Biotechnology and the Issues Interconnected with and through it
by Tewolde Berhan G. Egziabher and Vandana Shiva
Biotechnology is avant-guard. But it is also one of the oldest of technologies. This is a contradictory condition deliberately engineered by genetic engineers and their mentors to confuse and fuzz the major social political, economic, moral and philosophical issues interconnected with genetic engineering tissue culture (including cloning) and protoplasm fusion (the artificial fusing of cell nuclei).
Any action humans take through the intermediation of living things, even through inducing other humans, is now referred to as biotechnology, e.g. beer fermentation, waste composting, ploughing with oxen, producing a baby through surrogate motherhood , producing new trees through tissue culture, sheep cloning, changing the genetic composition of tobacco through recombinant DNA technology.
The older biotechnologies have been with us for millennia without needing a collective noun to identify them as a group with some essential commonality. The need never arose. Even now the need does not exist. It is difficult to see why we would ever need to treat fermentation, animal traction, and animal cloning as the same technology.
The term "biotechnology" came into use in the last 3 decades of the emergence of genetic engineering. Those who introduced the term wanted to relate genetic engineering to such well-known technologies as fermentation and animal traction so as to impart it familiarity and harmlessness. Hence all the confusion and fuzz.
Genetic engineering enables the breaking down of all reproductive barriers and the mixing of genes across all living things. It is now possible to take any genes from any organism belonging to any species and introduce them to any other organism. Sexual reproduction normally mixes the genes of individuals of the same species. Occasionally, some genes of individuals of very closely related species can mix during sexual reproduction through a process called introgression. Genes of unrelated organisms do not mix through sexual reproduction.
Some types of genes of bacteria (example, those in plasmids) can naturally transfer to other bacteria and genetic mixing can thus occur horizontally across species. Bacterial parasites (phages) are believed to mediate some, but not all, the cases of horizontal tranfer. Parasite mediated horizontal gene transfer is known even in higher organisms, e.g. among species of fruit fly, but it is much less common than among bacteria.
The natural or parasite mediated horizontal transfers and the sexually induced mixings of genes are ecologically important and may be significant also in evolution. But, the major part of any organism's genome remains unavailable for such transfers in nature, and thus the natural barriers of sexual reproduction, which have maintained the bulk of the species in the biosphere, are maintained in nature unbreached. It is thus only to add to the confusion and fuzz that sexual reproduction and horizontal gene transfer are being invoked to make it seem that, for example, the mixing of pig and human genes is natural and should cause no worry. Genetic engineers and their mentors claim that genetic engineering does nothing that sexual reproduction does not do. Talk of bestiality! The aim of the confusion and fuzz they create is to divert society's attention from the safety, economic, social, political moral and equity problems that might arise out of major interferences with the foundation of life.
But even the proponents of the confusion and fuzz, though happy with the reassurance that their stratagem produces, still require to refer to the new technologies at least when they claim intellectual property rights protection on them. Hence the use of the term " modern biotechnology".
2. How Does Modern Biotechnology Work?
The term"modern biotechnology" is open ended in conceptualization, and any technique of modifying and harnessing into use of any living thing or any component of a living thing that came into use after the first half of the 20th century will qualify for inclusion. Of interest to us at the moment because of their possible impacts on nature and human society are enzyme technology, tissue culture, animal cloning, protoplast, fusion, genetic engineering and the resuscitation of extinct ancient organisms or the introduction of ancient (fossil) genes into present day organisms.
2.1 Enzyme Technology
The body uses enzymes to break down biological molecules into their components, e.g. meat is digested in our alimentary canal into amino acids which we then absorb inside the body cells. Another set of enzymes then reassembles the amino acids into the specific human body proteins. Similarly enzymes are used for fats and carbohydrates. Inside our cells, the reassembling process can use parts derived from proteins as building blocks for carbohydrates or fats. Proteins, fats and carbohydrates can thus become interchanged through the use of enzymes.
