Attitudes to Biotechnology in Asia


International Journal of Biotechnology 2 (2000), 313-332..
Author: Darryl R. J. Macer , Azariah, J. & Srinives, P.

Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Darryl R.J. Macer, Jayapaul Azariah, and Peerasak Srinives.

Correspondence should be addressed to D.R.J.M.

Institute of Biological Sciences, University of Tsukuba, Tsukuba Science City, 305, Japan

Fax: Int+81-298-53-6614; Email: Macer@sakura.cc.tsukuba.ac.jp

J.A., Head, Department of Zoology, University of Madras - Guindy Campus, Madras 600 025, INDIA

P.S., Faculty of Agriculture, Kasetsart University, Kamphaeng Saen, Nakhon Pathom 73140, THAILAND

Abstract

There are few surveys looking at the acceptance of biotechnology in developing countries. In 1993 the International Bioethics Survey was conducted in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Thailand, with the aid of collaborators. The survey included 150 questions with 35 open ones, on subjects in biotechnology and genetics. Comparisons of acceptance of enhancement genetic engineering (e.g. for enhancing intelligence by gene therapy, or making a sports fish) show opinions in Europe, Japan and Oceania are more reserved, with people in China, Thailand and India being significantly more enthusiastic. The open comments are discussed concerning views on the ethical limits of the use of biotechnology and genetics to change living organisms, including humans. The open comments reveal few fears of eugenics or playing God, and more comments support improving genes or economic benefits.

Key words: Biotechnology, bioethics, public opinion, gene therapy, genetic screening, genetic engineering, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Thailand

Biographical notes:

Darryl Macer is a New Zealander, and obtained a Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, U.K. He has since worked in bioethics, in the UK, New Zealand and the University of Tsukuba, Japan. He is associate professor there, also being Director of Eubios Ethics Institute, and a member of the UNESCO Bioethics Committee and HUGO Ethics Committee.

Jayapaul Azariah obtained his Ph.D. in Zoology at the University of Madras, where he specialises in environmental ecology and environmental ethics. He is associate editor of the Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics, and head of the Dept of Zoology at the University of Madras.

Peerasak Srinives has a Ph.D. in biology specialising in plant biotechnology. He is director of the Central Laboratory and Greenhouse Complex of Kasetsart University.

Introduction

The use of living organisms is essential for human beings, who are one of these organisms. It raises ethical issues and public concerns that are becoming more obvious with the criticisms made against biotechnology and genetic engineering. The word "biotechnology" simply means using living organisms, or parts of them, to provide goods or services. Although it has been practiced ever since humans farmed food, the use of genetic engineering has evoked strong emotions from at least some people in society. We must ask the question what people think of biotechnology, and whether most people share the concerns that the critics voice. We can ask whether these concerns are similar between countries. Scientists also have responsibility to consider the impact of technology, and to seek public opinion over the acceptable limits to the use of technology.

There have been several major surveys on attitudes to biotechnology. Understanding, the public image of biotechnology is useful for different groups of people. These type of studies have at least two purposes, one being academic study, and the other being public relations for the biotechnology industry. Both of these purposes are relevant to the formulation of policy that will be appropriate to each country. There are few surveys looking at the acceptance of biotechnology in developing countries. In 1993 the International Bioethics Survey was conducted in Australia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore and Thailand, with the aid of collaborators [1]. The survey finds that people have both hopes and fears about biotechnology, in different countries we see a similarly diverse range of opinions, and in all cases more support is given for specific applications that are perceived to be for a worthy goal than for general questions.

Comparisons of acceptance of enhancement genetic engineering (e.g. for enhancing intelligence by gene therapy, or making a sports fish) show opinions in Japan and Oceania are more reserved, with people in China, Thailand and India being significantly more enthusiastic. Further comparisons are made with Europe and North America, which tend to be similar to Japan and Oceania. The open comments are discussed concerning views on the ethical limits of the use of biotechnology and genetics to change living organisms, including humans. The open comments reveal few fears of eugenics or playing God, and more comments support improving genes or economic benefits.

Development of Surveys to Assess Attitudes

There are various strategies being used to study public opinion. The first type is the use of fixed response questions, to chose options from set answers. While these surveys provide some assessment of public acceptance, they generally use simple set questions. A major study was conducted in the USA in 1986 by the Office of Technology Assessment study [2]. In 1992 there was a study by Hoban and Kendall [3], looking at agricultural issues. There has also been comparative studies of scientists in USA and in Europe, looking at their perceptions of the public image of genetic engineering [4]. In 1993 there was a survey conducted by the Canadian Institute of Biotechnology in Canada [5]. In Europe there have also been some studies using set responses. The Eurobarometer is a regular public survey in Europe, including different questions each time, and is conducted in all 12 countries of the European Community. In 1991 Eurobarometer 35.1 looked at biotechnology and genetic engineering, and in 1993 Eurobarometer 37.1 repeated the same questions [6], and many were repeated in the 1996-1997 Eurobarometer 40.1 [7]. The Eurobarometer poll is limited because of the relatively small number of questions, and also the set format of the questions, but is the most comprehensive in terms of sample response, randomness, size, and number of countries.

Other survey strategies look at reasoning more than just statistics which may shed more light on the factors which will affect policy development. In New Zealand there was a study using both set and open questions in 1990 [8]. In Japan there was a study with set and open questions in 1991, among public, academics, and high school teachers [9], which is the forerunner to the International Bioethics Survey. In responses to mail questionnaires there were a number of comments written on the survey forms which suggested that some respondents would be willing to give more of their reasons for their choices, and to express their concerns. That was the reason to include the large number of open questions in the later survey.

