Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D. Eubios Ethics Institute 1992
The safety of medicines is generally well examined in industrialised countries, and extensive safety tests are required for any new medicine for human, or animal, consumption. Some human proteins that are used in treating disease, such as insulin, are already made from genetically engineered microorganisms, and these should always be subject to stringent safety examination, in addition to tests to prove their efficacy in treating some disease. There are numerous products already sold, and over one hundred more products made using recombinant DNA are under safety and efficacy trials around the world (Gibbons 1991b). Medicines will continue to be examined in a stringent way, and the standards used are well established. Of course refinements should be made case-by-case, protecting human health.
Another group of products that are made from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are food additives, such as amino acid supplements. The question is how to examine their safety. In 1990 a case of impure batches of an amino acid L-tryptophan were associated with many cases of a disease, eosiniophilia-myalgia syndrome, which led to 27 deaths in the USA in 1989. The L-tryptophan preparation was produced by Showa Denko, and the cause was insufficient filtering of the preparation, so that one substance was left in the preparation that later was converted to a toxic substance. The substance could have been easily removed by a charcoal filter, but they attempted to save costs. The preparation was made from a genetically modified bacteria, but that was not the cause. Subsequently in the USA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided to submit L-tryptophan to the testing procedures required for a drug rather than the looser regulations required for a food additive. Not all food additives may need to pass the extra safety tests, but this case must be considered when regulating food additive safety.
The major issue that is facing regulators and consumers, is how foodstuffs made from varieties of organism that have been made by genetic engineering should be regulated. New varieties of plant and animal that are used to produce food have been constantly introduced to expand the range of foodstuffs. We can think of kiwifruit, as a stunning example of the rapidity of adoption of a new variety of foodstuff. In general, these foodstuffs are introduced with no safety concern, and in most cases the varieties made using genetic engineering should be harmless, or perhaps even safer than existing foodstuffs. The conclusion of international working groups is that in general there should be no harm to human health and therefore they do not require any special regulations (International Food Biotechnology Council, IFBC 1990). We are already consuming harmful foodstuffs that have been handed down to us for generations, especially some types of seasoning and spices, and beverages. Compared to the risks from these foodstuffs, the new crop varieties should generally present no significant risk.
In some cases we already consume the proteins that are added to the new crop variety bred using genetic engineering. For example, virus-resistant plants which are made to express part of the virus protein which works in a way analogous to human vaccination; the plant will be the same except that it will contain this extra protein. Already we probably consume more of this virus protein in our food, because the vegetables we eat contain plant viruses from the natural infection of crops. There is no harm at all for humans from most plant viruses, so virus-resistant vegetables made in this way should in general require little testing. On the other hand, when we attempt to improve the nutritional qualities of vegetables, which has been achieved for potato, we will need to examine the new variety more carefully. But, if the improvement was made by the addition of a protein gene from soyabean to potato, for example, because we already consume soyabean we would have little fear of consuming the new potato variety. We may still want to check that the levels of substances produced in the potato were safe however, because there are some naturally occurring toxins in vegetables that have been selected by plant breeders to remain at a low level of expression, and we should not consume a variety that contains a lot more of this toxin than is in the varieties we already consume. This test could be performed very simply by food scientists and biochemists, without the need for extensive safety testing, unless there was something strange about the observed composition. We should also note the future potential of genetic engineering, to produce more nutritious and safer food than we consume now, by the breeding of new varieties of crops excluding the naturally occurring toxins and carcinogens that we consume everyday from our food.
These examples attempt to show, that the approval of new food varieties depends very much on the case. A possible regulatory system would be to examine the properties of all such foodstuffs, and for an independent review committee to decide whether further data was needed or not. Ideally, it would be better for the plant breeders to have contact with such a committee during development, to get an idea of the level of examination required. The use of a committee allows more flexibility than a regulation list, and also such a list could not be sufficiently detailed for the new developments and for all the cases. However, we must ask whether we will submit the foodstuffs we already consume to the same tests. The future society may do this, in order to reduce the number of carcinogens in the food they eat. People are realising that the natural constituents of food contain numerous harmful substances, and because of the quantity of these foods we eat, the artificial pesticide residues are insignificant in comparison in our diet. Of the pesticides we consume, 99.99% are natural substances present in our foods, only 0.01% are from chemical pesticide sprays (Ames et al. 1990). Neither, should we see the food we eat now as being "natural" most vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and meat is produced from varieties and breeds that humans have selected, in some cases over centuries or millenia, in others over decades. Perhaps the immediate question to ask anyone with concern is whether they still smoke, by far the most risky mixture of substances among the common personal cuisines.
