biotechnologies

Genetically manipulated media

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Biotechnological risks, access to and sharing of the benefits of biodiversity: these are the issues at stake at the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP14, COPMOP3 and COPMOP9 ) which is being held in Egypt at Sharm el-Sheikh, 17-29 November 2018. Decision-makers from more than 190 countries are expected to work to regulate the use of living organisms in the context of dramatic ecosystem collapse. This is an issue of food security, of strategic framing of the bio-economy but also of the habitability of the earth. But to prevent any questioning of the biotechnological headlong rush, the media manoeuvres show a perfect orchestration of those who see living organisms as mere material for profit. The dematerialization of living things is waiting for us. Between genes that have become codes and patents.
 
Un slogan, a guru, an authority, and a good guy. The recipe is as simple as it is old-fashioned. On November 20, the media were invited to the launch of a very attractive project, Yes to innovation ». In the role of the guru, Pascal Perri, former leader of the Loudmouths on RMC, Catherine Regnault-Roger to ensure the academic reference, and Benoit Lacombe to energize the subject. The aim is to promote the "principle of innovation", to put an end to... the precautionary principle! The demonstration goes through a burning and divisive subject, that of new GMOs (genetically modified organisms). At a well-chosen moment: these so-called "edited" plants resulting from targeted mutations carried out in particular by CRISPR-Cas9 techniques - called "hidden GMOs" by activists - are at the heart of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP14) which is being held right now in Sharm el-Sheikh. There will also be talk of updating the Nagoya Protocol (on access and benefit sharing (COPMOP3) and the Cartagena Protocol (on biosafety (COPMOP9). In short, these meetings will guide the "choices in terms of uses and manipulations of living organisms".
 

Counteroffensive on "Hidden GMOs".

So the invitation to the media does not seem to be entirely harmless. Admittedly, it can be seen as a banal lobbying operation in a restaurant located a stone's throw from the Palais Bourbon.
 
 
However, it is only the tip of the iceberg of a large-scale orchestration. For the world of seed companies, which are dependent on green biotech, has been organizing its response since the Decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) of 25 July last year.
Passed under the radar of most media, it recognized the status of GMOs to the edited plants that seed companies wanted to put on the market without constraint. " Les organisms obtained by mutagenesis constitute GMOs and are, in principle, subject to the obligations laid down in the GMO Directive," the ECJ ruled. Consequently, any organism produced by CRISPR-Cas9 (and affiliated) methods is legally considered as a GMO.
 
It was the French Council of State that had put this issue on the table of European judges, following an appeal made by the Confédération paysanne and eight other associations in 2015. The latter considered that the new publishing techniques entailed similar risks for the environment, human and animal health as GMOs obtained by transgenesis. Hence the term "hidden GMOs" used by these activist networks.
 
In July, the decision of the CJEU is a dramatic signal for seed companies. By imposing the costs of authorisation and monitoring procedures specific to GMOs, this ruling prevents the widespread use of editing techniques to make selected, precise and easy mutations.
As of July 28th, the U.S. government had reacted. " Les government policies should encourage scientific innovation without creating unnecessary barriers or stigmatizing new technologies. Unfortunately, the ruling of the EU Court of Justice is a step backwards in this respect," said Sonny Perdue, US Secretary of Agriculture.
 