These processes have now been developed industrially. The full flexibility of combining enzymes at will is being used to make commodities of plant, animal or microbial origin fully interchangeable. Obviously, this interchangeability of commodities has social, economic and political implications.
2.2 Tissue Culture
Placed in appropriate enzyme solutions, cells of meristematic tissues or even isolated individual cells of many plants species can be induced to divide into a mass of cells, differentiate, and develop into new individual plants. This technique is called tissue culture. It can be used to produced new plants out of an existing plant without going through sexual reproduction. It can thus hasten the process of propagating any plant variety. It can also be used to select individual cells which have some desirable trait, e.g. being virus-free though taken from an infected mother plant. It can also be used to isolate cells with mutant genes of some desired trait, e.g. salt tolerance by immersing a mass of cells in a salt solution and using the surviving few cells to regenerate the desired salt tolerant plants.
Tissue culture is obviously an extension of the traditional technique of plant cloning by planting a branch or any other small piece and letting it root in the soil, e.g. figs. However, such cloning worked only with a limited number of species. Tissue culture makes such non-sexual propagation a technique which can be widely used.
2.3 Animal Cloning
In the some of the lowest animals, a piece of tissue cut off from an individual may develop into a new individual identical with the parent, e.g. hydra. In higher animals, such easy cloning can take place only at the early division stages of the fertilized egg. It is in this way that identical twins are born.
It has recently become possible to take a cell of a higher animal, introduce it into an unfertilized egg and put inside a womb. The introduced cell takes over control of the egg cell and the egg nucleus degenerates. The new individual born is at least in theory a replica of the animal from which the introduced cell was taken. However, it is possible that, as already pointed out under the heading "tissue culture", the cell could have acquired new mutant genes. In practice, more experience with animal cloning would be required before we can say for certain that the cloned animal is indeed a complete replica of its parent. This is because, though genes are certainly the most important determinants of traits, their expression is influenced by their immediate environment, and the immediate environments in which the parent and the clone develop are not identical.
Animal cloning can do the same for animal selection and breeding that tissue culture does for plants.
The likely social, political and moral questions that would arise should human cloning be tried are overwhelming.
2.4 Resuscitation of Fossil Organisms and Use of Fossil DNA.
A microorganism preserved in amber for millions of years will have functional DNA still in it. If the microorganism is placed in appropriate media solutions it can become alive again and continue normal functioning. For example, yeast from the Jurassic age has been brought back to life and used to make beer.
Similarly, the DNA of microorganisms or of larger organisms from distant eras can be introduced through genetic engineering into the cells of modern-day organisms.
2.5 Protoplast Fusion
Normally, any chromosome or DNA sequence which finds its way into a living cell is digested by enzymes and destroyed. However, sometimes naked cells of related plant species can be made to fuse and their nuclei may combine in whole or in part. From this fusion, sometimes a new individual may be developed through tissue culture and a plant with a genetic make-up that would not have existed in nature is brought into being.
Initially, protoplast fusion promised to be a highly creative technique. However, its application has turned out to be limited. It can thus be largely disregarded. New methods may bring it back into greater use. Its impact would be similar to that of genetic engineering.
2.5 Genetic Engineering
In genetic engineering, a DNA sequence from a donor organism representing a gene or genes is introduced into the cell or cells of a recipient organism in such a way as to enable the introduced DNA sequence to remain undigested by enzymes and become expressed. The donated DNA sequence may be physically introduced into the protoplast of the recipient organism. Usually, however, such a physical introduction is not easy and the required DNA sequence is first combined with a vector which can breach the recipient cell's defenses against foreign DNA. The vector is usually a bacterium, a virus or even a transposon (or jumping gene). The DNA sequence when combined with the vector is called recombinant DNA. This is why genetic engineering is often referred to as recombinant DNA technology. It should be pointed out that unlike what the name denotes, the process of introducing a DNA sequence into the genome of a recipient organism is very imprecise and its whereabouts in the recipient cell cannot be determined in advance.