In 1990 the British government approved the production of a bread with a variety of baker's yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), made by genetic engineering (Macer 1990). Britain; is one of the world leaders in setting procedures, and the working of an independent review committee for examining the safety of foodstuffs produced by genetic manipulation (Watts 1990). The European Community has modelled its guidelines for examination of these foodstuffs on Britain's voluntary guidelines. This yeast variety is now used in other countries, and we should note that in bread some live yeast are always present. The change that was made to the yeast was to improve the enzymic breakdown of maltose, making the bread rise more quickly. There are also strains of yeast for beer production that may soon be sold. In Japan, the fermentation industry has a long history, and it is one area where immediate applications of biotechnology and genetic engineering are expected. There is however, still uncertainty over the regulatory procedures that will be used to judge the safety of new varieties of organism.
Internationally, there have been taste trials of some genetically engineered foods, but no vegetables or meats have been yet approved. In general the taste trials are conducted by scientists themselves, who should have more idea about what they are eating. The FDA of the USA is considering the first application, by the company Calgene, to approve tomatoes containing an extra gene. The decision is not expected until 1993. This is the first test case for vegetables, and there are many products ready for applications. The tomato that Calgene, and other researchers, have developed, has a gene slowing the rate at which it softens. The tomato variety made stays firm for much longer, so that it won't spoil during transport or so quickly on the shop shelves. This means that it does not need to be picked until it is red in colour, so that it has a better taste. There are obvious benefits for farmers and consumers from this. It may especially be an advantage for farmers in poorer countries where transport and storage facilities are less efficient; their tomatoes can still reach consumers. There is mainly concern over the marker gene for resistance to an antibiotic kanamycin, that is included in the tomato. A marker gene is used during the development of the transgenic crop, for selection of the cells containing the desired gene. However, this resistance gene is already widespread in the environment, so many have little concern about consumption in food, and even if it entered the environment it is already there.
There are many other plant varieties made by genetic engineering that have been grown in fields, in numerous countries (a total of about 400 approved trials worldwide, at the time of writing, compared to only one in Japan). Other common traits added are virus resistance, insect resistance, and tolerance to grow with herbicides (as discussed in chapter 5). Other modifications made are improved nutritional quality, and tolerance to environmental extremes (salt, water-shortage, and temperature).
Genetically modified animals for food production are at an earlier stage of breeding. There are pigs, cows, goat, sheep and fish with inserted growth hormone genes in attempts to make them grow faster and have less fat than other breeds. In early 1992, there are only small trials, in a few countries. By the stage that they are ready for food production, protocols for food approval will have been worked out for vegetables. There are however, some animal hormones made by genetic engineering of microbes that may be used on animals, and one such hormone may soon be widely used in the USA. It is bovine growth hormone (bovine somatotrophin, BST), and it appears to be safe to humans (Juskevich & Guyer 1990, 1992), but there are still some concerns. Recent rumours have emerged that it may cause birth defects in cattle, and that such data has been hidden (MacKenzie 1992). This needs further investigation. The real issue in this case is the socio-economic implications for farmers, as discussed in chapter 5, and for some people the issue of animal rights if the animals might suffer from increased incidence of disease.
