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Strong Regulatory Environment For Gene Research

Media Release 19 February 2001


The development of an ethical regulatory environment and the monitoring and enforcement of consistent appropriate standards is critical if the public is going to have confidence in gene technology research, the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO told the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification this morning.

UNESCO NZ Chair Margaret Austin, Professor Sylvia Rumball of Massey University and a member of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee and Mrs Nadja Tollemache who is Chair of the Health Research Council Ethics Committee addressed the Royal Commission.

Mrs Austin told the Royal Commission science cannot abandon the quest for knowledge and understanding.

“Biotechnology research and its application have the potential to address some of the world’s most pressing problems and in this context New Zealand has both an opportunity and a responsibility to contribute to new knowledge through gene technology research,” she said.

“Human health and biodiversity must be safeguarded and the regulatory environment must be such that considered decisions are made about New Zealand’s level of involvement in gene technology to give the public confidence. We are concerned at the polarisation between the extremes of pro-genetic modification and anti-genetic modification which has led to confusion over the real risks and benefits. Fair and balanced expert information must be available to the public and decision makers,” Mrs Austin said.

Professor Rumball told the Commission that UNESCO NZ is also concerned that neither the public nor policy makers and researchers are adequately prepared to take part in a discussion of the ethics of genetic modification because ethics as it relates to research has not been part of the formal education system. Additionally New Zealand does not have organisations comparable to the UK Nuffield Committee on Bioethics, the US National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), or the UK Human Genetics Advisory Commission which are promoting ethical reflection at the national level.

Hence UNESCO recommends that bioethics education be included in secondary and tertiary education curricula and that a national ethics committee similar to those in the Britain and the United States be established to reflect and report on ethical issues..


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