Briefings

  • GeneWatch UK Briefing: Oxitec's Genetically Modified Mosquitoes: Ready to roll out? portable document file (PDF)
    1st March 2017

  • Joint Factsheet: Trade Secrets Protection portable document file (PDF)
    30th March 2016

  • GeneWatch UK and TestBiotech: Technical background on the request to stop the authorisation process of genetically engineered soybeans MON87708 x MON89788, FG72 and MON87705 x MON89788 for import portable document file (PDF)
    16th November 2015

  • GeneWatch UK Briefing: Oxitec's genetically modified moths: summary of concerns (10th November 2015)

  • GeneWatch UK Briefing: Data Protection or exploitation? The erosion of safeguards for health and genetic research portable document file (PDF)
    27th May 2015

  • GeneWatch UK Briefing: Mosquitos Geneticamente Modificados de Oxitec: Un enfoque creible para abordar el problema del dengue? portable document file (PDF)
    13th April 2015

    An English version of this briefing is available here.

  • GeneWatch UK briefing: Failures of the transboundary notification process for living genetically modified insects portable document file (PDF)
    29th September 2014

  • GeneWatch UK briefing: The UK Government and the GM industry: colluding to promote GM crops and foods, undermine consumer choice and ignore environmental harm (May 2014) portable document file (PDF)
    6th May 2014

  • GeneWatch UK comments on Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA) of GM mosquitoes in Panama (February 2014) portable document file (PDF)
    16th February 2014

  • GeneWatch UK: A DNA Database in the NHS: Your Freedom Up for Sale? portable document file (PDF)
    23rd May 2013

  • GeneWatch UK Briefing: IVD Regulation: problems still not solved portable document file (PDF)
    7th May 2013

    Comments on first draft IVD Regulation (prior to amendments by MEPs)

  • Joint Briefing: Genetically-modified insects: under whose control? (November 2012) portable document file (PDF)
    8th November 2012

  • GeneWatch UK Briefing: Border issues with GM mosquito releases (October 2012) portable document file (PDF)
    6th October 2012

  • GeneWatch UK Briefing: Oxitec's GM Mosquitoes: Ongoing Concerns (August 2012) portable document file (PDF)
    10th August 2012

  • GeneWatch briefing: DNA database: analysis of offending figures portable document file (PDF)
    7th November 2011

    Note: this briefing has been corrected for a previous error in the final case described.

  • GeneWatch briefing: DNA databases and human rights portable document file (PDF)
    12th January 2011

  • GeneWatch briefing: Oxitec's GM mosquitoes: in the public interest? portable document file (PDF)
    14th December 2010

  • The DNA database: contacting your MP (October 2010) portable document file (PDF)
    31st October 2010

  • GeneWatch briefing: the DNA database: what next? portable document file (PDF)
    2nd July 2010

  • GeneWatch briefing: History of the Human Genome portable document file (PDF)
    24th June 2010

  • GeneWatch briefing: Agrofuels and the use of Genetic Modification portable document file (PDF)
    11th August 2009

    A four page summary of the main report.

  • GeneWatch briefing: Examples of genes and common diseases (July 2009)
    6th July 2009

  • GeneWatch Q&A: Lords' Genomic Medicine Report
    15th June 2009

  • GeneWatch UK briefing: Is 'early health' good health? (20th April 2009)
    20th April 2009

  • GeneWatch briefing: Would 114 murderers have walked away? portable document file (PDF)
    27th June 2008

  • Briefing: How many innocent children are being added to the National DNA Database?
    22nd May 2007

    Briefing by GeneWatch UK and Action on Rights for Children. Based on Home Office figures we calculate that at least 100,000 innocent 10-17 year-olds are on the DNA Database.

  • Briefing 36 A Review of 2006 portable document file (PDF)
    25th January 2007

  • Briefing 35: Nutrigenomics: the future of nutrition? portable document file (PDF)
    1st March 2006

    The new science of 'nutrigenomics' (nutritional genomics) and the idea of 'personalised nutrition' are being promoted as the solution to chronic diet-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Personalised nutrition includes the idea of recommending dietary advice, supplements and new 'functional foods' to healthy people who are identified as genetically susceptible to future illness using genetic tests. This briefing asks whether tailoring our diets to our individual genetic make-up, or to other individual biological differences, will be good for health.