Open questions are more laborious to analyze, but may be able to measure the real concerns that people have. Some arguments that are often used in biotechnology debates, such as eugenic fears or environmental risk, are not the major concerns voiced by people in open questions [1]. The more common concerns are interference with nature or general fear of a less concrete nature. Also the Japanese surveys [9] found that many people perceive both benefit and risk simultaneously, they are attempting to balance these; and also educated people show as much concern, in fact biology teachers considered there was more risk from genetic engineering than ordinary public.

Martin and Tait [10], conducted surveys of selected groups of the UK public. They decided to focus on groups that are likely to have greater understanding of biotechnology rather than the general public, and they conclude that groups with an interest in biotechnology have probably already formed attitudes to it, which are unlikely to significantly change. They looked at industry and environmental groups, and local communities, which are major players in the development of policy at both national and local levels. They also suggest that people with the least polarized attitudes are most open to multiple information sources. Consumer research in the Netherlands looked at concerns over eating foods made through biotechnology [11], using both a survey and a discussion day with respondents focusing on food production, and found that only minor attitude changes occurred with the provision of more information. More recently there have been some discussion forums held among the public in a number of countries, which are used to look at the range of concerns in the lay public.

In the International Bioethics Survey, questionnaires including 150 questions in total, with 35 open-ended questions, were developed to look at how people think about diseases, life, nature, and selected issues of science and technology, biotechnology, genetic engineering, genetic screening, and gene therapy [1]. The questions about biotechnology and genetic engineering included questions used in surveys conducted in the USA in 1986 [2] and 1992 [3], in New Zealand in 1990 [8], and Japan in 1991 [9]. The open questions were designed not to be leading, unlike the use of questions with set responses which restrict the choices people may make. The ideas in each comment were assigned to different categories, which were compared.

The survey was performed in 1993 in ten countries of the world, in English in Australia (A), Hong Kong (HK), India (IN), Israel (IS), New Zealand (NZ), The Philippines (P) and Singapore (S); in Japanese in Japan (J); in Russian in Russia (R); and in Thai in Thailand (T). Three population samples were chosen for these International Bioethics Surveys, public, university students and high school teachers. The questionnaires consisted of 6 A4 size pages with a 1 page introductory letter including a form for the public and teachers to request a summary of the survey results. The public and student questionnaires were identical. The teacher's survey included some of the same questions, but half of the questions were about teaching and curriculum in bioethics and genetics. The surveys were sent with stamped return envelopes, and people were asked to respond within each country.

The basic problem of surveys is how well they represent the population being surveyed. The public samples from Australia (N=201), Japan (N=352) and New Zealand (N=329) were representative of the general population, but had response rates of 13%, 23% and 22% respectively. They were based on un-addressed random letter box surveys distributed nationwide in those countries. However the samples from India (N=568), Israel (N=50), Russia (N=446) and Thailand (N=680) had higher education than the general population, as they included not only public samples but also academics, and were generally from named addressed letters. The responses rates were higher, 40%, 50%, 43%, 36%, however, especially in the case of India and Thailand, it is very difficult to survey the total population. The results to some questions in the survey do not seem to differ significantly between different groups in the population, whereas some others may [1, 8, 9]. It is difficult to obtain samples from countries in Asia with large rural populations which can be said to represent the whole country. However, for the purpose of this volume, which looks at policy decisions, there are still some significant lessons to be learnt from the surveys that we can conduct. Whether the results justify an investment into larger total population surveys with a systematic approach, including views of all, depends on whether the expected result will be different. However, we would argue that the results for India, Thailand and other surveys in China, suggest that new surveys could confirm our suspicions expressed in this paper.

Another approach to surveys is to sample the same population group across countries and make comparisons. In terms of cost, student samples are the most convenient. Student samples were chosen from selected medical schools (Australia (N=110), Japan (N=435), New Zealand (N=96), the Philippines (N=164), a medical laboratory course (Hong Kong (N=105)) and biology students (India (N=325), Singapore (N=250); and Thailand (N=232)). The response rates are generally 50-80% for these surveys. Another group that Macer has looked at is high schools, both teachers and students. In 1993 the International Bioethics Education Survey [12, 13] was conducted nationally, using randomly selected biology and social studies teachers, in Australia (N=251 (47% response) biology; N=114 (21%) social), Japan (N=560 (37%) biology; N=383 (26%) social), and New Zealand (N=206 (61%) biology; N=96 (28%) social). This survey was repeated on 100 biology teachers in Tamil Nadu, India in 1996 [14]. Several questions from these surveys are also included in the comparisons in this paper.

As is standard in surveys, demographic comparisons were made, and sample information gathered included sex, age, marital status, children, education, religion, importance of religion, race, income and rural/urban locality. Examples of open comments have been published in the book, which describe the categorization [1].

Benefits and Risks of Science and Technology

In all countries ever surveyed there is a positive view of science and technology. It is perceived as increasing the quality of life by the majority in all countries. In the International Bioethics Survey, when asked about specific developments of technology, including in vitro fertilization, computers, pesticides, nuclear power, biotechnology and genetic engineering, both benefits and risks were cited by many respondents. These areas of science and technology include several controversial subjects. Scattergrams of the benefits and risks of these different examples in India, Japan, New Zealand and Thailand are in Figure 1.

46% (NZ) and 59% (A) saw biotechnology as worthwhile, less than 72-75% in Israel, Russia, Japan and India; and about 90% in Thailand. About one third of all samples had no worries, one third had a few worries, and the rest had some or a lot. The results confirm people can perceive both benefit and risk, not simply taking up one position, for example, although Australians were more positive about biotechnology, they also had more worries, with 17% having a lot of worries, compared to 10% in NZ. About a half did not say any benefit, and there was a variety of benefits given, with general hopes for humanity being the major reason. Only a few saw it as unnatural, the major worry being human misuse.

