This case study illustrates recent developments in synthetic biology that could impact the $35 billion natural rubber market and disrupt the livelihoods of producers. These developments impact the sustainable use of biodiversity and fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the genetic resources associated with rubber production. Natural rubber has already lost half of its market to petroleum-based synthetics. If production challenges are resolved, production via synthetic biology could erode the remaining half. Using synthetic biology, three different commercial teams are working to produce a biosynthetic isoprene that could soon impact Asia’s exporters; other companies are producing biosynthetic butadiene and isobutene, also crucial to the manufacture of rubber.
Synthetic Biology - A New and Emerging Issue for CBD
New developments in synthetic biology could have far-reaching impacts on the market for biodiversity-derived natural products and the livelihoods of those who produce them. Cosmetic giants like Unilver and L’Oreal can source squalene from plant sources (olive oil, amaranth seeds, wheat germ, etc.) instead of harvesting the livers of 6 million deep sea sharks per year. This is a positive development. Now, Amyris is producing squalene from engineered microbes in fermentation tanks that are fueled by biomass – up to two million tons of crushed sugarcane annually. Who decides what is the most sustainable and socially just use of biomass and farmland?
No inter-governmental body is addressing the potential impacts of synthetic biology on the conservation and use of biodiversity and on the livelihoods of those who depend on agricultural export commodities (including high-value flavors, fragrances, cosmetics, essential oils, etc). The Convention on Biological Diversity is the most appropriate forum to address this new and emerging issue.
A Briefing for Delegates March/April 2014
The contribution to AR5 of Working Group I (WGI), approved in Stockholm, September 2013, referred to geoengineering techniques, including so-called solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR), but stopped short of endorsing them.
Ingredients, Flavours, Fragrances and Synthetic Biology
Recent developments in synthetic biology could impact the $22 billion global flavour and fragrance market and the livelihoods of producers of natural commodities. These developments impact the sustainable use of biodiversity and fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the genetic resources that produce natural plant products. The worlds largest producers of food ingredients, flavors and fragrances are all now partnering with Synthetic Biology companies to develop biosynthetic versions of key high value natural commodities such as saffron, vanilla, vetiver and patchouli - replacing botanical sources.
Synthetic biology goes beyond transferring genes between species to constructing entirely new, self-replicating microorganisms that have the potential to convert any biomass or carbon feedstock into any product that can be produced by fossil carbons – plus many more.From the perspective of synthetic biology, the resource base for the development of marketable “renewable” materials (that is not from petroleum) is not the world’s commercialized 23.8 % of annual terrestrial biomass, but also the other 76.2 % of annual terrestrial biomass that has, thus far, remained outside the market economy. Synthetic biology has already attracted the attention of the United Nations and governments. The technology was on the agenda of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity that met in Hyderabad, India in mid-October 2012, with governments agreeing to continue monitoring the technology and report back to future meetings of the CBD.
Full links and background on the 2012 ocean fertilization scheme by HSRC.
In October 2012 ETC Group uncovered that a commercial geoengineering firm had quietly carried out the world's largest geoengineering deployment to-date (in July 2012). When the news became public as a result of ETC Group's investigations, it caused a wave of concern among scientists, governments, the public and of course the people of Haida Gwaii. HSRC have since said they intend to carry out further ocean fertilization dumps. On this page we have collected some of the background on the Haida Gwaii ocean fertilization episode, how the story was reported, the legal situation, the science and more.
A briefing for delegates to CBD COP11
In October 2010 in Nagoya, Parties to the CBD adopted a landmark decision to place a moratorium on the testing and deployment of geoengineering technologies (Decision X/33 para 8w) – recognising the particular threat to biodiversity and livelihoods. That moratorium marked the first time an international body had begun to establish oversight over this new field.
From 8th - 19th October 2012 the CBD will be meeting again at COP11 at Hyderabad India. ETC Group proposes that parties meeting in Hyderabad adopt an “ABC” of precaution:
At COP 11, government negotiators will be asked to consider bringing a new and emerging area of industrial activity under the oversight of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Synthetic Biology is a burgeoning technological field that builds artificial genetic systems and programmes lifeforms for industrial use. It urgently requires effective governance. This briefing details ten key points to consider.
The Case for Technology Assessment
It's not just that we are facing "something new", we are facing "something else". The speed, breadth and depth of technological change is out-pacing and out-scoping policymakers. Since 1992, the convergence of technologies (living and inert) at the atomic - or nano - scale is adding new dimensions to the nature of technological transformation. Governments need global tools to respond to "something else". Find in this briefing ten technology leaps making the case for prioritizing Technology Assessment at the UN.
The State of Corporate Concentration, 2013
In this Communiqué, ETC Group identifies the major corporate players that control industrial farm inputs. Together with our companion poster, Who will feed us? The industrial food chain or the peasant food web?, ETC Group aims to de-construct the myths surrounding the effectiveness of the industrial food system.
Ag monopoly makes mergers suspect – Big Six create “charity” cartel instead, conning regulators and public breeders
Issue: The Gene Giants know their market dominance looks conspicuously like an anticompetitive oligopoly, so they’re launching a series of initiatives – including the false promise of cheap, post-patent GE seeds – to mollify antitrust regulators and soften opposition to transgenics while advancing their collective market control. Meanwhile, the world’s two richest men – Bill Gates and Mexico’s Carlos Slim – are working with CIMMYT (the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) to make bargain GE seeds and traits available to farmers in the global South.
...in collaboration with the Heinrich Böll Foundation
The notion of a "great green technological transformation" enabling a "green economy" is now being widely promoted as the key to our planet's survival. The ultimate goal is to substitute the extravtion and refining of petroleum with the transformation of biomass. Who will be in control of the future green economy?
In this joint report, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the ETC Group reveal the new "Biomassters" and argue that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy will perpetuate the greed economy.
Mega Foundations, Agribusiness Muscle In On Public Goods
Big foundations like Gates and giant agribusinesses like Syngenta are taking an interest in multilateral public institutions committed to ending hunger. The international agencies are having trouble with the “public/private” boundaries. It’s time to evaluate them all.
ETC Group dedicates this Communiqué to the memory of Dr. Erna Bennett who passed away at the beginning of January 2012.
Issue: Three recent incidents show that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) seem to be redacting their reports, or opening their gene banks and looking the other way as the private sector overrides governments and farmers to commandeer agricultural policy and practice. Private foundations and OECD states are causing public institutions to lose their focus on “public goods.”
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