  • Briefing 34: Genetic technologies: a review of developments in 2005 portable document file (PDF)
    1st February 2006

    In 2005, the fortunes of GM crops and foods remained stagnant. As in previous years, there has been an increase in the area of GM crops being grown, but largely in Brazil. No new GM traits have come to the market. Major shortcomings in the management of GM crops were exposed when it was revealed that Syngenta had 'muddled up' one variety of GM maize with another, leading to an unapproved GM crop being grown and exported from North America undetected for four years. In the field of human genetics, much continues to be promised, but little has been delivered. Considerable investment is being made in the search for genes linked to susceptibility to common complex diseases, despite evidence that environmental, social and economic factors are much more important.  This briefing examines the major issues in genetic technologies that emerged in 2005.

  • Briefing 33: Can Biological Containment Work for Crops and Society? portable document file (PDF)
    1st December 2005

    8 pages.

    One of the potential risks of GM crops is that the introduced genes will be passed to other non-GM crops or related wild plants. This could result in the contamination of foods or the evolution of new, more competitive weeds, causing problems for farmers or ecosystems.

    One response to this threat has been to develop further genetic modifications of the plant that attempt to reduce or eliminate gene flow by altering the plant's reproductive processes. The most notorious of these is 'Terminator technology', where a crop produces sterile seeds, but a range of other approaches is being developed. This briefing reviews the different approaches and considers their effectiveness and practicality. This is important because 'biological containment' is being promoted as a biosafety issue. While biological containment systems to prevent gene flow may be presented as safety mechanisms for PR purposes, their main purpose is an economic one - to prevent farmers keeping seed for future use or to reduce possible liability claims for contamination, for example.

  • Briefing 32: HUMAN CLONING AND STEM CELLS: unravelling the issues portable document file (PDF)
    2nd June 2005

    12 pages

    In 1997, scientists in Scotland announced that the previous year they had produced Dolly the sheep, cloned from the cell of an adult sheep’s mammary gland. In 1998, US scientists cultured the first stem cell lines taken from human embryos. Together, these developments raised the fear of human cloning, a new market in human eggs and the promise of personalised body tissues to treat people with serious diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Scientists in the UK and South Korea, which are two of only seven countries worldwide that allow this type of research, have now produced cloned human embryos. This briefing explains the science and techniques behind human cloning and the laboratory culture of stem cells. It considers the claims made for these techniques and the problems faced by the research and its potential applications, together with the intertwined social, ethical and legal issues.

  • Briefing 31: THE POLICE NATIONAL DNA DATABASE: Human rights and privacy portable document file (PDF)
    1st June 2005

    8 pages

    The police National DNA Database is the largest DNA database in the world. It contains DNA profiles from more than 2.5 million individuals and is expected to double in number over the next few years. The database includes information on people convicted of a wide range of crimes, including serious violent crimes and minor public order offences, as well as many people who have never have been convicted or charged with any criminal offence.

  • Briefing 30: Genetic Technologies: A Review of Developments in 2004 portable document file (PDF)
    1st February 2005

    12 pages.

    This briefing reviews how GM technologies have fared during 2004 and identifies the key issues for 2005.

    In 2004, it became clear that genetically modified (GM) crops would not be grown in the UK until 2008 at the earliest. However, both in the UK and the rest of Europe discussions are taking place about how GM and non-GM crops can coexist and about the arrangements that are needed for compensation if there is economic or environmental harm arising from their use. The European Commission has given approval for the marketing of two GM maize varieties in food and animal feed, despite the lack of agreement of Member States. Rumbling controversy has continued globally.

    In relation to human genetics, the UK gave its first approval to Newcastle University for the therapeutic cloning of human embryos. International negotiations for a ban on reproductive cloning failed to be agreed and there continues to be no regulation of genetic testing or safeguards against genetic discrimination in the UK, despite continuing commitment to the development of genetic tests for common disorders. The Government also extended the powers of the police in the collection of DNA from people arrested but not charged.

