Who we are

Ricarda A. Steinbrecher

Co-director

Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher has a PhD in molecular genetics from the University of London, and a first-class honours MSc. in biology from the University of Kiel, Germany, specialising in developmental biology and cytogenetics (1985). Ricarda has worked as a research scientist in the field of mutational analysis, gene regulation, gene identification and human gene therapy in university and hospital settings.

Since 1995 she has been working on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), their risks and their impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, agriculture, food security and health. Her expertise includes genetic use restriction technologies (e.g. terminator technology), GM trees and their risks for global forest ecosystems, transformation induced mutations, epigenetics, the new genetic modification techniques (nGMs) including genome editing techniques such as CRISPR/cas9, synthetic biology and, more recently, gene drive technologies and applications. She has written on all these issues and most recently was co-author of a major report on gene drives, published May 2019.

Also since 1995, Ricarda has been closely involved in the UN-led international negotiations and implementation of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, and served from 2009-2013 on its Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Risk Assessment and Risk Management of Genetically Modified Organisms. Since 1998, Ricarda has also been involved in the processes of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), including its Subsidiary Body on Science, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA). She has been serving as a member of its technical expert group (AHTEG) on Synthetic Biology since 2015.

Ricarda is advisor and consultant to many national and international organisations and processes, and has acted as scientific expert in governmental and public consultations, hearings, court cases and international tribunals. She was a judge on the Permanent People’s Tribunal in 2011 which found the (then) 6 leading agrochemical corporations guilty of systematic violations of human rights. She is frequently invited as a key-note speaker, or on a panel, for example at the EC’s High-Level Conference on Modern Biotechnologies in Agriculture September 2018. She collaborates with and works alongside civil society organisations, indigenous peoples, women’s organisations, farmers’ groups and movements in the global North and South.  This work includes workshops, biosafety trainings, field work, and collaborations regarding different agricultural systems and approaches. She has also engaged in speaking tours (e.g. on terminator technology in Central America, GE trees in North America, GE rice and GE crops in Asia, and new GMOs in Canada).

She is a board member of several national and international organisations, and is also a founding member of several, including the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). Ricarda is a member of the Federation of German Scientists, for whom she serves as representative at international and UN negotiations.

Her recent publications and presentations focus on the new GM techniques (including genome editing), the risks and implications of synthetic biology and the risks and limitations of gene drives, as well as the precautionary principle and technology assessment. Previous publications focused on transformation induced mutations, genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs, e.g. terminator technology), biosafety implications of GE trees and the failure of GM crops to increase yield. All of these are available for free download from our publications page.

 

Helena Paul

Co-director

Expertise: land rights; food sovereignty; oil exploitation in tropical forests; biofuels and bioenergy; carbon and biodiversity offsets; geoengineering; climate change; corporate power; and the social and agricultural aspects of genetic engineering.

Helena Paul built her expertise through direct collaboration and involvement, research, campaign practice, advocacy work and negotiation. From 1988-1996 she worked for the protection of Indigenous Peoples' rights and territories in the context of their recognition by new constitutions in Colombia and Brazil. She then got involved in issues around the exploitation of tropical forests and oil extraction, particularly in Ecuador, during which time she represented Europe on the international committee of Oilwatch International (1995-2000) and was involved in founding the UK Forest Network (early 1990s). She also worked on agricultural biodiversity and food sovereignty issues. Helena worked at the Gaia Foundation (1989-2000) until joining EcoNexus.

From 1996, Helena began to turn her attention towards patents on life and genetic engineering. In this context, she co-founded the No Patents on Life Coalition and the Genetic Engineering Network, and co-founded and chaired (1999-2014) the UK campaign for a Five Year Freeze on GE in food and agriculture (now called GM Freeze). In 2000 she started focusing on GE soya and maize, especially in Argentina, Brazil and later Paraguay, and their impacts on biodiversity, agriculture, small farmers and local communities. She has travelled widely, speaking and advising (in English and Spanish) on genetic engineering and biofuel issues.  Between 2007-12 she attended meetings of the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with regard to biofuels, land use issues, agriculture, soils and carbon offsets.  She also participated in the process as the EU was elaborating its Renewable Energy Directive. She has written on biofuels and their implications (e.g., for food sovereignty, biodiversity, climate, soil and water, land rights and human rights) and worked to ensure that the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) took a critical position on bioenergy.

