ATT: Representatives of the people of Zambia to the Convention of Biological Diversity-14/11/2018


Dear representatives of the people of Zambia to the Convention of Biological Diversity,

We wish you well in your travels to Egypt and the critical negotiations you will undertake on behalf of the citizens of Zambia.

We understand the nature of the discussions at this year’s CBD COP will be highly controversial and critical in determining the future course of humanity’s use and manipulation of genetic resources – and in turn –  the impact of nature on humanity.

Of particular concern to us, are the discussions related to synthetic biology and gene drive technologies, digital sequencing, and their overarching biosafety standards.

The current proponents of synthetic biology are proceeding under the false assertions of experiments in the interest of public health. However, the developers of new SynBio technology themselves state that the real use and profits from the technologies are to found in the food and agriculture system. The strong push for the unregulated expansion in the use of these new technologies is driven by foreign corporations and philanthropic capital that facilitate the further control of global pharmaceutical and agro-food chains.

The establishment of the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Cartagena Protocol, were in recognition of need to take a precautionary stance when dealing to new unknown technologies and regulate the capital exploitation of genetic resources and living organisms; to protect biodiversity – and thus humanity – from harm.

In the past decade, the topic of new genetic engineering techniques (‘synthetic biology’) has risen up the agenda of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). New technological approaches such as genome editing and rapid DNA synthesis are being commercially applied with significant economic disruption expected, especially on the economies, livelihoods and biodiversity of countries in the Global South.

Zambia citizens repeatedly state their absolute objection to Genetic Modification, and now its extreme versions found in Synthetic Biology. Africa has been the site of foreign and corporate exploitation for many years, and synthetic biology poses an extreme new era of manipulation and control.

We reiterate our public position that Zambia remains a No-GMO country. We raise our serious concern regarding

the considerable unknown risks associated with new SynBio technologies and their disruptive effect on local livelihoods and ecosystems;

the inability to contain gene drive organisms following both field trial and commercial releases,

the inability to regulate trans-boundary movement of GDOs;

the issues surrounding monitoring, assessment and liability;

and the need for free, prior and informed consent, particularly with regards to lands and territories of indigenous and local communities as enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 The advances in synthetic biology present clear risks to the environment, health and biodiversity of the African region, and threaten livelihoods. The current regulatory environment needs to be updated and reviewed to stay abreast of these advances, with particular attention to the environmental release of synthetic biology organisms. Of especial concern is the potential deployment of gene drive systems, where even regulations pertaining to contained use should be reviewed with extreme precaution. Benefits sharing, with regards to digital sequences, should also be reviewed, since open access to digital sequences is likely to facilitate further biopiracy and profit extraction of African plant resources.

We support the global civil society call for a moratorium on gene drive releases, including applied research such as open field trial releases, until there is further understanding of the potential risks and technical issues.

Together with our international civil society partners, we ask you to put precautionary governance ahead of this fast-moving and disruptive field and ensure Parties:

  • urgently agree to not release gene drive organisms;
  • implement stringent contained-use standards to prevent accidental releases;
  • put in place the means to detect, identify, monitor, track and test for the presence of synthetic biology components, organisms and products; and,
  • establish the means for rapid horizon scanning of new developments
  • Synthetic Biology could also be formally identified as “a new and emerging issue,” reflecting its substantive and recurrent presence in the CBD’s programme of work.

We therefore call on you, our national representatives to the Convention on Biological Diversity COP 14 and Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety COP-MOP 9 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to uphold the wishes and best interests of Zambia, her citizens and her environment and future generations.