Press Release 07/2016

Ethics councils of Germany, France and the UK push forward public debate on genome editing

At the invitation of the German Ethics Council, representatives of the ethics councils of Germany, France, and the UK convened in Berlin on 21 October for their 7th trilateral meeting. At the centre of attention for the joint public discussions was the topic of genome editing.

Peter Mills of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics presented the preliminary report "Genome Editing", which examines the bioscientific bases as well as the societal and ethical challenges of this broad subject area.

In the further course of the meeting, the conference participants discussed, based on the respective national perspectives, the whole spectrum of genome editing and its application in plants, animals and specifically humans.

Presentations were given by Jens Kahrmann of the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety as well as Steffen Augsberg and Reinhard Merkel of the German Ethics Council.

During the conference, the chairs of the three councils – Peter Dabrock (German Ethics Council), Jean-Claude Ameisen (Comité Consultatif National d'Éthique) and Jonathan Montgomery (Nuffield Council on Bioethics) – stated:

"Genome editing, in particular the CRISPR-Cas9 technique, offers powerful and low-cost new ways of altering, deleting or inserting DNA in living organisms. It is being used widely in many research areas, and the ethical implications of this are being actively considered by the German Ethics Council, the Comité Consultatif National d'Éthique and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics."

Following their joint meeting in Berlin, the chairs of the respective councils agreed that urgent attention needs to be given in respect of a number of key areas, including potential uses in human reproduction, plant and animal farming, and in insects for 'gene drives'.

The three councils are all in the process of carrying out enquiries into various aspects of genome editing. The chairs agreed that it will be important to encourage wide public debate on these questions, and undertook to keep in close contact as they take their work programmes forward over the coming months.

The host of the next trilateral meeting will be the French ethics council in June 2017.

The programme of the conference and audio recordings as well as presentations of the main talks are available here (in German).