She has attended meetings of the CBD since 2006, focusing on genetic modification, bioenergy, biodiversity offsetting, geoengineering, alien invasive species and synthetic biology at different moments in the CBD process. She has made presentations and written many articles for the ECO, the daily civil society publication at CBD meetings. She has also helped to develop civil society positions and statements. Currently she is involved with monitoring issues of biodiversity mainstreaming, incentives and subsidies harmful to biodiversity, and the post 2020 framework for biodiversity at the CBD.

Helena has researched the emergence and development of the modern for profit corporation, particularly its rights and (lack of) accountability, in collaboration with various organisations including the US-based Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy. She has written articles on this topic and is co-author of the book Hungry Corporations: transnational biotech companies colonise the food chain (Zed Books, 2003).

Helena has highlighted the importance of the full inclusion of the public in developing and applying processes of assessing new technologies before they are deployed and has participated as chair of the GM Freeze in the UK’s GM Nation project – a nation-wide consultation involving many public meetings attended by thousands of people, with thousands of feedback forms filled and a ‘narrow but deep’ discussion with representative groups of the public plus two citizen juries. All of these showed that the public felt that a precautionary approach should be taken to GM, no GM crops should be grown or GM food sold in the UK and assertions that it can ‘feed the world’ are unfounded and over simplistic. She was also a member of the oversight group of the Synthetic Biology Dialogue, 2010.

She was part of the process to achieve the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, FAO 2012.

She has worked on food sovereignty in the UK, participating in the first two national food sovereignty gatherings in 2012 and 2015 and has spoken at several UK meetings on the subject.

Helena has written articles and papers on a wide variety of issues including corporate power, industrial agriculture, the social and ecological impacts of GM crops, bioenergy and geoengineering. She contributes to The Ecologist from time to time, and has written articles on biofuels for specialist outlets. Many of these are available for free download from our Publications page.

 

Ruthi Brandt

Adminstrator and research support

Ruthi Brandt has an MSc in ecology and environmental sciences from Tel Aviv University, and an MSc in behavioural ecology from the University of Oxford. She has worked at the University of Oxford’s Biodiversity Institute as science policy officer and administrator. She is currently pursuing a third MSc, in sustainability and adaptation at the Centre for Alternative Technology and the University of East London.

 

Mark Wells

Researcher

Dr. Mark Wells is a biochemist with nine years of research experience in molecular biology and biochemistry. He gained a first class MChem in Biological Chemistry from the University of Sheffield, before continuing there to complete his PhD studies in the biochemistry of prion diseases (of which BSE, or mad cow disease, is the best known example).

He then went on to work at the Medical Research Council Centre for Protein Engineering in Cambridge, focussing on molecular studies of the tumour suppressor p53. Following this he joined a bio-technology start-up developing metabolically engineered bacteria to produce biofuels.

More recently he has gained experience in the sustainability sector, and completed a PGCert in Sustainable Development in Practice at the University of the West of England. Mark joined Econexus as a researcher in 2017 focussing on new genetic engineering technologies and more recently on gene drive applications.

 

Susanne Gura

Dr. Susanne Gura has a PhD from Bonn University in nutritional science and rural sociology, with research on gender issues during the Green Revolution, focusing on Indonesia. Her MSc was in human nutrition with additional studies in development economics.

She has specialised in agricultural biodiversity, including livestock diversity and pastoral systems. She has also investigated corporate concentration and control over genetic resources in the livestock and aquaculture industries and the implications for food security, food sovereignty and sustainable farming.

She has worked with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and advised the German government on international agricultural research policy, with a focus on the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). She coordinated German and international civil society groups participating in negotiations and processes of UN bodies, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the FAO. She is advisor to various civil society organisations.