The report on synthetic biology [PDF] released today by the president's bioethics commission concludes that no new regulations are needed for the field, which aims to create novel organisms with techniques that manipulate and synthesize DNA sequences.
A letter signed by 58 public interest organizations from 22 countries - including the Center for Genetics and Society - characterizes the recommendations as "deeply flawed." A press release from Friends of the Earth, International Center for Technology Assessment and ETC Group expressed disappointment that "'business as usual' has won out over precaution in the commission's report." FoE's biotechnology policy campaigner Eric Hoffman put it bluntly: "Self-regulation equates to no regulation."
The letter takes issue with the recommendations for
- ignoring the precautionary principle (the commission instead relied on the completely new concept of "prudent vigilance," a term that it coined and used as its guiding principle)
lacking adequate review of environmental risks
placing unwarranted faith in "suicide genes" and other technologies that provide no guarantee against the accidental or intentional release of synthetic organisms into the environment
- relying on industry "self regulation"
Early media treatments of the commission's report suggest different interpretations by top reporters (or at least headline writers): the Washington Post's article is called "Presidential commission urges caution on 'synthetic biology'" while the New York Times headline is "U.S. Bioethics Commission Gives Green Light to Synthetic Biology." Both papers quote the civil society letter.
The Biotechnology Industry Organization's reaction, on the other hand, expressed no uncertainty. Its press release "welcomed" the recommendations, and its executive vice president told the New York Times that the commission's report is "reasonable, well balanced and insightful."
Posted in Bioethics, Marcy Darnovsky's Blog Posts, Synthetic Biology, US Federal
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