Briefing Paper: Gene Drive Organisms: What Africa Should Know About Actors, Motives and Threats to Biodiversity and Food Systems


The African Centre for Biodiversity
PO Box 29170, Melville 2109 South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)11 486 2701

Gene drive organisms: What Africa should know about actors, motives and threats to biodiversity and food systems

Dear friends and colleagues,

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has produced a briefing paper in regard to a new and controversial genetic engineering (GE) technology to produce gene drive organisms (GDOs). These GDOs have been specifically designed to spread an engineered, ‘modified’ genetic trait such as sterility, with the potential to eradicate entire wildlife populations and even species. The briefing is also available in French.

Deploying gene drives to eliminate malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes is proposed by the Target Malaria project, which is funded inter alia by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. As part of a ‘phased’ approach, Target Malaria plans to release gene drive mosquitoes in a third phase, following a first-phase release of 10,000 non-gene drive sterile GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso. This release of the GM (non gene drive) mosquitoes was planned for 2018 but due to community resistance in Burkina Faso, as well as reported technical difficulties experienced by the Target Malaria project, the release has not yet taken place.

Circumventing open and transparent debate and consultation regarding safety, efficacy and regulatory capacity, the African Union took a position of strong endorsement of the deployment of gene drive technologies across the continent, as sanctioned by the African Union High Level Panel on Emerging Technologies (APET) and developed under the aegis and support of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its agency, the African Biosafety Network of Expertise (ABNE). This position has been strongly challenged by the ACB. Nevertheless, it became the consensus position of the African Group that participated in the international negotiations at the biennial United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity meeting held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2018, when the African Group blocked a moratorium on the release of GDOs.

In the African context, where little to no capacity for proper, functioning biosafety systems exist, even for first generation transgenic technologies, open releases of gene drive organisms pose grave risks to the entire continent. Despite the huge questions surrounding both risks and efficacy, a well-funded and aggressive public relations campaign is underway to gain public and regulatory support.

This ACB briefing paper cuts through the hype to explain the serious risks and complexities that GDOs pose to human health, the environment and society.

Links to related information

Recently, together with GeneWatch UK and the Third World Network, ACB released a briefing, Oxitec’s failed GM mosquito releases worldwide: Forewarnings for Africa and the Target Malaria project, which describes the failure of GM mosquito releases to date.

ACB, together with African civil society partners Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Copagen and Terre à Vie, also sent an Open Letter, Stop Risky GM Mosquito Releases: We have the right to say no, calling on the Gates Foundation-funded Target Malaria to stop the intended release of 10 000 sterile male GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, as a precursor to the future release of gene drive mosquitoes in African countries.

Target Malaria’s ongoing project has been non-transparent, with a scarcity of information provided to the public and a lack of public consultations. In a February 2018 briefing paper, GM Mosquitoes in Burkina Faso, ACB highlighted ethical issues with these experiments.

A recent documentary film by ETC Group and Terre à Vie challenges claims by Target Malaria that they are focused on obtaining consent from affected communities.

ACB’s challenge to the African Union on their position, Critique of African Union and NEPAD’s positions on gene drive mosquitoes for Malaria elimination was published in February 2018.

This briefing paper is available in English and French


Kind regards
The ACB Team

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