The vectors are usually parasites or pathogens which normally easily breach the host's natural foreign DNA barrier. When used to carry the genes being introduced, they are in some way disabled from being parasites or pathogens.
The new organism in which the introduced DNA is expressed is said to be a transgenic organism.
3. Safety Considerations
The safety considerations in the use of modern biotechnology concern human health, socio-economic well-being and environmental protection. These considerations arise from the fact that the implications of the induced changes in trait may not be fully anticipated, and that they may even be associated with other unthought of traits. It is for these reasons that the Convention on Biological Diversity saw the need for a Protocol on Biosafety, and why such a protocol is now being negotiated. There was an initial resistance, led by the United States of America, to the make of a Biosafety Protocol. The fact that the United States is not a party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the fact that a number of industrialized countries, especially the Nordic countries and Austria strongly supported the call of developing countries for a Biosafety Protocol forced an acceptance of the negotiations. This acceptance was consistent with the Precautionary Approach, which stipulates that lack of adequate knowledge is no reason for not taking action to forestall environmental problems, and against the opposition view that since modern biotechology only mixes genes, which sexual reproduction has always been doing, action is not called for.
The same trends are now evident in the negotiations. Almost all the developing countries and many industrialized countries want an effective Protocol which will set the required minimum standards for a safe world. Some industrialized countries, which feel that such a Protocol will regulate the biotechnology market which they dominate, and less than a handful of developing countries who support them for various country specific complex reasons, want the world to accept a very weak Protocol.
The safety issues being debated include human health, socio-economic well-being, environmental protection, liability and compensation, and risk assessment and risk management.
3.1 Human Health
There are many worries with regards to human health.
Some of the microorganisms being modified by modern biotechnology could develop new pathogenic or parasitic traits or their products could be toxic.
The disabled vectors used in genetic engineering could regain their virulence as disease causing organisms.
These vectors could combine with hitherto harmless microorganisms, give them the new capacity of invasiveness, and enable them to develop into serious pathogens.
In experimenting with insects and other animals which are vectors or intermediate hosts of parasites and pathogens, inadvertent extensions of geographical ranges could be made, introducing old diseases into new areas.
Pathogen DNA used as a vaccine may, through horizontal transfer, be incorporated into a hitherto safe microorganism which could then become a new pathogen causing an old disease.
Antibiotic producing genes introduced into genetically engineered organisms as markers  may spread antibiotic resistance, which is already a serious global problem.
Food allergies are bad enough as they are. The exchange of genes among crops could make hitherto safe crops allergenic. This has already happened with soybean which had genes from brazil nuts introduced into it. They soybean developed the widespread allergenicity of the Brazil nut.
Fossil organisms preserved in amber and brought back to life will be entirely new to the human body. It is possible that some of them could become health hazards.
Some crops are being genetically engineered to produce vaccines. Is the effect of continuous and constant vaccination known? What happens to the crop if later studies show the vaccination to be no longer necessary or even possibly a health hazard?
3.2 Socio-Economic Well-Being
The global social and political implications of modern biotechnology are intimately linked with the present economic and political structure in the world and with its emerging trends. It is obvious that all these issues cannot be governed by a Protocol on biosafety. We should, therefore, restrict ourselves here to the socio-economic issues which should be within the scope of the Biosafety Protocol. We shall return to the bigger global dimensions later.
The introduction of a transgenic crop, forage, forest plant or domestic animal species into agriculture could cause disruptions in existing livelihood systems. An impact assessment should thus precede its introduction, and the necessary corrective measure taken to ensure the social and economic well-being of the target population.