The attitudes to genetic engineering varied somewhat, even between close countries such as New Zealand and Australia, with 41% (NZ) and 62% (A) seeing it as worthwhile, and 39% (NZ) and 34% (A) having a lot of worries. 13-14% in NZ gave reasons that it was unnatural or playing God, compared to 9% in Australia, in both the benefit and risk question. However, as we will see later, people were more positive about specific examples. In the USA in 1986, 66% thought genetic engineering would improve the quality of life and 22% thought it would make it worse [2]. Only 20% had heard of a potential danger of genetic engineering in 1986, but 52% thought it was likely to have environmental or human danger.

The awareness of these words, and the techniques that they represent was reasonably high. Arguably, Japanese have the highest familiarity with the word "biotechnology" in the world [9, 15]. In 1991 two surveys found that 97% had heard of the word. We can compare this to 57% in the Netherlands in 1989, though 73% had heard of "genetic engineering" in 1991, but less than 20% had heard a lot about it [11]. In the USA in 1986, 24% said they had heard almost nothing about genetic engineering, and 44% said they did not know the meaning of it [2]. In the Indian sample, 90% had heard of it, and 98% of the Thai sample, compared to 81% in Australia and 77% in New Zealand [1]. However, as discussed in the section above, this high awareness may not be reflective of the total population of India and Thailand.


India

Japan

New Zealand

Thailand

Figure 1: Comparative perceptions of science developments in India, Japan, New Zealand and Thailand

The results are presented as bar graphs, with percentage of respondents who thought each development was worthwhile for

their country (benefit) and the percentage of respondents who were worried about the impact of the developments (worry).


General concerns of types of genetic engineering

In all countries surveyed around the world plant genetic engineering is seen as the most acceptable, followed by animals, microbes and then humans [2, 3, 7, 9]. In all the countries surveyed, plant-plant gene transfers are most acceptable , with animal-animal next, and animal-plant or human-animal gene transfers generally least acceptable [1, 3, 6]. The questions were:

Q9. Genes from most types of organisms are interchangeable. Would potatoes made more nutritious through biotechnology be acceptable or unacceptable to you if genes were added from another type of plant, such as corn?

Q10. Would such potatoes be acceptable or unacceptable to you if the new genes came from an animal?

Q11. Would chicken made less fatty through biotechnology be acceptable or unacceptable if genes were added to the chicken from another type of animal?

Q12. Would such chicken be acceptable or unacceptable if the genes came from a human?

(Responses: 1 Acceptable; 2 Unacceptable; 3 Don't know Why?...)

The proportions in the public samples accepting these applications for India, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, and the USA, respectively, are: plant-plant 56% (In), 39% (J), 56% (NZ), 82% (T), 66% (USA); animal-plant 29% (In), 11% (J), 19% (NZ), 48% (T), 39% (USA); animal-animal 40% (In), 20% (J), 29% (NZ), 68% (T), 25% (USA); human-animal 16% (In), 6% (J), 10% (NZ), 29% (T), 10% (USA). A high proportion gave reasons supporting these applications in their open comments, and the most common reason against them was that they were "unnatural" [1]. The values in Australia were the same as India, whereas Japanese were more negative than New Zealanders. The students were more supportive in all countries.

Another set of questions looked at concerns of consuming products made from genetic engineering. Most people in 1993 were aware that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were being used to produce foodstuffs, 82% (I), 61% (J), 80% (NZ), 86% (T) [1]. At the time of writing these numbers have no doubt increased significantly as products are sold from GMOs in most countries. Four products were given as examples and the highest degree of concern was seen with meat, followed by dairy products and vegetables, with medicines having the least concern. The teachers had less concern than the public, and biology teachers less concern than social studies teachers. A range of reasoning was given, both for and against the use of these foods. The results of that question found similar concerns to the surveys in New Zealand [8] and Japan [9]. One of the main concerns was that the products would be unnatural, but there were also a variety of other comments. In the previous survey in Japan [9] a series of open questions were also asked about genetic engineering, which give complimentary information on the reasoning people have. The questioned used in this survey were more specific, but some people made comments that suggested they were looking at secondary aspects, such as whether they liked potato or chicken.

The generally higher fears about animal genetic engineering, and meat, is also seen in Europe [7, 11]. In a Dutch study, details of twenty different food products were given in a discussion context, and the reasoning about each food was divided into categories. The level of concern was greater with animals, but some products of genetic engineering such as genetically modified chymosin for cheese production, were accepted. Therefore the public does accept some products of genetic engineering, if they have perceived benefits. In the Dutch study in 1991 more concern about some foodstuffs was made by more educated and older respondents, and less concern was seen among Roman Catholics [11]. However, the results of the International Bioethics Survey reveal more mixed and diverse trends with few simple lessons.

China was the country which first began growing large areas of GMOs for consumption, but by 1996 the USA had also approved use of herbicide-tolerant (e.g. to Roundup herbicide) and disease resistant soybeans and maize. The Monsanto Corporation has been accused of not listening to the groups that would be responsible for marketing their "Roundup Ready" soybean, as they shipped tons of these beans to soy processors in Europe. Protesters around Europe in 1996 nearly led to a trade war nearly began between USA and Europe. The issue was whether the so-called “Roundup Ready” could be, and should be, segregated from other beans. Earlier in 1996, European retail and wholesale groups had asked for separate streams for the Roundup Ready. Retailers in France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom wanted segregation so that they could label the products appropriately. German, Austrian, Finnish, and Swedish retailers wanted a separate stream so that they could exclude genetically manipulated food either "for the foreseeable future" or "until consumers are happy." Their Norwegian and Swiss counterparts cannot import until it has been approved for import due to specific laws.