There are fish that have been made to grow faster, or larger, by biotechnology techniques, but not what is normally called genetic engineering. The fish are made to contain 3 copies of the existing chromosomes, instead of 2 copies, and some grow larger. Also, sex selection of animals is already commercially used, as is embryo transfer for cattle, and some sheep. It is possible for farmers to implant embryos for beef cattle into dairy cows, to produce calves that make more beef. In all these cases, the animals are no different genetically to what are eaten now. Biotechnology has also been well established for plants too, using new ways to reproduce plants vegetatively, to produce virus-free potatoes. Entire timber forests have already been planted from pine-tree cells reproduced in cell culture, vegetatively. In these cases also, there is no genetic difference to the plants produced, except that they may grow better because they are disease free, or are from selected plant breeding lines.
The views on the safety of products made by genetic manipulation were examined by Q8. The questions used by Couchman & Fink-Jensen (1990) were used, with room for free response to questions of the concerns people had:
Q8b. If any of the following were to be produced from genetically modified organisms, would you have any concerns about using them?
1 No Concern 2 Concern.
For each product that you are concerned about, what concerns would you have about using it?
Dairy products Vegetables Meat Medicines
People were asked about their awareness that GMOs could be used to produce food and medicines. 75% of the public said that they were aware of this, similar to 73% of the public in New Zealand. In Japan and New Zealand 97% of teachers and 95% of scientists were aware of this, the same levels! Given the difference in response to Q5a about biotechnology and genetic engineering, and Q7a, this raises a question about higher proportion of the NZ samples which said that they had not heard of biotechnology, genetic engineering or manipulation. The responses to Q8a in Japan were correlated with the interest in science (Q1) and the awareness of genetic engineering (Q5a).
They were then asked the question, "If any of the following were to be produced from genetically modified organisms, would you have any concerns about using them?" The results are in Table 6-1. The results from the public were that approximately half were concerned, and half were not concerned, as in New Zealand the public (about 40% concerned) are more concerned about consuming foodstuffs or medicines made from GMOs, than scientists and teachers in New Zealand. New Zealanders appear to be less concerned about consuming products containing GMOs or made from them, than do the Japanese. The comparative results are schematically represented in Figure 6-1. The biggest difference is in the opinions of high school biology teachers, which are very concerned in Japan. Scientists in Japan are also more concerned than their peers in New Zealand, though many Japanese company scientists showed less concern than government scientists (Page 129, Table 8-2). University students in Japan had very similar opinions to the high school biology teachers.
Vegetables were of less concern, especially among the public, and meat was the product with the highest concern. Dairy products were of intermediate concern. The comparative results of this question in Japan and New Zealand are shown in Figure 6-1.
An interesting relationship between awareness of genetic engineering (Q5a) and concern about foodstuffs (Q8b) was observed (Table 6-2). The teachers and scientists who could explain genetic engineering had less concern about consuming foodstuffs made from GMOs than those who could not explain genetic engineering. However, the public who said that they could explain genetic engineering had more concern about consuming foodstuffs made from GMOs than those who could not explain genetic engineering. This is despite the fact that the public who could explain about genetic engineering were more accepting of genetic manipulation (Q7b, Table 4-8). One could speculate that the information the public has heard about foodstuffs made from GMOs has been more negative than the information that the teachers and scientists have received.
People were also asked to express their concerns, if they had any, and these are summarised in Table 6-3 and Figure 6-2. The major concern expressed was about human health effects and the regulations controlling food safety. The level of concern about medicines was similar to New Zealand. The reasons why people were concerned or not concerned about medicines in Japan ranged, with some people saying they were not concerned about medicines because they were subject to stringent standards of testing, and others saying that they were specifically concerned about medicines because they were given to sick people.
The categorisation of comments was done in a similar way to that described for the comments to Q7 in chapter 4. A total of 20 different categories were used, and these are divided into 14 major categories which are shown in Table 6-3. Some examples of comments (made by the public unless otherwise stated, T=teacher, A=academic) are listed below, for the categories (if comments were also scored in another category it is indicated).
