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Gene Drives and new genetic manipulation in agriculture

Video animation seeks to warn population about new agribusiness market lobby

Large commodity market corporations have been placing their stakes recently on the development of new agricultural biotechnologies. Their lobby, apart from increasing farmers’ dependence on the concentrated chemical products and seed market and increasing control of the market by corporations, puts Brazil in a scenario of food insecurity that also threatens agricultural biodiversity.

In addition to being a record consumer of pesticides, 90 transgenic plants are already commercially authorized in Brazil – 70 of which have been modified to tolerate pesticides. The country is also moving forward with high-risk biotechnology implementation.

Failing to ensure public participation and ample public debate, in January 2018 the National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNBio) approved Normative Resolution No. 16/2018, which establishes requirements for the definition of new biotechnologies using genetic engineering that differ from techniques used in transgenics. By means of this new Resolution, CTNBio can decide which organisms produced using these biotechnologies are not to be classified as transgenics or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), thus dispensing with risk evaluations, free from monitoring and labeling. 

The Resolution makes Brazil one of the world’s first countries to enable research, development, production and commercialization of this kind of technology -  a highly uncertain field which is sending out a strong warning to rural dwellers, social organizations and peoples’ movements that work to defend health, the environment and food sovereignty.

What are gene drives?
One of the forms of biotechnology mentioned in the Resolution is known as gene drives.  Gene drives are forms of genetic editing or manipulation of live organisms. They are the most dangerous forms of transgenics which edit genetic characteristics without necessarily including a new gene, but rather manipulating existing genes of live organisms, i.e. live organism genetic information microsurgery. 

The technique uses enzymes which “cut and paste” (such as CrisPR/Cas9) genes of organisms that reproduce sexually – such as plants like maize and mosquitoes – without necessarily introducing genes from other organisms or synthetic genes.

These changes alter the original functions of plants and have the power to transmit their modified characteristics to all of their descendants and thus are able to transform an entire species, editing genomes so that the modified characteristics remain completely in all descendants. As such, this practice can have irreversible or uncontrollable effects and may even exterminate an entire species.

It also means that technologies promised for transgenics can move forward, such as tolerance of pesticides, the time or period of fruit-bearing or germination and adaptation of a species to suit large agroindustrial machinery.

International position
There are two main sides to the positions taken by countries in relation to new biotechnologies. The first relates to not allowing their application in view of the uncertainties still surrounding this practice. The second, adopted by Brazil, allows use of new biotechnologies bearing in mind the precautionary principle contained in the Cartagena Protocol.

During the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 14) held in December 2018, social movements and civil society organizations attending the event, as well as Egypt, Thailand, Bolivia and El Salvador abstained on the use of gene drives for as long as there are research uncertainties as to the risks. On the other hand, Brazil, the African countries, New Zealand, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Peru, Canada, Panama and Switzerland supported the position of using these new technologies with precaution and analysis on a case-by-case basis, this being the position consolidated in the official document.

As provided for by the Federal Constitution, it is Brazil’s duty to protect the environment, ensuring the adoption of precautionary measures in the face of activities causing impact or the effects of which are as yet unknown. Vulnerable to the interests of corporations that attack the precautionary principle affirming that its defenders are seeking scientific certainty of zero risk, implementation of new biotechnologies or new genetic editing techniques makes society vulnerable to the interests of corporations and governments.

Animated video
Produced by the National Agroecology Articulation (ANA) Biodiversity Working Group, a body that congregates different social organizations and movements, the video seeks to explain in an educational way how this new biotechnology is looming as a threat to the environment, agricultural biodiversity and society.

The video can be used in training activities and to promote public debate with different audiences.

:: Watch the animated video here

Technical Details
Title: Gene Drives and new genetic manipulation in agriculture
Genre: animation
Length: 4 minutes
Release: Brazil, 2019
Classification: Unrestricted
Execution: Biodiversity Working Group - National Agroecology Articulation and Terra de Direitos
Producers: Canteiro Audiovisual
Script and Direction: Guilherme Daldin
Screenplay: Naiara Bittencourt, Leonardo Melgarejo
Revision: Naiara Bittencourt, Lizely Borges, Franciele Petry, Leonardo Melgarejo
Publicity: Lizely Borges and Viviane Brochardt
Contributions: Maria Mello, Carla Bueno, Flávia Londres, Gabriel Fernandes, João Dagoberto dos Santos, Marciano Silva
Design: Renato Próspero
Animation/After Effects: Luiz Abreu (Seven 8 Digital Compositing)
Production: Camille Bolson and José Eduardo Pereira


Ações: Biodiversity and Food Sovereignty
Eixos: Biodiversity and food sovereignty