Automatic translation of German Press Release of EKAH (ECNH) from 7. May 2018

Environmental precautions. Ethical Requirements for the regulation of new (Bio-)Technologies

Prevention in the environmental sector - ethical requirements for the Regulation of new biotechnologies


The development of so-called genome editing - i.e. new methods that enable selective genetic engineering - is progressing rapidly. For applications in the field of environment, the competent authorities refer to the precautionary principle under environmental law.

They therefore comply with the strict legal requirements that apply to genetic engineering, is currently also justified for these new biotechnological processes. Other criticize that the precautionary principle restricts research and development inadmissibly. The Federal Ethics Committee for Non-human Biotechnology (ECNH) concludes in its report that the precautionary idea is ethically justified and must therefore be consistently strengthened and implemented.

The precautionary principle has emerged from the legal and political discussion and has has been internationally established since the Rio Declaration of 1992. The core idea of pension provision is for two reasons. First, damage of a certain quality should not occur. 

Secondly, if something can be done to mediate or contain them, this should also be done even if the probability of such damage occurring is uncertain. The development of genome editing has triggered a new controversial discussion, such as the application of such procedures in the environment should be regulated. After years of debate.

Parliament passed the Genetic Engineering Act in 2003. This is based on the and provides for strict approval procedures for the application of genetic engineering in the non-human area. Some argue that some of the new Procedures are to be excluded from these authorisation procedures for genetic engineering methods, either because the changes in the result are no longer detectable in the product, or it is, because such changes could also be caused by natural mutations. You can rely on the precautionary principle cannot be rationally justified in this context. Others stop on precautionary ideas. The handling of these new technologies in the environmental sector is are just as much characterised by uncertainty and gaps in knowledge as the conventional Biotechnologies. This uncertainty is connected with the plausible fear that in systems such as those of the environment, even possible small changes are too much could cause serious damage.

In its report, the ECNH discusses the different ethical justification approaches of the precautionary idea. The members come to the conclusion that the precautionary idea ethically justified, irrespective of the approach chosen, and therefore has to be taken into account in the regulation process new technologies must be consistently strengthened and implemented in the environment. Furthermore, the members agree that pension situations are a reversal of the burden of proof to justify: Those whose actions give reason to fear serious harm must plausibly demonstrate that such damage is extremely unlikely and scientifically is absurd. The precautionary concept also allows for a comprehensive duty of investigation to reduce uncertainty. This with the aim of creating new procedures to enable an appropriate risk assessment. The ECNH regards it as firstly, the trustworthiness of risk assessments by science and industry authorities and on the other hand to improve the political awareness in dealing with new technologies and the associated incertainties.


Eidgenössische Ethikkommission für die Biotechnologie im Ausserhumanbereich (EKAH), in italiano Commissione federale d'etica per la biotecnologia nel settore non umano (CENU), è stata istituita dal Consiglio federale come commissione federale extraparlamentare, con l'obiettivo di garantire alle autorità una consulenza di carattere etico nel settore della biotecnologia e dell'ingegneria genetica in ambito non umano.

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