It was estimated that 1-2% of soybeans in the USA in 1996, the major world producer, were modified, and in 1997 10% will be. Monsanto argued that thousands of different processed food products have soybeans as an ingredient, and that the products are distinguishable only in insignificant details. The regulators and most retailers agree. However, labels are being introduced in Europe as a result of public pressure by activist groups and the fear of not being in “control” of the food eaten. Some supermarkets in the UK and Japan are also labelling soybean products that a guarantied not to be made from GMOs. Together with the soybeans, Ciba-Geigy's glufosinate-tolerant (herbicide) Bacillus thuriengensis insecticidal toxin gene (insect resistance) - containing maize is now sold in Europe, and will be sold around the world as most processed foods contain soybean or corn. It will be difficult to label so many different food products as having potentially some extract from the 10% of the crops which are made from GMOs. Numerous other companies are introducing crops, and most seed producers offer the choice of seeds from GMOs. Thailand has approved some field trials of GMOs from European and US companies for GMOs, and the technology can also be easily copied, so that we can expect widespread use of products around Asia.

Increased support for specific examples of environmental release of GMOs

There was strong support for the specific examples of environmental release of genetically modified organisms. Questions about environmental release of genetically modified organisms (Table 1), were taken from US surveys [2, 3]. The highest level of support was seen for bacteria to clean oil spills and disease resistant crops, with over half supporting tasty tomatoes or meat with less fat. In the USA in 1986 the approval / disapproval for the same questions were: disease-resistant crops 73% / 23%; bacteria to clean oil spills 73% / 23%; more effective pesticides 56% / 40%; and larger game fish 53% / 43% [2].

The approval of a modified tomato which has delayed ripening for general growth in the USA was given in 1993, and it was sold since 1994 for general commercial food consumption in the USA, and later in Europe, and around the world. These survey data suggest it would be generally supported around the world. However, in 1995 and 1996 the economic success of this tomato was not so great, due to problems with disease resistance and collection [16], and it was not the huge success it was expected to be. There are also groups which oppose the food from GMOs, and restaurants which claim they do not buy such foods.

The healthier meat question is relevant to efforts to make less fatty meat, both by hormones in pigs, and other animals. In the USA in 1992, 45% said "acceptable", 32% "unacceptable" and 23% "don't know" to a similar question [3]. In the Netherlands there appears to be greater rejection of less fatty pork, from qualitative surveys [11]. In the question on general concerns about foods, meat is the product with the most concern expressed, though in India 47% had no concerns, similar to the other items, which also includes some who do not eat meat and therefore have no concern. Vegetarianism is also more common in Thailand than in the other countries in the survey.

There was less support for enhancing milk production in cows in the International Bioethics Survey, which may be because we ask whether we really need more milk. In a related question on cows with increased milk, and in the USA in 1992, 36% said "acceptable", 41% "unacceptable" and 23% "don't know" to a similar question in 1992 [3]. It received less support in the International Bioethics Survey than the goal of less fatty meat, which is consistent with the existing milk surplus in some countries. This has become reality in 1994 with the general use of bovine growth hormone (BST - bovine somatotropin) in the USA dairy industry, a hormone made by genetic engineering that can increase milk yield by 10-20%. The FDA has warned farmers not to label milk BST-free if there is any chance that it is not, and the labeling issue is another problem. Europe decided not to allow its use based on safety concerns, public rejection and lack of a need. Australia, New Zealand and Norway also have not allowed it, though Canada started to use. In the USA more than 10% of farmers used it in 1995, but they kept about one quarter of the 9.5 million dairy cows in the USA. Countries which have approved BST include Algeria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Honduras, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Namibia, Rumania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, USA, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. In a general question in the UK in 1992, 22% said using genetic engineering to improve milk yield was "acceptable", 46% said "unacceptable", and 30% were neutral [17]. That survey found making disease-resistant crops to be accepted by 44% with 15% rejecting it, and cleaning oil spills acceptable by 69% and rejected by 11%.

Intermediate support was found to the option of "more effective pesticides", in the 1991 survey in Japan [9], and 1986 survey in the USA [2]. In a 1990 European survey [17], the respondents were asked to choose the largest benefit that they saw coming from biotechnology, between one of four possible benefits from biotechnology. Over half rated cures for serious diseases as the most important benefit. Another option was reducing our dependence upon pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which 26% of Italians, 24% of French, 22% of British and 16% of Germans, chose as the largest benefit. Although in the European survey, discussed above, the choice of the benefit of reduced pesticide use and environmental benefits is popular, it may not actually be a common feeling. The response to a specific question in the International Bioethics Survey, “Do you agree or disagree that... Genetically modified plants and animals will help agriculture become less dependent on chemical pesticides”, was supportive, with approval, 56% (In), 42% (J), 64% (NZ) and 69% (T), but from the responses to open questions on biotechnology and genetic engineering few cited environmental advantages, despite the high level of concern expressed about pesticides [1].

In Japan in 1991 [9], 48% of the public agreed that genetically modified plants and animals would help Japanese agriculture become less dependent upon pesticides, while 49% of teachers and 56% of scientists agreed with this. 71% of company scientists agreed with this statement. Only 7% of scientists and the public disagreed with this, while 13% of teachers disagreed. This question statement is a major argument of those calling for the development of genetic engineering in agriculture, and the result suggests that it is supported by a majority of people. In the Netherlands in a 1991 survey, foodstuffs made from genetic engineering that were perceived to have reduced levels of pesticide were more acceptable than better for health, longer shelf life or better taste [11].


Table 1: Approval of environmental release of GMOs

Q31. If there was no direct risk to humans and only very remote risks to the environment, would you approve or disapprove of the

environmental use of genetically engineered organisms designed to produce...?

