Biotechnology and the Public OLD News
Extracts from EEIN 1991-1994. Latest news is at the bottom. Provided by Eubios Ethics Institute , at http://eubios.info/index.html.
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Abbreviations for journals
Of general interest is a review of the information sources for biotechnology in TIBTECH 8: 318-323. However, they do not mention the prices of such services, which are often very expensive. There is a large number of resources on biotechnology, representing its commercial importance and the amount of research being conducted. This Newsletter is not intended to belong to this category, though it may function as such for the more general readers.

Even if products from GMOs are approved, the consumer attitudes to them may be very important in determining whether the foodstuffs are consumed. A survey of Dutch attitudes to this is reported in Anneka Hamstra, Biotechnology in Foodstuffs (Dutch Institute for Consumer Research 1991); NS (17 Aug 1991), 9. People were generally unwilling to accept food produced by biotechnology, with plantstuffs and microorganisms being more acceptable than animals, and products using human genes. Related to this is; L.S. Lockshin & W.T. Rhodus, "Consumer perceptions of quality: key issues for horticultural research", Hortscience 26: 823-5. In the UK, the synod of the Anglican church has called for a ban on Nestle products because nestle continues to sell dried milk supplements for infant feeding in poor countries of the world. Comments on a large Eurobarometer survey of biotechnology attitudes in Europe are in NS (29 June 1991), 14; (13 July 1991), 14.

There has been a public opinion survey conducted by Gallup, financed by Eli Lilly, on the attitudes to biotechnology in Europe (Biotechnology 9 (1991), 16). People were questioned in the U.K., France, Germany and Italy, with generally positive support for biotechnology. 63% believed biotechnology will make life better, but only 4% want a total ban on biotechnology in Europe. Most of the people listed new cures for serious diseases as the major benefit. The principle danger was thought to be eugenics, followed by environmental harm. About one third thought biotechnology is ethical, another one third thought it is unethical, and the rest don't know.
There will be a need for farmers to diversify, as discussed in A.Coghlan, "Europe's farmers plough a new furrow?", NS (8 Dec 1990), 12-13. These opportunities may increase the acceptance of new technology, at least among those farmers that can move to more industrial crops or bioreactors, in addition to improved traditional crops.

The distinction between ethical issues and safety issues is often blurred in discussion of biotechnology , as discussed in an editorial, B. Dixon, "Morals, ethics, and biotechnology", Bio 10: 939, which discusses a recent UK report, R. Straughan, Ethics, Morality and Crop Biotechnology. However, the words moral and ethical are reversed from the understanding used generally in bioethics: does anyone want to give me another opinion on this? Looking in the dictionary there are several meanings of ethics and morals, but generally morals are society dependent and ethics refers to the philosophical study of the absolute moral value of human conduct. There is a looser meaning of ethics, which is more consistent with common morality or law, which are relativistic rather than absolute. In addition the article goes on to say that the arguments about the unnaturalness of some applications of biotechnology have "little ethical content, because they rest on unclear language and unsound reasoning." It is true that there is unclear language, but it does not mean that they are not important. Rather, it should be the task of us doing research in bioethics to examine the concept of what is natural or not, to explore this commonly held and key concern (statistically it is a major concern, see my Attitudes to Genetic Engineering book) about biotechnology.
A book review of J. Durant, ed., Biotechnology in Public: A review of recent research, Science Museum, 201pp., 17, is in NS (29 Aug 1992), 47. Some papers related to the social impact of biotechnology include: W.R. Freudenburg & R. Gramling, "Community impacts of technological change: toward a longitudinal perspective", Social Forces 70: 937-55; R. Gramling & W.R. Freudenburg, "Opportunity-threat, development, and adaption: toward a comprehensive framework for social impact assessment", Rural Sociology 57: 216-34. A book review of The Genetic Revolution, ed. B. Davis is in NEJM 327: 963-4. Questions about the cessation of Soviet biowarfare research are in Science 257: 1866.

The Proceedings of the International Seminar on "Impacts of Biotechnology in Agriculture & Food in Developing Countries, Madras, 3-4 Feb., 1992 (EEIN 2: 15-6) have been published. Edited by R.R. Daniel & V. Ravichandran of COSTED (ICSU Committee on Science and Technology in Developing Countries), 264pp. It includes reviews of the situation for biotechnology research and application in many developing countries, and Asian countries (being co-organised by the Asian network for Biological Sciences). For information regarding this conference and the proceedings contact the COSTED Secretariat, 24 Gandhi Mandap Rd, Madras 600 025, INDIA. On agricultural biotechnology and the Third World see Biotechnology 11 (March 1992), S13. A book review of The Origins of Agriculture is in Science 259: 1473-4.

