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Genes Dialogue "misleading and manipulative"

Human Genes Dialogue process "misleading and manipulative"

The Bio Ethics Council report on the use of human genes in other organisms is wrong in it's conclusion that New Zealanders will accept hybrid-organisms if they will relieve human suffering.

The Council's satisfaction with its own consultation process is also misjudged. Based on inputs from only a few hundred participants the report fails to truly reflect the public's concerns, including Maori and many other who attended the public sessions, and opens up the Council's consultation process to criticism of having been misleading and manipulative.

"The report is based on assumptions and 'dialogue' techniques that are open to abuse and have in the past been used to manipulate and mislead the public," says Jon Carapiet from GE Free NZ in food and environment. "There is a thin line between genuine consultation and processes aimed at changing the public's view."

Claiming medical benefits is not the same as delivering them, and time and again experiments are misrepresented as helping the sick when it is not a likely outcome at all. There are also differences between acceptance of micro-organisms to make insulin in the lab and genetically engineering 'higher' animals like dairy cows.

"This grey area is where the public are being mislead. Notwithstanding some of its recommendations the Bio Ethics Council risks falling into the same trap. In general terms the Council seems to attempt to legitimise unacceptable experimentation under the guise of medical cures," says Mr Carapiet.

The Council fails to address the reality that GE cows and sheep have continued to be genetically modified with human genes despite the Royal Commission (and now the Bio Ethics Council) saying they should not be used.

The Council have repeatedly rejected community requests to give advice on the creation of a second wave of transgenic cows by AgResearch. They have delayed and delayed while the experiments have proceeded, and have lacked moral courage as well as regulatory teeth.

The Council also fails to properly address issues raised by the Human Assisted Reproduction Technologies (HART) Bill that allows the creation of animal-human hybrid embryos for research purposes.

"This is something the public are not aware of and I believe most people will not support these creations," says Mr Carapiet.

Use of human genes in higher animals in the open field, or in crops that can spread into food crops should be banned, not left to shady ethics boards to approve. Though the Council makes a clear recommendation that no food with human genes should be forced into the system there is no proposal as to how this will be prevented.

"The Council risks merely supporting "business as usual" and the public will lose what confidence they might have had in the Bio Ethics Council's capacity to reflect New Zealander's wishes for a genuinely ethical use of the technology."

Even the apparent positive step taken by the Council to highlight public concern about the commercialisation of Science is unlikely to improve the situation.

The Council's comments are flawed in suggesting the core concern for the public is "sharing the benefits" rather than preventing unethical commercial practice- whether 'benefits" are shared or not. The Royal Society - suggested in the report as an organisation to promote civil-society discussion- may also already be compromised by commercial interests to the point where the public is losing confidence in them.

There is increasing secrecy around the genetic constructs ERMA is approving for experiments. Public scrutiny and participation in decision-making is being undermined because of "commercially sensitive" information being denied, including basic facts like what genes are being altered.

Time will see if the government and regulatory authorities like ERMA heed the warnings made in the report and act in the public interest.

Sadly what is more likely is that commercial interests will now embark on a concerted PR and propaganda effort to persuade people that unacceptable experiments and business practices are 'OK'.

© Scoop Media

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