Yes- Approve No- Disapprove DK Don't know

Public

Medical or biology students

School biology teachers

%

NZ

A

J

J91

In

Th

R

Is

US

NZ

A

J

In

T

P

S

HK

NZb

Ab

Jb

Ib

Tomatoes with better taste

Yes

49

54

69

-

73

83

35

40

-

54

53

71

77

88

68

74

58

67

60

67

76

No

35

35

20

-

20

10

45

44

-

21

36

15

17

5

27

17

32

22

25

21

20

DK

16

11

11

-

7

7

20

16

-

15

11

14

6

7

5

9

10

11

15

12

4

Healthier meat (e.g. less fat)

Yes

54

60

57

-

66

84

35

44

-

74

71

65

68

88

75

72

62

72

71

60

72

No

30

31

26

-

22

9

43

42

-

20

23

18

18

4

21

17

27

18

18

24

16

DK

16

9

17

-

12

7

21

14

-

6

6

17

14

8

4

11

11

10

11

16

12

Larger sport fish

Yes

22

19

22

19

48

58

13

20

53

28

23

24

50

64

54

44

42

26

22

19

56

No

61

65

54

50

27

25

61

58

43

63

65

52

31

20

40

39

37

59

64

64

20

DK

17

16

24

31

25

17

26

22

4

9

12

24

19

16

6

17

21

15

14

17

24

Bacteria to clean up oil spills

Yes

75

82

71

75

74

87

63

70

73

92

89

76

74

85

78

86

70

85

91

77

68

No

11

11

13

7

14

5

20

12

23

1

4

10

13

6

19

6

23

7

3

12

16

DK

14

8

16

18

12

8

17

18

4

7

7

14

13

9

3

8

7

8

6

11

16

Disease resistant crops

Yes

70

78

66

75

78

91

54

50

73

81

81

67

81

91

82

83

72

85

83

71

84

No

16

13

17

6

13

4

25

28

23

7

13

13

11

5

15

8

14

10

7

15

8

DK

14

9

17

19

9

5

21

22

4

12

6

20

8

4

3

9

14

5

10

14

8

Cows which produce more milk

Yes

36

39

44

-

75

84

23

38

-

55

44

49

72

86

70

57

54

59

57

56

80

No

45

42

32

-

19

7

38

40

-

31

35

29

19

5

26

25

34

28

25

26

16

DK

19

19

24

-

6

9

39

20

-

14

21

22

9

9

4

18

12

13

18

18

4


Acceptance of enhancement genetic engineering is higher in India and Thailand

The sports fish is an example of genetic engineering for fun - and many people reject such genetic engineering (Table 1). The highest degree of support for the sports fish is in the USA where 53% approved in a 1986 survey. However, this was lower in 1993 [3]. One of the most striking points of Table 1 is the high level of approval of this example in Thailand and India. This trend was also seen in the Singapore and Hong Kong samples, and also reported in a student survey in China [18].

The general support for products of genetic engineering seems to be high, especially if they are claimed to be more healthy. When specific details of an application were given there was generally greater acceptance, suggesting people have some discretion. People may approve applications if they see benefits, not only to themselves but also to the environment and other people. It also suggests that if details are given the public will show greater acceptance of an application, seen also for human gene therapy compared to human gene manipulation in general [1, 19, 20]. This discretion has been called a measure of bioethical maturity of society [15].

Support for specific applications of gene therapy was significantly less for "improving physical characters", "improving intelligence" or "making people more ethical" than for curing diseases like cancer or diabetes, except in India and Thailand (Table 2), but there was little difference between inheritable or non-inheritable gene therapy. A significant preference for therapeutic (Q28abcd) over cosmetic (Q28ef) applications of gene therapy was also seen in the USA [2].

In India and Thailand more than 50% of the 900+ total respondents in each country supported enhancement of physical characters, intelligence, or making people more ethical. It could suggest several things: that poor living standards and infectious disease make people more pragmatic about "improvement", or that people in those countries have not thought about the implications (even though they were relatively highly educated samples). It is interesting if this is a general trend in developing countries, as it could have significant implications for international policy.

We should also note the results of a gene therapy question [9] on Chinese medical staff and students in 1993 found 73% "willing" for personal use and 80% "willing" for children's use [18]. The policy for avoiding births of handicapped persons in China, which many consider to be close to a social eugenics program to lower the proportion of handicapped babies born in the population, also suggests Chinese may follow this trend. In this survey, the largely Chinese populations of Singapore and Hong Kong biology students were intermediate between the industrialized countries of Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and the USA, and Thailand and India, in their acceptance of enhancement (Table 3). It is future question to more closely examine factors behind people's acceptance or rejection of enhancement, for example, how much culture, education, religion, familiarity with medicine, or living standards, influence this. We can say that some people agree with enhancement, and the proportion is of concern to those who consider enhancement to be unethical [20].

In the International Bioethics Survey, about three quarters of all samples supported personal use of gene therapy, with higher support for children's use of gene therapy [20]. The diversity of views was generally similar within each country. The major reasons given were to save life and increase the quality of life. About 5-7% rejected gene therapy considering it to be playing God, or unnatural. There was very little concern about eugenics (0.5-2%), and more respondents gave supportive reasons like "improving genes", especially in Thailand and India. This was also seen in questions for genetic screening [1]. In the open question on gene therapy up about 5% in all countries gave a reason like "improving genes", including Japan which was generally negative towards eugenic or economic reasons for genetic screening. About 10% of Thai respondents gave "improving gene" reasons for gene therapy. We use the term eugenics in a broad sense, meaning the idea that we should improve the frequency of "good genes", or decrease the frequency of disease-causing genes (alleles). The fears of eugenics included both fears of social programs to enforce eugenics, and the idea that we should not alter gene frequency because it may affect the future of the human gene pool. The comments in this survey suggests the main reasons for rejection of enhancement gene therapy are that it is seen as "unnatural", "Playing God", "unpredictable" or "unnecessary", rather than "eugenics".