Giving the illusion of consensus to COP14 decision-makers

So the lobbies set about drowning the fish. A case was made for disruption and concern. "Organic varieties could be qualified as GMOs". This is the argument that our trio must stage on Tuesday in front of the press. The same as the one defended on various sites: Agriculture and Environment coordinated by Gil Rivière-Wekstein (who presents himself as a journalist) or internationally Genetic Literacy Projectfunded by the seed lobby. This argument is supported by the publication of a collective book " Beyond GMOs "coordinated by Catherine Regnault-Roger and Agnès Ricroh, both members of the French Academy of Agriculture and known for supporting the development of green biotechs like their co-authors, Louis-Marie Houdebine, Marcel Kuntz, and former MPs Jean-Yves Le Déaut, Catherine Procaccia (who led an report on new genome editing techniques published in April 2017).
Uncomplexed, the scientists are offensive. They deplore "the opposition of a society of urban people, who are profane in agricultural matters, to an agriculture that is perceived as 'unnecessarily productivist'". They castigate "irrational regulations". Thus they read: "Traditional choices are incapable of guiding indispensable decisions that are often the result of dilemmas that are poorly informed by simplifying reasoning. This is particularly the case in our relationship to the living world, which is influenced by the new awareness of our belonging to a genetic continuum that gives rise to a greater solidarity of the human species with the different kingdoms, discrediting a secular order". What, then, is this immutable order that would be vital? At a time of all the upheavals - and collapses threatening our survival - how can we remain so faithful to a system that displays its deadly excesses?
The European scientific academies are also very active in providing expertise on these subjects through the SAM (Scientific Advice Mechanism), which comes from call for the revision of the GMO legislationThe European Commission, stressing the potential of publishing techniques to ensure food security, which is essential in the face of world population growth and climate change," said the European Commission.
 

Inoperative and anti-scientific knowledge

These positions centred on the coordinated efficiency of techniques and markets - which accuse the opposing camp of obscurantism - attempt to "save knowledge that has become so inoperative as to be anti-scientific", as Bernard Stiegler points out in a long interview published by Le Media. For what is left in the biosciences beyond the calculable? Which works consider material causalities (the collateral effects of mutations, for example), formal causalities (the topological effects of gene translation), or so-called "final" causalities (of maintaining an organism)? The arrogance seems misplaced here, so much so that it seems deaf to a society that is seeking progress other than that of standardized organisms, doped up and coupled with chemical dependencies (the Monsanto model of Round-Up ready).  
Moreover, the latent confusion between the precision of the CRISPRCas9 technique and the fact of control persists in all pro-GMO arguments. However, it is possible to completely control the place of insertion of genetic bases without controlling the effects. Because the context is never controllable! It is in this field that questions of responsibility are raised. The resignation of Christine Noiville, who was President of the High Council of Biotechnology, shows the deadlock in social dialogue on these responsibilities. 
 

Avoid any interference with new GMOs

With the decision of the ECJ, all products resulting from publishing techniques must be evaluated before authorisation and labelled. But they still have to be traceable!
 
The European Union must therefore equip itself with the means to control the labelling of products present on its territory in order to detect possible frauds and thus be able to have the declaration of the genetic modification technique applied by industrialists. However, nothing has yet been done about the methods for detecting and tracing new GMOs. However, the European Network of National GMO Laboratories (ENGL) created in 2000 is concerned with validating the "primers or signatures" of transgenes introduced into conventional GMOs. This same network proposed to the European Commission in 2017 to work on the detection and traceability of new GMOs. But no mandate has been given to ENGL on this subject. Eric Meunier, head of the Inf'OGM information platform is surprised: "The private players believe that they cannot detect their varieties, but if this is the case, it will be impossible for them to enforce their patents! »
 
Today, Europe is isolated. It is the only one in the world to apply the "precautionary principle" concerning GMOs. Its Directive 2001/18 makes it possible to control the authorisation - on a case-by-case basis - of GMO fielding and to ensure their traceability. This is why efforts are now focused on amending this directive and changing the definition of GMOs. A classic technique for changing the thermometer so that we no longer perceive the fever... And it is through international action that this framework can be called into question. The debates held within the framework of the Cartagena Protocol are therefore decisive. They may lead to protocols for the supervision of synthetic biology - which concerns any manipulation of living organisms - that are less demanding than European procedures. This scenario could call into question European legislation, which would be forced to align itself.
In the meantime, the Faucheurs volontaires, which destroyed in vitro mutagenic rapeseed at the end of 2016, were judged in Dijon on 16 November. Deliberate scheduled for January 17, 2019. The war of attrition is not over...
 
Nathalie de Geyter, investigative journalist 
 

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