|% Heard of||72.1||82.0||96.9||92.5||84.1||95.4|
Q8: Dairy products
% who had concerns: Q5a: a = not heard b = heard
only c = can explain
Unknown health effect, affect on human body
"I'm scared because it may be harmful for humans"
"It is possible to become a poisonous substance for human beings"
"Danger to human body"
"I fear a bad influence of these for the human body"
"Health reasons and effect"
"I don't know what effect on health they have"
"In the process of digestion and absorption"
"It's unknown what kind of effect will result" T
"Unexpected event must eventually happen" T
"Bad effect on the human body" A
"May bring some problems to the body" A
Long term risk
"We can't say that there won't be any problems in the future"
"We don't know what kind of side effects we have until a long period of examination or testing" (+ side effect, + safety)
"Cause harmful effects in the future"
"Because it is absorbed as it is, it will stay from generation to generation"
"The effect on the human body for eating for a long time"
"The future effects and worry about the future generation"
"If you change the property by manipulation it is unknown what effect it will have on overall metabolism. It is also unknown what influence it will have for use over a long time (it is more difficult to test foods than medicines)" A
"Influence upon mankind in the future" A
"May effect offspring if we use it for a long time" A
Quality and purity cannot be guaranteed
"I'm afraid if it contains a very small quantity of poisonous substances"
"Especially artificial meat is frightening, for instance if there is meat for steak and you eat it cooked raw because in the middle of the meat the bacteria are still alive, and when it enters your body the bacteria will grow"
"Unpredictable poisonous substances"
"Is it purified well? I'm worried about contamination by microbes and whether strange antibodies will be made in response"
"Full of unknown microorganisms"
"Contamination by a harmful foreign gene" A
"Contamination with harmful genes, protein and some kinds of antigen" A
"Abnormal substances may be taken into the body (this is not a problem limited to genetic manipulation)" A
"Unpredictable bad elements. I don't want to keep in my body" A
Safety doubts, need to test properly
"Because there is no assurance of safety"
"Danger of practical use before sufficient safety checks"
"Lack of clinical data"
"Safety control is insufficient"
"Medicine is made under conditions of precise control, but food is not"
"I feel like a guinea pig"
"Will be harmful for long term use, they might make more of productivity than safety" (+ longterm)
"It takes a long time to be sure there is no long term effect. Some check system such as an observation institute isn't established completely (I also think that the ethics of some research institutes and industry is not yet established)" T
"I am anxious, but if there is enough safety control I think there is no problem. For example, an enzyme used in the production of cheese is made from fungi. If it was made from E.coli and it isn't different and it is safe, then I think it is alright" T
"Because I don't know whether it is safe for the body or not" A
"No guarantee of safety, is the nutritious effect the same as natural?" A
"I'm not afraid, but it is necessary to check the safety enough" A
"If clinical trials are not performed well enough there is the possibility to bring some problem like thalidomide and "sumon" problem" (+ safety)
"What about thalidomide? Can you clearly determine all the problems of medicine?"
"Might have an influence on human genes"
"New medicine brings us new disease"
"New disease occurs"
"It's possible to create a deformed animal" (+ ethics)
"Worried about the growth of cancer cells"
"Concerned about immunity or antibodies"
"Change of body's resistance"
"Might cause allergy to take a strange type of protein, which may be cancer causing and abnormal metabolism" A
"This is concern about side effects"
"I'm worried about side effects"
"As a person who has experienced some side effect, I think as a result of unnatural genetic engineering researchers cannot predict if something stays in the body after taking it for a long time. For example, Bioren Aspirin"
"Big side effects"
"Even now we have side effects"
"Can't predict the side effects" A
"Things which don't originally exist in the ecosystem I don't want"
"Good to be natural"
"Against the law of nature"
"Livestock eat food and people eat meat, better to leave to nature"
"There is some reason why these things do not originally exist in nature, so it's not good to change nature (except to a certain degree, depending on the era)"
"To be against nature is already not for human benefit"
"I don't think humans should handle these things chemically"
"Such meat may be a better quality, but it's somehow unnatural"
"No variety of taste (everything "shimofuri")
"I'm vaguely worried"
"Different from medicine, there are natural traditional foods which do not involve the use of genetic manipulation. As long as they exist, I prefer natural" A
"It is different to have sufficient safety check, if possible I want to use natural, God's things" A
"Original taste disappears" A
"I don't know well, but I feel uneasy" A
"Is it really necessary to do this against natural circulation" A