About 10% of the respondents in this survey in Russia, and many in India also, gave eugenic reasons for support of genetic screening [1], significantly more than in the other countries. If we combine this with the economic reasons, we find Australia, New Zealand and Thailand also show eugenic or economic reasons for supporting prenatal genetic screening, and we should note that one of the arguments of past eugenic movements has been the economic type [21]. Japanese showed the least support for this way of thinking. The opinions are divided, as typified by Thai respondents, which were the samples with the highest proportion of both "improving genes" and "playing God" comments about gene therapy [20].

In general open questions on the benefits and risks of "genetic engineering", some eugenic concerns were expressed. The same conclusion was made from different open questions on the benefits and risks of "human genetic manipulation" in the 1991 Japanese survey, and a 1990 New Zealand survey [9]. The more specific the question is the less eugenic concerns are expressed. To most people the critical point is that genetics may offer hope to save life and improve the quality of life, and we even find positive support for eugenics in genetic screening or therapy is stronger than fears. Those who argue against genetic medicine for eugenic reasons may not actually represent the public, when we consider the degree of support given for eugenics. At the same time, the past history of eugenic abuses means that we need to educate about the dangers of misuse of compulsory eugenic programs.

Another measure may be an image of bioethics that is practical rather than the respect for life as an idea in its own, and if we do this then Japan joins India in category. In the International Bioethics Education Survey, at the start of the questionnaire teachers were asked what they thought bioethics is [12, 13]. The ideas were examined and categorized. We can see the similar attitudes towards images of bioethics in New Zealand and Australian teachers, with differences to Japan [13] and India [14]. The proportion of biology teachers who mentioned a comment in the following broad categories were: "How we should use life", 27% (A), 0% (In), 7% (J), 29% (NZ); "Science/biology raises issues", 29% (A), 6% (In), 2% (J), 32% (NZ); "Decide before use" and "How to apply biotechnology", 33% (A), 6% (In), 7% (J), 24% (NZ); "Respect for life" and "Natural providence", 2% (A), 42% (In), 37% (J), 5% (NZ). This suggests a more practical understanding of the issues in Australia and New Zealand, and that teachers are more at the first stage of recognition of bioethics in India and Japan, with more abstract images and less practical. The comments including animal rights or experiments were also less in India and Japan, which may also reflect less concern about these issues. In Australia medical issues were more frequently mentioned (14%) compared to 5% in the other countries, which could be due to inclusion of such curriculum cases as these or debate in Australia where bioethics education is quite developed. These and other measures of maturity of society may be developed, but they will be dependent upon education, and perhaps culture. The surveys raise questions for study of Asia.

Trust in Authorities

A question on the level of trust that people had in authorities who were making a statement about the safety of a product of biotechnology, for example a new drug, revealed some differences between countries in who was most trusted (Table 3) [1]. There was most trust in the government in Hong Kong and Singapore, and least in Australasia, Japan, Russia, USA and Europe. Despite the lower trust shown in the government in Russia, they had a level of trust in medical doctors. The result is most striking when we compare it to Japan, in which doctors were not trusted. In fact it appears Japanese do not trust anyone very much, but the biggest difference with the other countries was that doctors and university professors were mistrusted, especially so by medical students. Whereas Russians show great trust in doctors and environmental groups, and a high level of trust in professors. Companies were least trusted everywhere. Farmers were also not trusted, unlike the USA, where in 1992, 26% had a lot of trust, 68% had some trust, and 6% had no trust in farmers [3]. In Europe the most trusted sources are environmental organizations, then consumer agencies, and universities, with government low, and industry lowest [6, 7].

The main source of information was the media in all countries. The newspaper and television were the most cited, with the radio being common in Thailand especially [1]. Magazines and books were common in Thailand and Russia, with education in personal experience also being common there. In Europe the most common source of information is television, followed by newspapers [6, 7].

The question on patenting revealed negative attitudes to patents on life, especially of human genes consistent with the survey in Japan in 1991 [9, 22]. Most countries will exclude matter from being patentable if it offends "public morality" [23]. These results make us question the way that patenting policy balances industrial incentives versus public interest, and also have relevance to the intellectual property rights claimed on plants and animals and the Biodiversity Convention.


Table 2: Trust in authorities

(Q29) Suppose that a number of groups made public statements about the benefits and risks of biotechnology products.

Would you have a lot of trust, some trust, or no trust in statements made by...?

Public

Students

NZ

A

J

In

T

R

Is

NZ

A

J

In

T

P

S

HK

 

Government agencies

A lot

5

8

8

25

33

5

24

7

7

4

25

28

20

34

37

Some

52

61

48

47

63

39

38

65

68

37

49

66

62

58

55

No

43

31

44

28

4

56

38

28

25

59

26

6

18

8

8

 

Consumer agencies

A lot

24

13

12

23

43

33

28

28

8

8

23

41

17

6

25

Some

58

61

65

57

54

44

42

58

54

60

51

55

68

63

58

No

18

26

23

20

3

23

30

14

38

32

26

4

15

31

17

 

Companies making biotechnology products

A lot

5

4

6

21

8

6

20

3

4

5

25

13

15

7

8

Some

44

52

43

47

70

31

28

49

53

38

54

75

57

66

57

No

51

44

51

32

22

63

52

48

43

57

21

12

28

27

35

 

Environmental groups

A lot

21

20

15

47

-

53

54

18

14

7

52

-

57

35

45

Some

68

64

60

44

-

37

36

73

73

52

37

-

42

60

50

No

11

16

25

9

-

10

10

9

13

41

11

-

1

5

5

 

University professors

A lot

25

30

12

38

42

35

42

50

54

10

47

29

46

30

47

Some

65

60

61

53

57

50

48

48

43

62

39

69

52

65

47

No

10

10

27

9

1

15

10

2

3

28

14

2

2

5

6

 

Medical doctors

A lot

33

30

12

48

60

55

46

55

58

10

55

55

68

42

48

Some

60

64

58

43

38

35

50

44

40

64

37

44

29

54

49

No

7

6

30

9

2

10

4

1

2

26

8

1

3

4

3

 