Word must be made of the science fiction movie Jurassic Park , based on M. Crichton's book. It has been a block-buster movie, and has features in many magazines. It is based on the isolation of DNA from dinosaur material, perhaps possible, but extended into fiction as the isolation allows the recreation of dinosaurs. It is another SF movie protraying the adventures of inquisitive scientists, with some mistakes. For reports see GEN (1 Jun), 16; Nature 363: 681; Time (14 June 1993), 45-6; Newsweek (14 June 1993), 38-44, (28 June 1993), 29, 52; US News & World Report (7 June 1993), 63-72; NS (8 May 1993), 16.
A positive book review of Attitudes to Genetic Engineering by D. Macer is in AJHG 52: 1021-2. We need to ask the public what they think about bioethics, something which is being extended in the international bioethics survey pproject described in the last few newsletters. Results from that are expected to be published early in 1994, and analysis is still only in the early stages.
In a survey of various groups in the UK , including environmental groups (total N=500, 50% mail response), released from the Centre for Technology Strategy at the Open University, about 80% did not trust the biotech industry to tell them the truth about genetic engineering; NS (19 June 1993), 4. Some other results of this survey of attitudes to biotechnology companies are also given.
A new book on theology and genetics is Ronald Cole-Turner, The New Genesis : Theology and the Genetic Revolution, Westminster/ John Knox Press (Louisville, Kentucky, USA), 1993, ISBN 0-664-25406-3, Feb. 1993, 144pp., US$13. It looks at the new age of genetic engineering the purposes and benefits that it may have, in various spheres. It then looks at the responses of theologians and churches to genetic engineering and draws out common themes. The themes include that humans are made in the image of God, but are also biological creatures. Fears about reductionsim are voiced. The basic question is how much intervention is consistent with a Christian view of humanity, and this varies between writers. The final two chapters of this book look at redemption and technology and call for participation in creation, as therapy may be possible through new technology. The conclusion is similar to the views taken in Shaping Genes and other books looking at theology and genetic technology.
A report on ethical issues in plant genetic engineering is Roger Straughan (Dept. of Arts, Reading University, Reading, UK), Ethics, Morality and Crop Biotechnology, made for ICI Seeds in May 1992 (42pp.). Also on public fears of science see SA (May 1993), 16-7; EST 27: 1026-31; and on communication with the public by F.S. Rowland, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Science 260: 1571-6.

A description of the research and funding of the Center for Biotechnology Policy and Ethics at Texas A&M University (329 Dulie Bell Building, College Station, TX 77843-4355, USA) is in their July newsletter. A number of discussion papers are available. A new discussion paper looks at biotechnology, and found that industry sources were less likely to emphasize biotechnology's potential benefits and avoid negative arguments than university sources. University sources were about as twice as likely to emphasize the positive aspects. This follows a survey of newspaper literature in 1991 and 1992.
The Iowa State University Bioethics Program is moving on teaching trips to the University of Illinois in Urbana for the next few years to encourage the development of bioethics education in agriculture, supported by the USDA; AgBioethics Forum (June 1993), 1.
After seeing the movie Jurassic Park , I think it will be the major public information event in genetic engineering for at least the year, and will go down with Frankenstein as a movie that represents the worst fears of the unforeseen in genetic engineering. More comments on the movie are in GEN (Aug 1993), 32-3; BMJ 307: 268; Biotechnology 11: 860; NS (3 July 1993), 43-4. The US National Science Foundation has announced that spherical structures, perhaps red blood cells, have been found in a Tyrannosaurus rex ; NS (10 July 1993), 5; Science 261: 160-1. Attempts to isolate nucleic acid are being made.
The removal of protein products of selectable marker genes in GMOs (plants) may reduce public anxiety; TIBTECH 11: 219. Also on public discussion of science and improved communication, see Biotechnology 11: 863; Science 260: 1571-6. As reported in the last issue (EEIN 3: 46-7), the results of surveys of attitudes to the release of GMOs among selected groups of people in the UK, By S. Martin and J. Tait (Strathclyde Graduate Business School, 199 Cathedral St., Glasgow G4OGQ) have been published by Open University, U.K.

A review of Jurassic Park (see previous issues for many more!) is JAMA 270: 1252-4. Comments on public opposition to biotechnology are in Biotech 11: 964, 1075-6, 1090.
The politics behind the approval of bovine somatotrophin ( BST ) in the USA is reported in Biotechnology 11: 963, 978.


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