"Worried about the artificial products" A
Because it is food, we use for daily life
"Vegetables and meat we eat all the time"
"These are closely related to our daily life"
"Because it's a thing that goes into the human body"
"Because we put in our mouth directly"
"I think there are problems of safety to take it continually" A
"Because I take it everyday" A
"Food has a big effect" A
Unknown research area
"Different from plants, this is food from animals, if animals are used there are always unknown changes and results"
"There is not enough data to trace bad effects over the long term" (+ long term)
"We don't know what is made"
"I worry to take it into my mouth at the present stage because the current level of technology is not safe" T
"We will know in the future when the techniques are developed and something unknown by science happens" A
Lack knowledge or information, information is hidden
"I feel abstract fear because I lack knowledge"
"I'm worried about any bad influence. I feel uneasy because I don't know anything about gene manipulation"
"The fact that I can't understand genetic manipulation itself is worrying"
"I wonder what kind of method they use and what kind of chemical is used for the procedure of genetic manipulation"
"Production process and sales route is not known"
"Because that data is not published if there is a bad effect or not"
"Ordinary people don't know"
"We don't know under which system the product was examined" A
"Because it is not disclosed to the public how such organisms are produced by manipulation and how they are used" A
"I haven't got enough knowledge and judgement to know if it is safe or not" A
"For ordinary people it is not clear, so I'm worried" A
"I'm worried because it is never disclosed to the public, although I've heard that there are some fields where new techniques are already being used" A
"People always talk (or only do research) of the useful side, but there is little talk about the bad side" A
Don't know what consuming
"Because I cannot imagine"
"Because its an everyday thing and I don't know what it is so I'm scared" (+ because its food)
"Because we don't know what kind of meat is made"
"Because food is not made by a single chemical substance, don't know what happens when I eat" A
Environmental or ecological effects
"I feel a fear for safety, the environment, and that original existing organisms on the earth will be destroyed" (+safety)
"New thing will be made and I am worried about the effect on the ecosystem"
"Don't know the effect on humans or the environment"
"Possible to significantly break the inter-relationship between organisms (ecosystem)" T
"There is no guarantee it will not contain any harmful substances for humans and the ecosystem after a long time" T (+ longterm)
"Influence to the ecosystem" T
"Pollution by harmful substances" A
"Is it OK if only humans survives?" A
Economic, ethical or political concerns, corruption of safety standards
"I don't trust the safety standard which is decided by the government or industry"
"A sufficient checking organisation is necessary in order that the applications are not determined by the researcher's personality or ethical standards" (+ safety)
"At the moment in medical practice there are many things we can't trust"
"Because you want more quantity there is a danger of neglecting safety"
"Can't trust the safety standards of pharmaceutical companies"
"Researchers sometimes can't stop research"
"Even ordinary medicine will cause side effects (I wonder if the researchers who are involved already know when they are doing experiments). If we take many things together they may react with each other inside the body" (+side effects)
"Can't trust the results of research looking at the effects"
"I don't know what level of manipulation, but I can't think that companies will sufficiently employ safety checks anyway" T
"Can we grasp the complete composition? Even if we could, big companies often hide the fact that it has harm for their economic benefit" T
"Can we morally accept artificial animals?" A
"In this country morals are not yet established and it has a tendency to seek benefit even if something is dangerous. At the moment we have high technology and we haven't got the real thing in any field because even now we are envious of European things - the reason is that we seek the real thing. To have high technology and to make imitations; this leads to us seeking only benefit. I think this is Japanese people's morals." A
Patients are weak (for Medicines)
"Because it goes directly into sick people's bodies"
"I want to consider very carefully because medicine is taken by patient's who have weak resistance" T
Give to children (for Dairy products)
"Because a large amount, and children take a lot, I'm worried about allergy"
"Such dairy food looks like a yellow light for children"
"Suckling babies and infants drink milk"
"Can't say its perfectly safe milk, like powdered milk which failed"
"Babies use it"
"I'm worried, especially when children have the product, they are less resistant than adults" T
There was very little expressed concern about animal rights in Japan, as noted in section 4.4 in response to Q7, and this was especially true of the responses to this question. The comparative values for concern about cruelty to animals in response to Q8b are shown in Table 6-4.