Farmers or farm groups

A lot

6

9

6

-

7

-

28

6

6

7

72

7

18

6

6

Some

69

69

50

-

67

-

50

70

70

50

15

76

71

54

43

No

25

22

44

-

26

-

22

24

24

43

13

17

11

40

51

 

Dietitians or nutritionists

A lot

24

21

6

-

25

-

40

28

21

5

68

25

42

20

20

Some

66

69

54

-

67

-

50

65

69

56

18

65

53

66

71

No

10

10

40

-

8

-

10

7

10

39

14

10

5

14

9

Table 3: Acceptance of gene therapy for specific cases

Q28. How do you feel about scientists changing the genetic makeup of human cells to:

++ Strongly Approve + Somewhat Approve - Somewhat Disapprove - - Strongly Disapprove DK Don't know

Public

Medical or biology students

School biology teachers

NZ

A

J

In

T

R

Is

US

NZ

A

J

In

T

P

S

HK

NZb

Ab

Jb

Ib

N

329

201

352

568

689

446

50

1273

96

110

435

325

232

164

250

104

206

251

560

383

 

a. Cure a usually fatal disease, such as cancer

++

58

60

42

54

78

72

58

48

67

63

41

62

86

67

70

54

63

65

37

56

+

30

29

41

31

18

11

30

35

26

33

47

27

13

26

28

44

27

27

45

24

-

4

5

3

5

1

2

10

7

1

1

3

2

0

5

0.4

2

2

4

6

4

--

4

3

2

4

1

7

0

7

1

1

0.2

2

0

1

1

0

6

1

3

4

DK

4

2

12

6

2

8

2

2

5

2

9

7

1

1

0.4

0

2

4

9

4

 

b. Reduce the risk of developing a fatal disease later in life

++

42

47

35

48

50

46

50

39

45

46

31

53

46

49

56

47

53

49

27

48

+

36

34

40

35

32

33

34

38

37

41

50

32

40

39

38

39

31

38

45

36

-

9

6

5

6

12

6

14

12

7

7

7

5

11

7

2

9

5

8

12

0

--

6

5

1

4

3

7

0

9

3

2

0.2

2

2

2

1

0

8

2

4

4

DK

7

8

19

7

3

8

2

2

8

4

12

8

1

3

2

5

3

3

13

4

 

c. Prevent children from inheriting a usually fatal disease

++

59

63

37

63

75

68

52

51

62

58

33

68

86

57

61

57

62

58

24

76

+

26

24

43

24

21

17

30

33

25

31

48

20

12

34

34

30

23

29

44

0

-

5

5

3

6

2

5

16

8

3

4

5

2

1

7

1

8

4

5

12

4

--

5

2

1

2

1

5

0

7

2

3

0.5

2

1

1

1

1

7

2

5

8

DK

5

6

16

5

1

5

2

1

8

4

13

8

0.4

1

3

4

4

6

15

4

 

d. Prevent children from inheriting a non-fatal disease, such as diabetes

++

43

50

25

42

63

45

40

41

32

29

18

38

59

39

43

37

56

49

16

60

+

34

29

37

31

28

26

30

36

44

43

43

35

34

43

44

48

29

34

35

28

-

11

8

15

10

6

10

20

12

8

14

14

13

4

11

8

9

5

6

22

0

--

7

5

2

8

2

11

4

9

7

4

3

5

3

5

2

2

7

5

7

0

DK

5

8

21

9

1

8

6

2

9

10

22

9

0.4

2

3

4

3

6

20

4

 

e. Improve the physical characteristics that children would inherit

++

10

15

12

36

54

16

10

16

2

4

3

36

52

16

14

11

6

2

3

28

+

14

13

16

27

29

20

12

28

11

12

8

31

35

27

30

26

10

8

6

29

-

17

19

35

11

11

12

34

22

14

31

47

13

7

29

34

31

19

18

43

12

--

47

44

16

15

3

38

42

31

67

50

25

14

3

25

17

14

59

66

34

4

DK

12

9

21

11

3

14

2

3

6

3

17

6

3

3

5

18

6

6

14

12

 

f. Improve the intelligence level that children would inherit

++

11

15

13

41

48

18

6

18

2

1

3

40

58

18

15

13

7

3

2

32

+

13

12

13

29

26

17

16

26

8

13

7

28

22

31

26

23

7

9

6

36

-

21

21

35

10

16

11

32

22

14

26

45

12

12

26

31

33

17

16

40

8

--

46

41

19

13

6

38

38

31

69

53

28

11

5

21

23

20

58

65

39

4

DK

9

11

20

7

4

16

8

2

7

7

17

9

3

4

5

11

11

7

13

8

 

g. Make people more ethical

++

14

18

14

31

68

19

10

-

3

3

3

24

65

37

17

8

-

-

-

-

+

13

16

10

25

18

12

22

-

11

13

5

28

17

21

25

63

-

-

-

-

-

12

10

32

12

11

7

24

-

10

23

38

12

9

19

27

34

-

-

-

-

--

43

34

21

16

6

44

32

-

62

41

36

16

6

15

16

14

-

-

-

-

DK

18

22

23

16

7

18

12

-

14

20

18

20

3

8

15

23

-

-

-

-

 

h. As an AIDS vaccine

++

49

52

33

49

75

74

48

-

53

53

27

54

75

62

63

43

-

-

-

-

+

24

28

36

22

17

11

28

-

18

26

40

17

20

25

20

31

-

-

-

-

-

6

8

4

6

3

2

18

-

6

11

6

5

2

5

5

9

-

-

-

-

--

7

4

0.3

8

2

6

2

-

6

2

3

9

1

5

3

6

-

-

-

-

DK

14

8

27

15

3

7

4

-

17

8

24

15

2

3

9

11

-

-

-

-


Conclusion

The people were all supportive of science and technology in general, and appeared to balance benefit and risk, showing discretion over the use of genetic engineering for enhancement, and realistic reasoning in responses to questions. This conflicts with the commonly held position that the public is uneducated and naive about the application of biotechnology. That claim is based on the argument that new technology presents novel choices - which is wrong, the choices themselves have existed before [21] even if the means for effecting them were less efficient. These glimpses into the public image of biotechnology provide much food for thought, but we recognize the image may change.