  • Briefing 29: Growing GM crops: The Need for Contamination and Liability Rules portable document file (PDF)
    1st October 2004

    8 pages.

    One major concern about growing GM crops is whether it will be possible to maintain non-GM food supplies which have not been contaminated by GM and who will bear the cost if contamination arises. In July 2004, the Government announced that it is to hold a consultation on the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops to consider these issues . The outcome will be important because it will establish the rules for GM crop growing in this country. Key issues include:

    • what level of contamination is the target maximum for conventional non-GM and organic produce;
    • who will pay for any economic losses caused by GM contamination;
    • whether or not areas of the UK could establish themselves as GM-free;
    • and who will pay for any environmental damage that may arise.

    This briefing considers these issues and the impact decisions are likely to have.

  • Briefing 28: Genetic Tests and Health portable document file (PDF)
    1st September 2004

    8 pages.

    The completion of the Human Genome Project has opened some new avenues for medical research. It has also led to the marketing of genetic tests which identify parts of the sequence of an individual's genome. Genetic tests are marketed over the internet; via alternative healthcare providers or private GPs; or via the health service. They have also been sold in High Street stores. Tests may be accompanied by health advice or products which are supposedly tailored to the customer's individual genetic make-up. One day, people may even be able to buy a scan of their whole genetic make-up . This briefing considers the case for regulating these genetic tests. Some important questions are:

    1. Will people taking genetic tests be given reliable and accurate information?
    2. Will the products and advice supplied with genetic tests be good for health?
    3. Are controls in place to prevent misleading marketing by commercial companies?

  • Briefing 27:Bar-Coding Babies: Good for Health? portable document file (PDF)
    1st August 2004

    8 pages.

    Last year, in its White Paper on genetics in the National Health Service (NHS) the Government included the idea of screening babies at birth “to produce a comprehensive map of their key genetic markers, or even their entire genome.” The Government has asked the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) and the National Screening Committee (NSC) to conduct an initial analysis of the ethical, social, scientific, economic and practical considerations of genetic profiling at birth. They will report by the end of 2004.

    This proposal is already controversial . Some issues that it raises are:

    • How useful is genetic screening for an individual's health?
    • Is genetic screening a cost-effective way to tackle disease?
    • Should children have a say in the genetic tests they have?
    • Will genetic screening lead to stigma and discrimination?
    • What are the implications of a large-scale genetic database for privacy and human rights?

  • Briefing 26: Genetic Technologies: A Review of Developments in 2003 portable document file (PDF)
    1st February 2004

    12 pages.

    During 2003, there has been public debates on GM crops and foods, Government- sponsored reports on the economics and science, and recommendations on how the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops and liability for harm should be managed. The farm-scale evaluations were published and the potential for harm to farmland wildlife caused by using herbicide-tolerant (HT) GM crops was identified.

    In the human genetics field, UK Biobank is expected to start taking samples of people’s genetic material in 2004, despite a continuing lack of safeguards from genetic discrimination and serious questions about the quality of the science. Human genetic tests remained unregulated, but the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority moved to prevent widespread gender selection of future babies.

    This briefing reviews the major developments in the science, regulation and politics of genetic technologies in 2003 and considers their implications.

  • Briefing 25: The GM Dispute at the WTO: Forcing GM Foods on Europe? portable document file (PDF)
    1st December 2003

    8 pages

    The USA, Canada and Argentina are challenging Europe over its moratorium on commercial GM food and crop approvals at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The outcome of the case will not only have impacts on Europe, but also on whether other countries can regulate GM crops and foods as they see fit. This briefing reviews the WTO and the rules under which it operates with particular reference to the GM case.

  • Briefing 24: Genetic Testing in the Workplace: Creating a genetic underclass? portable document file (PDF)
    1st November 2003

    8 pages.

    Current laws in the UK allow employers to refuse someone a job on the basis of their genetic test results. Genetic tests for susceptibility to occupational disease are being developed and a few have already been used in workplaces in the USA. However, none of these tests can accurately or reliably predict whether an individual is at risk. It is neither scientifically nor ethically valid to use these tests for employment purposes, but there is a real danger that they could be used inappropriately to discriminate unfairly against employees.