The low level of expressed concern is consistent with other experience, suggesting that Japanese are not aware of ethical issues over the use of animals. A few rare dishes include the consumption of "live" fish. Recently, techniques have been developed to allow the shipping of fish in a live state to shops, via special treatments squid can be sent live in individual plastic bags, and flat fish can be stored semi-live out of water at cool temperatures for periods of 40 days, and will resume full metabolism when reintroduced to water. Cooled lobsters are imported live from New Zealand to Japan in this way. Such food storage or processing techniques are designed to present very fresh fish to consumers, a positive sign for Japanese cuisine. However, we can wonder whether such fish suffer as a result of this process, therefore there are animal cruelty concerns with the way that new technology is being used. Of course this is not to say that Japanese cuisine is the only cuisine which has foodstuffs whose production involves animal cruelty, rather, we have to develop new food technology so that animals suffer less.
Values are expressed as %'s of the respondents who
had concerns (number written in table). Values written in small
figures are those obtained in New Zealand (Couchman & Fink-Jensen
|Unknown health effect,||Public||22 18.0||20 18.9||21 18.0||23 16.0|
|Affect on human body||Students||18.5||20.6||18.4||21.8|
|Teachers||31 21.3||30 20.3||34 21.5||26 22.1|
|Scient.||18 15.6||16 17.4||21 15.3||20 18.3|
|Long term risk||Public||4.6||6.3||5.0||3.9|
|Quality & Purity cannot||Public||3 2.7||4 3.4||4 2.2||1 2.7|
|Safety doubts,||Public||12 12.3||10 13.6||9 11.2||15 11.3|
|need to test properly||Students||11.1||13.2||10.3||10.2|
|Teachers||14 28.0||19 29.0||13 25.3||15 27.3|
|Scient.||36 26.6||36 30.2||29 26.7||41 30.1|
|New disease||Public||3 3.1||2 1.5||3 3.6||1 4.3|
|Side effects||Public||7 4.2||5 4.2||5 3.6||12 12.1|
|Teachers||25 5.3||26 4.3||26 8.9||37 15.6|
|Scient.||15 2.1||14 2.1||14 2.0||16 4.6|
|Unnatural,||Public||26 13.8||32 15.5||27 16.2||21 11.7|
|Taste bad||Teachers||11 14.7||15 14.5||8 12.6||11 9.0|
|Scient.||10 11.5||13 11.6||11 11.4||10 10.5|
|Because it is food,||Public||3.1||3.9||3.6||2.3|
|Unknown research area||Public||4 1.5||4 1.5||4 1.4||5 2.0|
|Teachers||6 5.3||7 2.9||5 2.5||7 2.6|
|Scient.||5 3.1||5 2.9||5 3.0||2 3.7|
|Lack information,||Public||11 6.5||10 7.8||9 6.5||12 5.9|
|Information is hidden||Students||2.5||2.9||2.3||2.6|
|Teachers||6 5.3||7 5.8||8 5.1||7 3.9|
|Scient.||3 5.2||4 5.8||3 5.0||2 5.9|
|Don't know what we are||Public||14 0.8||12 1.5||15 1.4||10 0.8|
|Teachers||8 4.0||7 4.3||5 3.8||4 3.9|
|Scient.||3 0||4 0||3 0||2 0|
|Economic, ethical or||Public||1.5||1.9||1.8||2.3|
|Corruption of safety||Teachers||4.0||4.3||3.8||3.9|
|Med: patients are weak||Students||0||0||0||1.3|
|Dairy: give to children||Teachers||2.7||0||0||1.3|
|Not stated||Public||11 35.8||11 31.1||12 37.1||14 32.8|
|Teachers||6 25.3||4 24.6||3 25.3||4 23.4|
|Scient.||11 25.0||13 30.2||13 26.2||8 25.5|
|Number who answered||Public||871 260||782 206||982 278||694 256|
|that they were concerned||Students||81||68||87||78|
|Teachers||36 75||27 69||38 79||27 77|
|Scient.||62 192||56 172||63 202||51 153|
Values are expressed as %'s of the respondents who
had concerns about animal cruelty (number written in Table 6-3).