In particular, traditional developing country commodities could be produced in hitherto importing countries. For example, tissue culture has been used to produce vanilla in factory vats, and transgenic kenaf is now being grown outside of the tropical climate normal for this crop. Transgenic rapeseed is now producing oil with properties of palm oil. Such developments would not only cause much social and political upheaval by destroying the livelihoods of poor small farmers and undermining the economic base of their country, but would also force the abandonment of the production of crops and result in serious crop genetic erosion. It may be thought that, if modern biotechnology can give us a way of doing without those crops, they might as well disappear. But the precautionary approach would indicate that we should keep our options open. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, developed countries should help financially and technically in biodiversity conservation. It is thus the duty of importing developed countries as well as exporting (developing) countries to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity Socio-economic considerations should, therefore, be included in the Biosafety Protocol being negotiated.
3.3 Environmental Protection
There are many ways through which an organism modified by modern biotechnology, or brought back into existence from a fossil state of preservation or their products could be dangerous for the environment.
The resuscitated species is obviously now new to the biosphere, and the modified species may have acquired new characteristics which, for all practical purposes, make it also new to the environment. These newcomers to the environment may cause changes to the plant, animal or microorganism communities through the usual ecological interactions of competition, predation, pathogenicity or parasitism. They may also introduce chemicals new to the environment and likely to adversely affect ecological interactions.
As pointed out in the previous section, genetic engineering in crops may result in the discontinuation of their cultivation and thus in genetic erosion.
A gene introduced into a given variety may find its way into other varieties of the species and into other species either through sexual reproduction or through horizontal transfer. It should be recalled that some horizontal transfer happens naturally, but that the combining of the gene in question with a bacterial, viral or transposon (jumping gene) vector enhances the possibility of horizontal transfer. A gene expected to be useful in a given variety could have adverse environmental effects in another.
For example, a gene which produces a chemical toxic to insects has been taken from the bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis and introduced into cotton to make the crop resistant to insect attack. If this gene became transferred into other species, many unintended insects could be eliminated. Even cross pollination, which in many species requires insects, may be negatively affected and unintended plant and animal species be eliminated. Conversely, resistance could be developed by insects and the previous problem of insect attack exacerbated.
Genetic engineering is used to develop crops resistant to a certain herbicide, e.g. the Round-Up Ready soyabean of Monsanto is resistant to the herbicide Round-Up. This encourages the excessive use of the herbicide in question, thus devastating the immediate environment. It increases the development of resistant weeds through selecting resistant mutants. Besides, the introduced resistant gene, now made mobile by combining it with an invasive vector, may be transferred into other species taking the resistance into the natural ecosystem.
Plants, animals and microorganisms are now being genetically engineered to produce large quantities of specific chemicals. Even when the use of these chemicals is no longer needed, it may not be possible to withdraw the transgenic organisms producing those chemicals. It is even possible that the ability to produce those chemicals will be introduced to non-target varieties and species through sexual reproduction or horizontal gene transfer amplified by the invasive vectors combined with the genes. An insidious new form of chemical pollution impossible to clean up may thus be ushered in.
3.4 Liability and Compensation
Modern biotechnology promises many useful applications. But, as seen in the sections preceding these, it is possible that the applications could also go wrong. In all previously introduced technologies, the technology owner benefits from its use, but is also held liable in its adverse effects. The majority of the countries which are rushing into being suppliers in the new and growing market in modern biotechnology refuse to consider liability. They verbally reassure the world that modern biotechnology is useful and cannot go wrong. However, the only reassurance the developing world will take seriously is the acceptance of liability and the commitment to pay compensation. Efforts at verbal reassurance while refusing to accept a liability and compensation regime will do nothing other then conjure up sinister motives. The Biosafety Protocol must thus include provisions on liability and compensation.
3.5 Risk Assessment and Risk Management
All negotiators of the Biosafety Protocol accept the need for putting in place risk assessment and risk management regimes. The debate is on how rigorous they should be. Most of the modern biotechnology industry is in the hands of transnational corporations. The developing countries fear that the minimum standards enshrined in the Protocol will become the norm owing to competition to attract these corporations by minimizing conditionalities. They, therefore, believe that the risk assessment and management regimes of the Biosafety Protocol should be detailed and rigorous enough to ensure global protection, not mere indications to prompt countries into developing their own internal regimes.
