GENTECH archive 8.96-97


Public Fear Over Genetic Engineering Increases

(Writes through with quotes from delegates)

    By Maggie Fox
    LONDON, March 10 (Reuter) - Consumers are frightened about
genetics technology because they are being kept in the dark
about developments until they hit the marketplace, delegates to
a biotechnology conference agreed on Monday.

    Ministers who addressed the conference agreed that Britain's
extensive system of review committees which examines issues of
biotechnology and genetic engineering was not enough to ease
public fears about cloning and genetically engineered food.

    "Consumers are no longer prepared to accept blanket
statements that there is no risk," Alan Malcolm of the Institute
for Food Research told the conference.

    News that scientists at Scotland's Roslin Institute had
cloned a sheep sent shivers around the world, with U.S.

President Bill Clinton calling for the National Biotechnology
Advisory Commission to report on the implications, and meantime
tightening a ban on federal funding of human clone research.

    Several other governments and the European Union are also
investigating the implications of research.

    EU battles are also underway over the import of genetically
modified soybeans and maize from the United States.

    Robin Grove-Wright of the Centre for the Study of
Environmental Change at Lancaster University said trust was a

    "There is a major problem of public trust which has been
exacerbated by the recent BSE crisis," he told the conference.

Government and industry were seen as "operating mendaciously and
against the public interest."

    Grove-Wright presented a report his group did on public
attitudes to biotechnology.

     "Fewer than half the participants had heard of
biotechnology in the context of food," the report read. Many
people felt it was "unnatural" and drew analogies with BSE,
which scientists say arose from feeding sheep's remains to cows.

    "The development of genetically modified foods appeared to
be seen as lying outside people's control, with little sphere
for public choice or intervention. It was commonly seen as being
dirven by powerful financial interests," the report said.

    Delegates agreed that Britain's complicated system of
committees discussing such issues, which includes the Human
Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority, was not enough.

    "The regulatory system alone cannot carry the burden of
maintaining public confidence. All those with an interest in the
technology must work closely together to achieve this,"

Environment Secretary John Gummer said.

    "I would like to see the industry adopt and develop
effective voluntary measures," Gummer told the 200 delegates,
who included scientists, experts from environmental and medical
bodies and consumer groups.

    "We have to keep the legislation ahead of the technology,"

David Fisk of the Environment Department said.

    He also said there should be more examination to ensure the
technology was as safe as companies said it was. "We need to
look at the research that is confirming our risk assessments."


14:41 03-10-97