Values written in small figures are those obtained in New Zealand
(Couchman & Fink-Jensen 1990).
|Public||1 1.2||0.5||5 1.1||1 0.8|
|Teachers||6 1.0||4 0||11 0||4 0|
|Scientists||11 0||5 0||11 0.5||8 0|
Some people expressed conditional approval, for example:
Questions on the consumption of foodstuffs made from biotechnology have been asked in several other opinion surveys in Japan, and overseas. In a 1983 survey of readers of Nikkei Business magazine in Japan (N=400), people were asked how they felt about food made from bacteria. 31% said they would eat the food without ill feelings, 24% said they would eat it, but thought it was dirty, 12% said they would not eat it, and 33% didn't state an answer. People were also asked if they would eat single cell protein, made from petroleum products, and 46% said this would be no problem, but 31% said they felt resistance to this idea, and 22% didn't know (Nikkei 1983). We should note that research on single cell protein in Japan ceased during the 1980's, for other reasons, the main reason being that there is probably no need to produce it. Also, its production would have adverse effects on international trade.
In 1985 a survey of public in Tokyo and Osaka by Dentsu was conducted (N=970, Dentsu 1985). They were asked to choose between some responses on how they felt about consuming food made by biotechnology. 54% said they thought it was artificial, 6% thought it contained poisonous compounds; while 7% thought such foods would be cheap, 9% thought they would have balanced nutrients, 3% thought they would be nutritious, 2% said they looked tasty, and 26% said they didn't know what impression they had. However, these questions were attached more to hydroponically grown tomatoes, than to food made using tissue culture or genetic engineering. It is interesting that so many people thought that such food seemed artificial.
In the Newton (1989) survey of its readers more specific and current examples were used. 46% said they thought it was good or did not care about sweeteners being made in bioreactors, and 41% were a little unsure, and 5% were worried about it. There was more acceptance of wine made from fused cells, with only 30% a little unsure and 3% worried. 83% knew that vegetables were being made by tissue culture, and 55% thought that this was good or did not care, with 34% a little unsure, and 6% worried. The total of 40% that were concerned to some degree about vegetables made by tissue culture, corresponds well with the value of 40% obtained for concern about vegetables made from genetically engineered plants in this opinion survey. In the Newton survey, 25% thought that it was good or didn't care to eat bigger fish (Ayu) made by biotechnology, but 57% were a little unsure and 16% were worried about this. The level of concern about fish, 73%, is higher than the level of concern expressed in this survey about meat, 55%. In the Newton survey, 47% thought that it was good that medicines made by genetic engineering were to be sold, but 33% were a little unsure, and 3% were worried. In this current survey, there was more concern expressed about medicines.
In a June 1989 interview survey (N=2380, PMO 1990b), people were asked questions on the theme "how to make a healthy life". 65% said that they were interested in food from the nutritious point of view, while 34% said that they were not interested. They were asked what they especially wanted to know about consuming food specially made for health conditions and to chose up to two factors from a list. 47% said safety would be an issue, 32% said it depended on how effective it was for the intended purpose, 21% said it would depend on the nutritious quality, 17% were concerned about the ingredients, 7% were concerned about the price, 4% were concerned about the dose, and 3% about the different kinds, while 26% said they "didn't know". The major concern was safety. The proportion who said "don't know" was similar to the proportion of the respondents to Q8b who had a concern but did not state it. However, this was a choice from a limited list. This current study gives a much more fundamental breakdown on the issues people are concerned about when consuming new foodstuffs. It may also be an advantage to give people time to write down their concerns.