4. Intellectual Property Rights Protection
Modern biotechnology has accentuated the differences in intellectual property rights (IPRs) protection (example, patents, breeders= rights) between developed and developing countries.
IPRs were introduced by the industrialized countries. They are explicit on being designed to protect only individual interests of members of the industrial society. One condition for patentability is that the technology be industrially applicable. By denying patentability for non-industrial applications the system discriminates against collectively produced and communally used indigenous and local community technologies. Initially, it treated such communal knowledge and technologies as unpatentable. But this condition has been relaxed and community knowledge and technologies are being taken as fair game for the industrial sector to privatize, e.g. the old Indian technology of parboiling rice has been patented.
One condition of patentability within the industrial system itself has been that what is to be patented should be an invention, not a discovery. With the development of biotechnology, discovery is being subsumed in invention so that the mere identification of a DNA sequence which determines a trait is being taken to be an "inventive step", the same as if describing the sequence creating it from scratch were the same thing. Even if that DNA sequence were made in the laboratory, it would merely be synthesizing a natural product, which is a chemical achievement but not an invention of the natural trait determined by that product. This has lead to the patenting of living things by merely describing a DNA sequence in them. Such patenting will lead to complex legal barriers that will stand in the way of the use and conservation of biodiversity. For example, by merely decoding the genes responsible for gluten in wheat and patenting it, one could control all the research and development in wheat. It is said that a comparable actual patent taken out on cotton is causing problems in cotton research and development.
In the United States, it has now become possible to patent traits without even decoding their genetic causation. For example, male sterility in quinoa has been patented. It should be added that this trait in quinoa was developed by Andean farming communities and an American patent on it is thus unjust.
If adherence to the criterion of invention were adhered to, active ingredients of herbal medicines, even when synthesized, would not be patentable.
It is contrary to the letter and the sprit of industrial society IPRs that all these patents are allowed. It is contrary even when farmers' varieties of crops from farming local communities are taken and, with little or no further breeding, given Breeders' Rights protection as the intellectual property of individuals. Unfortunately, this is happening extensively in industrialized countries, and increasingly so in developing countries.
The Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes that it is indigenous and local communities who have generated and given us our knowledge and technolgies on, and who continue to conserve and use, biodiversity sustainably. It stipulates that the knowledge, technologies and biodiversity of indigenous and local communities should be accessed and used with their prior informed consent, and with their involvement. It also stipulates that IPRs should be supportive of, and should not run, counter to the its objectives, which are the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of its benefits.
It is obvious, therefore, that the predatory and disruptive IPR systems related to biodiversity and the knowledge and technologies on it go contrary not only to our sense of justice, but also to international law.
In contrast to this, the Trade Related Intellectual Property (TRIPs) component of the Uruguay Round of negotiations which created the World Trade Organization insists that microbiological applications and plant varieties shall be protected by IPRs.
Is the world schizophrenic then?
We do not believe it is. The CBD was negotiated by nearly all the countries in the world. The Uruguay Round was initially also similarly negotiated. When the powerful industrialized countries saw the insistence for greater justice and environmental sensitivity, they highjacked the process. They manoeuvered it so that four groups of 10 countries, each group handling issues different from those handled by the other three, finalized the negotiations. The forty countries involved were actual or asking members of the OECD. The TRIPs agreement is, therefore, an embodiment of only the advantaged section of humanity and a nightmare of the rest. For example, Africa was practically unrepresented among the 40 countries.
A sense of justice and an appreciation that affluence in some parts of the globe at the expense of other parts will destabilize even the affluent parts should, therefore, force a reorientation of IPRs.