Although people have always faced risk, and at least in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, have faced technological forces which transform society, biotechnology has more critics than most. These studies suggest many of the claims that critics make may not represent the views of ordinary people. Perhaps this influence is no where stronger then in Europe, as seen in the controversy associated with the bans on the use of BST made by genetic engineering to boost milk production, and on the US situation where the FDA opposes labels on products associated with genetic engineering. An educated public should assess the claims made by different groups, depending upon the trust they have in them, and may alter its views, as seen in a survey in Canada [24]. There is also the continuing debate over patenting policy. These studies must be used responsibly, rather than just to allow better plans for the next line of commercials - public attitude making - rather than for seeing what the public has to say.

One thing that is likely to remain is the diversity of opinion and reasoning, something which makes these studies interesting. Any universal ethics must include some respect for informed choices of people, and the range of choices people desire is transcultural. Policy should reflect the universality of diversity and reasoning. The social consequences of biotechnology do depend on the society that we make - but they also depend on the people's attitudes, which are international.

The data presented here suggest that there may be some significant differences in public opinion concerning biotechnology in India, Thailand (and China) which poses a dilemma for policy makers. This was pointed out in a book review of the data in the journal Biotechnology also [25]. The widening international use of genetic technology makes us ask whether regulations should be national and or international, and whether different standards can be justified in different countries. The call for international approaches (including education and guidelines) is based on several arguments, including shared biological heritage and destiny of human beings in all "nations", and the transitory nature of "nations" and the precedents for international law to protect common interests of humanity [26]. There are currently efforts to make international guidelines for genetics research, particularly by UNESCO [27]. Those calling for national guidelines argue that each culture should make its own standards because of national autonomy, and because people in each country have different attitudes. Perhaps the key balancing issue is how divergent the perceptions and bioethical reasoning of peoples around the world are. Most surveys on biotechnology have ignored Asia [28], yet this region of the world is where half the people live. The present study suggests that there may be some education-independent differences in attitudes to biotechnology in India and Thailand, and that further surveys should clarify these differences.

There are at least two ways to think of the term bioethics, one is as descriptive bioethics - the way people view life and their moral interactions and responsibilities with living organisms in life. The other is prescriptive bioethics - to tell others what is good or bad, what principles are most important; or to say something/someone has rights and therefore others have duties to them [29]. We need both types, and both types may have many elements in common between cultures, but there needs to be investigation to provide support to answer whether universal prescriptions apply. The question is actually more pressing within each society, where we find most of the diversity of opinion. Education of biotechnology, and its benefits and risks should be offered to all, and it will be interesting to see how the introduction of new applications of biotechnology itself alters the values people have towards where the limits to what is natural are. The lesson from Asia may be that what some in Europe see as the limit now is not what others in the world perceive.

Acknowledgments

We wish to thank the many persons involved in the International Bioethics Survey especially Shiro Akiyama, Angeles Tan Alora, Yukiko Asada, Hilda Azariah, Maureen V. Boost, Prasert Chatwachirawong, Thomson Jacob, D. Gareth Jones, Yuko Kato, Vijay Kaushik, FrankJ. Leavitt, Tit Meng Lim, Nobuko Y. Macer, Gunasingh Masilamoni, Yuzuru Oguma, Chin Choon Ong, Ron Rich, Peter Singer, A.K. Tharien and Miho Tsuzuki. Please note the references by Macer are available on-line on the Eubios Ethics Institute Internet site <http://eubios.info/index.html>.

References

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2. OTA (1987) U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, New Developments in Biotechnology, 2: Public Perceptions of Biotechnology - Background Paper. Washington D.C.: U.S.G.P.O.

3. Hoban, T. J. & Kendall, P.A. (1992) Consumer Attitudes About the Use of Biotechnology in Agriculture and Food Production. Raleigh, N.C. North Carolina State University.

4. Rabino, I. (1991) "The impact of activist pressures on recombinant DNA research", Science, Technology and Human Values 16: 70-87; Rabino, I. (1992) "A study of attitudes and concerns of genetic engineering scientists in Western Europe. Biotech Forum Europe 9 (10), 636-40.

5. Canadian Institute of Biotechnology, 1994.

6. Eurobarometer Survey 37.1, Biotechnology and Genetic Egineering: What Europeans Think about it in 1993 (Commission of the European Communities, Brussels).

7. Eurobarometer Survey 40.1, forthcoming in a June 1997 issue of Nature - to be updated.

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22. Macer, D. (1992) "Public opinion on gene patents", Nature 358, 272.

23. Macer, D. (1991) "Whose genome project?", Bioethics 5: 183-211.

24. I.M. Strychar et al., "Changes in knowledge and food behaviour following a screening program held in a supermarket", Canadian J. Public Health 84 (1993), 382-7.

25. Dixon, B. (1994) “Biotech in Thailand. Biotechnology 12 (1994), 954.

26. Macer, D (1994). Universal bioethics and the human germ-line. Politics and Life Sciences 14, 27-29.

27. Revised Preliminary Draft of A Universal Declaration On The Human Genome And Human Rights (Paris: UNESCO International Bioethics Committee, 20 December, 1996).

28. Zechendorf, B. (1994). What the public thinks about biotechnology. Biotechnology 12, 870-5.

29. Macer, D. (1995) “Bioethics: Descriptive or Prescriptive?”, Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 5: 144-6.


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