In the same public survey by the Prime Minister's Office, people were also asked where they got their information about food nutrition. 37% said from television and radio, 27% said from newspapers, 21% from magazines, 21% from the information on food packaging, 16% from friends and family, 11% from cook books, 4% from advertisements, while 27% said from nothing special. Interestingly there appears to be greater use of magazines and book to get information about food than there is to get information about science and technology (see section 8.5). If understandable information about science and technology was included in the same magazines, or in popular books, the people may get more information from that source than they now do. People do use food labels, though in another question, only 57% said that they knew the existence of food labels. 64% said that food labels needed to include the basic details like fibre and cholesterol, 56% said that labels were needed for prepared and processed food and 34% said labels were needed for unusual food that they don't normally take. Food made from GMOs should be marked so, to give people such basic information. Some people actually may be attracted by "bio-products".
The attitudes of Dutch people to foodstuffs produced by biotechnology has recently been surveyed (Hamstra 1991). Most people were unwilling to accept foodstuffs produced by biotechnology. 870 public respondents were interviewed in the Netherlands. Using a points rating system, on a scale of 1 (totally unacceptable) to 38 (totally acceptable), the scores for the following cases were; from crops manipulated to reduce pesticide use (7.8), from transgenic animals (4.3), food from genetically modified organisms using genetic material from plants (6.4), microbes (6.3), humans (2.5). There was somewhat more acceptance if there were benefits, such as better taste or it was cheaper, or benefits to the environment. As has been found in New Zealand and Japan, meat from transgenic animals was less acceptable than food from transgenic plants, and in the Netherlands, the major reasons why people were concerned about such meat was safety, unknown health effects, and animal abuse. In a European wide survey (MacKenzie 1991, N=12800), 65% of people approved of genetic engineering to improve food and drink quality, but 72% said that it was "risky".
Do we need special regulations?
In the Newton survey in Japan, 59% thought that food made using biotechnology should be examined by special regulations. Their questions did not use the phrase "genetic engineering", rather they used "biotechnology", and this could be an important factor in the responses in view of the results of Q5 because biotechnology is associated with less concern than is the word genetic engineering. The results of this survey suggest that people with greater awareness of biotechnology, the teachers and scientists, have somewhat less concern than the general public, but there is still much concern, as was suggested by the 1989 Newton survey of readers of that science magazine (82% said they knew at least a little about DNA). An assurance of the safety of such foodstuffs is required, though as outlined in the introduction, regulators should avoid imposing unnecessarily strict and unique regulations on foodstuffs made from these particular varieties of plant or animal.
The Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare has published bilingual guidelines for foods and food additives produced by recombinant DNA techniques (MHW 1992). The guidelines appear to be adequate and balanced, but the real test will come with their application to real cases. They decided to focus only on foods and additives made from organisms that have been developed using genetic engineering techniques, considering techniques such as cell fusion or cell tissue culture were not especially novel (it is too late anyway because we already consume foods made using these techniques). They exclude organisms that have gene deletions from these guidelines, only including organisms which contain "recombinant DNA" sequences or parts of vectors. The guidelines apply to "foods in which recombinants themselves are not to be consumed and which are identical to, or deemed to be identical to, existing food products", and they apply to products "intended to be produced in Japan or imported into Japan". Their definitions of category of recombinant organisms follow the OECD (1986) guidelines. The "expert committee" of the Ministry will review all cases "to ensure and sustain reasonable criteria", and they can decide whether to insist on additional data from safety tests or not. The data presented must be published in peer reviewed journals. The key question is whether they decide the foods are novel or not, because if they are novel, extensive safety tests must be performed. The guidelines state "the novelty depends upon comparison of identity and promotion of product with existing foods or food additives". In a rapidly moving and new area, a committee approach to regulation is the only way to efficiently and safely examine food safety. The test of the guidelines will be how the committee works, whether they make their proceedings public, and where it draws the line of novelty.
We may not need to apply any additional regulations, unless novel components are introduced to the food. This is also the recommendation of several international reports, include a FAO/WHO consultation group (WHO 1991). The policy is still being formulated internationally, and people are watching the FDA in the USA (Fox 1991) to see when the first vegetables from varieties bred with genetic engineering will be approved. We should ensure that all people of the world enjoy the protection of similarly high safety standards, and that they are kept informed of the content of their food.
To Attitudes to Genetic Engineering Contents
To Attitudes to Genetic Engineering Chapter 7
To Eubios Ethics Institute home page