US military revealed as 'top funder of gene drives'

By agency reporter
December 6, 2017

Friends of the Earth says over 1,200 emails released under open records requests reveal that the US military is now the top funder and influencer behind a controversial genetic extinction technology known as 'gene drives' – pumping $100 million into the field.

The trove of emails, obtained via open records requests, also shed light on a $1.6 million dollar UN gene drive advocacy operation paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Friends of the Earth says 'Emerging Ag', a private PR firm paid by the Gates Foundation, is working behind the scenes to stack key UN advisory processes with gene drive-friendly scientists, and has recruited ostensibly independent academics and public officials into a private collaboration to counteract proposed regulations and to resist calls by scientists and conservationists for an international moratorium. Some of those recruited entered into the UN discussions without divulging their conflicts of interest or the role that paid political consultants played in shaping their inputs.

The files, dubbed 'The Gene Drive Files', additionally cast a spotlight on the central role of the shadowy US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as the key funder now accelerating gene drive development. For example, DARPA is now revealed as the major financial backer of efforts to develop gene drive mammals (mice) that are led by a US environmental NGO, although DARPA has no biodiversity conservation mission, raising questions about the defence agency’s intent. These revelations come on the heels of a public warning issued by a leading gene drive researcher, Dr Kevin Esvelt. that current gene drives are too powerful to be used in conservation.

“Gene drives are a powerful and dangerous new technology and potential biological weapons that could have disastrous impacts on peace, food security and the environment, especially if misused,” said Jim Thomas of ETC Group. “The fact that gene drive development is now being primarily funded and structured by the U.S. military raises alarming questions about this entire field.”

“Gene drives could have profound global impacts, and these emails reveal a secretive attempt to game the system by gene drive proponents aiming to minimise essential regulations and oversight,” said Dana Perls of Friends of the Earth, US. “We need more transparency about who is influencing critical decisions about the future of global ecosystems, people’s livelihoods, or our food system.”

“In response to this news that the integrity of technical processes under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) may have been compromised, civil society groups will urgently raise the need for better disclosure of interests within a framework for addressing conflict of interest at the CBD”, said Lim Li Ching of Third World Network.

“Mosquitoes containing gene drives are being proposed for malaria control in Africa. While claiming potential health benefits, any application of such powerful technologies should be subject to the highest standards of transparency and disclosure. Sadly, this doesn’t appear to be the case. Releasing risky GM organisms into the environments of these African countries is outrageous and deeply worrying”, said Mariam Mayet, Executive Director of The African Centre for Biodiversity.

* Learn more about gene drives here

* Friends of the Earth International https://foe.org/

[Ekk/6]

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