    A more detailed version of this briefing is also available.

  • Briefing 23: Pharmacogenetics: Better, Safer Medicines? portable document file (PDF)
    1st July 2003

    8 pages.

    People vary in how they respond to medicines and some of this variation is known to be due to genetic differences between individuals. Sometimes, people suffer ‘Adverse Drug Reactions’, which can be mild or serious and even deadly. Other medicines simply do not work for many people taking them. If genetic tests could be used to identify such people before they take a medicine, they could be prescribed a different drug or a higher or lower dose. Lives and money might be saved.

    However, there are reasons to be sceptical about some of the claims made for what is known as ‘pharmacogenetics’.

  • Briefing 22: Genetic Technologies: A Review of Developments in 2002 portable document file (PDF)
    1st February 2003

    12 pages.

    During 2002, questions remained about the UK Government’s position on GM crops and the extent to which it takes public concerns seriously, particularly with regard to commercial growing and the labelling of GM food. Added to this were several contamination incidents, creating anxiety about whether non-GM and organic farming systems could co-exist alongside GM farming. In the field of human genetics, the direct over-the-counter selling of genetic tests began and plans to develop a UK population genetic ‘biobank’ gathered momentum.

    This briefing reviews the major developments in the science, regulation and politics of genetic technologies in 2002 and considers their implications.

  • Briefing 21: Genetic Modification: The Need for Special Regulation portable document file (PDF)
    1st January 2003

    8 Pages

    In 2003, the government will decide whether to allow the commercial growing of the first GM crops. Some people argue that GM is an extension of conventional breeding practices and should not be 'discriminated' against or 'singled out' for special demands in terms of liability or other regulations such as labelling. However, GeneWatch and many others believe that GM is different and demands particular attention.

  • Briefing 20: Animal Cloning: Industrialising Animals? portable document file (PDF)
    1st August 2002

    8 pages

    Since Dolly the sheep became the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell, attempts have been made to clone many different species. This briefing reviews animal cloning and considers what it means for the animals involved and our relationship with them.

  • Briefing 19: Animal Organs for Humans: The Science and Ethics of Xenotransplantation. portable document file (PDF)
    1st June 2002

    8 pages.

    Xenotransplantation is the term used to describe the transfer of organs, cells or tissues between species and from animals to humans. Since there is a shortfall in the number of human organs available for transplantation and patients in need, it has been proposed that organs from animals could be used instead.

    Because of problems with the rejection of animal organs by the human immune system, attempts are being made to genetically modify animals (mainly pigs) to make them more suitable as organ donors. This briefing examines the science, ethics and safety issues involved.

  • Briefing 18: Genetics and 'Predictive Medicine': Selling Pills, Ignoring Causes. portable document file (PDF)
    1st May 2002

    8 pages.

    Genetic testing is being proposed as a way of identifying individuals who are ‘genetically susceptible’ to future disease. These ‘high risk’ individuals would then be encouraged to change unhealthy lifestyles, reduce their exposure to environmental hazards, or take medication before they become ill.

    This predictive/preventive approach sounds sensible but there are some important questions about the accuracy and negative effects of genetic testing.

  • Briefing 16: Designer Forests - The Development of GM Trees portable document file (PDF)
    1st September 2001

    8 pages

    Genetic modification has not only been applied to food crops - trees are also being genetically engineered. The intention is to improve productivity by making trees grow faster, have straighter trunks and less branches, be tolerant to herbicides and resistant to insect attack as well as being easier to turn into paper. This briefing considers the genetic modification of trees, the risks and benefits and how these can be evaluated.

  • Briefing 15: Genetic Testing in Insurance and Employment: A new Form of Discrimination portable document file (PDF)
    1st June 2001

    8 pages.

    Developments in genetics mean that there will be increasing numbers of tests to detect genes associated with disease. How this information is used will be crucial to determining the effect which genetic science will have on society. Genetic test information could be used to discriminate against a person as grounds for refusing insurance cover or employment. In such cases, people could be required to have genetic tests or to disclose the results of tests already taken.

    This briefing considers genetic tests, their potential abuse and the safeguards which are necessary to prevent them being used for discriminatory purposes.

