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Cutting Corners on Consent

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MONTRÉAL – On November 29, after two weeks of contentious negotiations at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 196 countries agreed to stringent rules on the use of so-called gene drives. Given the far-reaching consequences of a technology that causes a particular set of genes to propagate throughout a population – fundamentally changing or even eliminating it – such rules are badly needed. But are they enough?

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Some countries would have preferred a full moratorium on the release of gene-drive organisms – a view shared by many indigenous peoples, food sovereignty activists, and African civil society organizations. The UN’s final agreement met them halfway, recognizing the “uncertainties” inherent in the use of gene drives – which opponents call “exterminator drives” – and calling upon governments to exercise great caution in releasing drive-modified organisms for experimental research.

According to the agreement, such experiments should be carried out only when “scientifically sound case-by-case risk assessments have been carried out,” and “risk management measures are in place to avoid........

© Project Syndicate