under fire

What about the precautionary principle?

The Presidential Commission
for the Study of Bioethical Issues today came under fire for not being
sufficiently wary of synthetic biology. In a report present to President Obama
this week, the Commission says that no new federal regulations are needed but
that the government should exercise “prudent vigilance”.

This optimism is deeply
flawed, responded 58 environmental, public interest, and religious NGOs.  They called for strong federal
oversight. In particular, the groups critiqued the recommendations for ignoring
the precautionary principle, lacking adequate review of environmental risks,
placing unwarranted faith in “suicide genes” and other technologies that provide
no guarantee against the escape of synthetic organisms into the environment,
and relying on industry “self regulation,” which is the equivalent of no
independent oversight.

“We are disappointed that
‘business as usual’ has won out over precaution in the commission’s report,”
said Eric Hoffman, biotechnology policy campaigner for Friends of the Earth.
“Self-regulation equates to no regulation. These recommendations give industry
a free pass, while failing to ensure that the environment and public health are
protected. We need stronger, more transparent regulation for synthetic biology,
not less.”

Commission says that very few people lodged ethical objections to synthetic
biology. “Current objections to synthetic biology
on moral grounds are often based upon concerns regarding activities that the
field is currently incapable of carrying out,” it declared. ~ Science
Insider, Dec 16


Michael Cook
synthetic biology