Synthetic biology companies should be mindful of ethics

The UK’s Technology Strategy Board has encouraged companies to be mindful of the Council’s ethical principles for biofuels before embarking on projects in the field of synthetic biology.

The Technology Strategy Board’s Responsible Innovation Framework for commercialisation of research findings (for use in synthetic biology feasibility studies competition 2012) is “intended to help companies anticipate and give responsible consideration to the intended and potential unintended impacts of the commercial development and use of the technology, including the potential for misuse, before the work begins.”

The Framework cites the ethical principles for biofuels policy that the Council set out in its 2011 report Biofuels: ethical issues:

  1. Biofuels development should not be at the expense of people’s essential rights (including access to  sufficient food and water, health rights, work rights and land entitlements)
  2. Biofuels should be environmentally sustainable.
  3. Biofuels should contribute to a net reduction of total greenhouse gas emissions and not exacerbate global climate change.
  4. Biofuels should develop in accordance with trade principles that are fair and recognise the rights of people to just reward (including labour rights and intellectual property rights).
  5. Costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way.
  6. If the first five principles are respected and if biofuels can play a crucial role in mitigating dangerous climate change then, depending on certain key considerations, there is a duty to develop such biofuels.

In accord with the Council’s recommendation that its ethical principles be applied as a benchmark to all comparable technologies and products, the Framework states: “applicants are encouraged to be mindful of the above principles when considering the proposed projects.”

The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency and a non-departmental body working under the sponsorship of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills of the UK Government.


The Technology Strategy Board’s Responsible Innovation Framework for commercialisation of research findings

The Council’s report Biofuels: ethical issues

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