It is in line with this that a task force established by the Scientific, Technical and Research Commission of the Organization of African Unity has recommended an Africa-wide ban on IPRs on life, called for the whole world to join in this ban, and for a continuation of the unimpeded global flow of biological resources. This would free indigenous and local communities from corrosive corporate pressure, and all the interest on them would turn constructive, and aim at supporting their global service of generating, conserving and sustainably using biodiversity.
5. Biotechnology and a New Monpolization Process
Modern biotechnology was initially developed in universities and other public institutions of developed countries, mostly in the United States of America.
In most cases, the researchers established small biotechnology firms and went into the private sector.
At about the same time, big chemical transnational corporations were buying up seed companies in order to develop crop varieties tied to their agrochemical products (herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers).
These same chemical transnational corporations followed this by buying up the small young biotechnology companies for the same reasons that they bought up the seed companies.
These corporations also often own huge commercial farms in many developing countries. Therefore, they have come to control more and more of the research and development production and end use of agricultural products.
It should be recalled that these same transnational corporations are the users of agricultural products as raw materials in chemical and food processing factories.
Through the use of enzyme technology, these corporations have been developing processes that make the biological raw materials, usually their own products, interchangeable for the production of any processed food or chemical end product.
Through genetic engineering, they are now replacing industrial plants for chemical production by transgenic microorganisms, plants and animals in the factory vat, or arable field or factory farm, as the case may be. This makes agriculture and the chemical industry interchangeable.
With "free trade" guaranteed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) they can shift their investment and thus their agricultural and chemical operations at will from any part of the world to any other. This makes labour globally interchangeable.
Again, through the rules of WTO, any transnational corporation can establish offices any where in the world. This makes all countries interchangeable.
All these combined usher in a kind of monopolization unheard of in the past. Some countries have antitrust laws aimed at the domestic control of economically unhealthy monopolization. The countries where such antitrust laws exist are not many. At any rate, legislation developed for the domestic scene cannot cope with such global process. The world should develop international antitrust legislation that prevents monopolization within a sector, across sectors and across frontiers. Without this, a healthy social and economic development will not be possible, and the disadvantaged global citizens, both in developed and developing countries, are uniting in this contracted world to force their will against it. This has already been shown in the opposition to the draft Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).
6. Biotechnology and Moral Issues
Religion is global. The least religious are probably the most industrialized. But even there, religion is a force which the political establishment can forget only at the risk of its own peril.
Modern biotechnology brings out many religious dilemmas .
Would the eugenics, the redesigning of humans, be acceptable. For example, some religions prohibit the eating of pork. When pig genes have been introduced into cattle, where does pork end and beef begin?
The overwhelming majority of religions and all common decency prohibit cannibalism. When human genes are introduced into cattle, where does human flesh end and beef begin?
When a human being is cloned, is the soul also cloned? Or is the cloned human being without a soul? If so, is she/he a full human being, with all human rights, or merely a lump of flesh to be used and disposed of by an owner as a sheep or a goat is used and disposed of?
Would it thus be in order to clone humans as mere sources of organs and biochemicals? Would it be morally acceptable to produce by cloning defective humans complete only in the context of a given required organ or biochemical?
Many other moral questions could be raised C these will do as examples.
7. Biotechnology and Political Issues
With or without modern biotechnology, the old political fights between the powerful few and the weak majority will continue. So will the struggle between the oppressed women and the oppressing men. Modern biotechnology seems set to fuel these struggles by supplying new weapons.
For example, now that cloning is possible through the use of women, will the billionaire, the oligarch and the dictator work towards eliminating all other men, whom he sees as potential rivals, and using all women to clone himself and progress towards both filling the present world and perpetuating himself into the future? Of course he will have to clone also the women as necessary tools for his self perpetuation.
Or will some group of women do away with men altogether, multiplying and perpetuating themselves by cloning themselves, working towards eliminating men altogether and solving their age-old problem?
Progress in biotechnology has made it possible to identify the genes of individual human beings. There are theories of various degrees of credibility associating certain genes with the predisposition to certain conditions. Should, for example, an insurance company be allowed to test applicants for health of life insurance and vary the premium it charges depending on genetic composition? Should it be allowed to exclude some gene bearers from insurance coverage?
There could be other sinister political implications. Some genes may be found which are peculiar to certain ethnic groups. What political system should the world develop to ensure that these differences are not used to engineer differential vulnerabilities to diseases or toxic substances and eliminate Aunwanted" ethnic groups? The rise of neonazism and the growth of other right wing organizations in the industrialized countries adds urgency to the matter. The history of industrialized countries of the last 500 years is not reassuring in this context.
It should perhaps be recalled here that the areas in which strikingly distinct human genes are to be found are outside Europe, and that the present international law was created by Europe when the world was its colony. Very little change has occurred since decolonization and international law is still entrenched to serve the interests of Europe and the European diaspora. The rest of the world should unite to fight for an international legal system that protects the weak and the peculiar so that we can co-exist in harmony and use the whole range of human evolutionary adaptation to cope with the vagaries of nature, and not to eliminate any of it.
8. Biotechnology and Philosophical Issues
An opinion often expressed, especially by those who are supposed to be the best informed, is that humans have so far adapted to all changes, including the changes they themselves bring about, and they will continue to do so. The implication of this attitude is that we should not try to regulate biotechnology.
It is true that humans have always overcome all hurdles, be they natural or human made. However, this is not peculiar to humans. Every species has overcome all the hurdles it encountered between its emergence and its extinction. The logic is based on induction, but it violates the basic rule of mathematical induction. This rule points out that overcoming a hurdle or even a million successive hurdles is no guarantee that the million and first hurdle will also be overcome. It is possible, and sooner or later likely, that humans can fail to overcome some problem and go extinct.
There is a particular worry at this juncture in human history. These has been no known species that could undertake to directly redesign itself. We know that our knowledge about our body has changed with time. For example, it is known that letting blood cured diseases. If such an understanding of blood had coincided with the ability to eliminate blood, can we be sure that the medieval Europeans would not have engineered themselves to be bloodless? This is an example deliberately chosen to be ridiculous to show how ridiculous it is to assume that we know ourselves sufficiently to be able to redesign ourselves. We may genuinely redesign ourselves into extinction.
Whatever we do with biotechnology, we must prohibit genetic engineering of human beings. Whether we believe in any deity or not, we can all agree that we are not our own creators. We should thus not accept to be our own designers and redesigners. There must be strict national and international laws prohibiting human cloning and the production of transgenic humans.
Whether we could or we could not do without modern biotechnology, it is probably too late to get rid of it. At any rate, it promises to be useful even though this promise has not materialized to any significant degree. On the other hand, modern biotechnology is new and it may yet prove itself very useful. It seems, therefore, to be set to continue with us.
But if it is to develop usefully, the risks involved with it should be prevented. There is, therefore, need for a Biosafety Protocol and for national biosafety laws. These laws should have rigorous provisions on risk assessment and risk management to ensure human and biodiversity health and environmental integrity as well as socio-economic well-being. The owners of biotechnologies, like the owners of any other technology should be held liable for any harm inflicted and they should compensate for damage done.
All IPRs on living things should be eliminated since any achievement relating to life is at best a discovery and never an invention. Such an abandonment of IPRs would at the same time eliminate the predation on the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities.
There should be an effective international law to prevent the use of biotechnology to build trans-sectoral, trans-labour, trans-commodity and trans-geographical corporate monopolies. This new monopolization process cannot be tackled at the national level alone.
In this and in other issues, international law should change to cater for the needs of the whole world and not be allowed perpetuate the interests entrenched during the colonial era.
Also through international law, humanity should protect itself from the use of genetic engineering to target for destruction certain of its social or ethnic groups, and to redesign itself possibly into extinction.