  • Briefing 14: Human Bio-Collections: Who Benefits from Gene Banking? portable document file (PDF)
    1st April 2001

    8 pages.

    Large collections of genetic material are being established world-wide to facilitate research into, for example, links between specific genes and particular illnesses and how genetic variations between people affect susceptibility to specific diseases.

    This briefing examines the case for such collections and focuses in particular on a current proposal by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome Trust and Department of Health (DOH) to establish a large population bio-collection in the UK. A number of crucial concerns are identified that must be addressed before this proposal is allowed to proceed.

  • Briefing 12: Human Gene Therapy: A Cure for all Ills? portable document file (PDF)
    1st October 2000

    8 pages.

    Public opposition to genetically modified (GM) crops in the UK and Europe has propelled the issue to the top of the political agenda. At the same time, there is growing public interest in the potential costs and benefits of applying the techniques of genetic modification to treating human illness and disease. This briefing examines the case for gene therapy and considers the safety, social and ethical concerns.

  • Briefing 11: Privatising Knowledge, Patenting Genes: The Race to Control Genetic Information portable document file (PDF)
    10th June 2000

    8 pages.

    A race is underway to control the genetic information (genomes) of humans, plants and animals. Private companies are vying with each other and with the public sector to be the first to identify genes and what they do. Fierce arguments are taking place over how such information should be protected – should data about genes be freely available or should genes be patentable?

    This briefing examines the issues behind the control of genetic information and considers how the public interest should be protected.

  • Briefing 10: The Next Generation of GM Foods: Good for Whose Health portable document file (PDF)
    1st April 2000

    In a desperate effort to reverse its failing fortunes, the biotechnology industry and its supporters are putting their faith in the 'second generation' of GM crops. It is claimed that many of these will bring consumer benefits by offering foods with enhanced nutritional value (so-called 'functional foods'). This briefing reviews what is under development and what the risks and benefits may be.

  • Briefing 8: Farm Scale Trials of GM crops: Answering the Safety Questions? portable document file (PDF)
    1st September 1999

    This briefing describes the farm scale trials of GM crops in the UK and their rationale. It questions whether this is an appropriate time to be moving to large scale experimentation and how likely it is that the trials will achieve their objective.

  • Briefing 7: Genetically Modified Micro-organisms: Leaking from the Lab? portable document file (PDF)
    1st July 1999

    This briefing is based on extensive research into the use of genetically modified micro-organisms (GMMs) in research laboratories and commercial production facilities in the UK. It examines the use of GMMs in the UK and how they are being routinely released into the environment, the environmental and human health risks posed by such releases, and the inadequacies of current safety regulations and recommendations for their improvement.

  • Briefing 6: Genetic Engineering and Biological Weapons portable document file (PDF)
    1st June 1999

    4 pages.
    Genetic engineering is posing a serious threat to the control of biological weapons proliferation. This briefing provides:

    • an overview of the development and use of biological weapons
    • an assessment of the new threat posed by genetic engineering and ‘designer’ weapons
    • a critique of current biological weapons controls and recommendations for their improvement

  • Briefing 4: Genetically Engineered Crops and Food: The Case for a Moratorium portable document file (PDF)
    1st November 1998

    Examines the justification for a comprehensive moratorium on genetically engineered crops and food and outlines the issues which must be addressed while such a moratorium is in place. Particular attention is paid to:

    • public opposition to genetically engineered crops and foods,
    • inadequate safety regulations,
    • how non genetically engineered food production is likely to be compromised.

  • Briefing 3: Genetic Engineering: Can it Feed the World? portable document file (PDF)
    1st August 1998

    Examines how genetically engineered foods are being promoted as essential to feeding the world’s growing population and discusses:

    • whether such claims are valid and whether there are alternative solutions
    • which genetically engineered foods are being developed and who is behind them
    • how the market for genetically engineered foods is being established

  • Briefing 2: Genetically Engineered Oilseed Rape: Agricultural Saviour or New Form of Pollution? portable document file (PDF)
    1st May 1998

    Examines the proposed commercial cultivation of genetically engineered oilseed rape and includes:

    • an assessment of potential risks for the environment, human health and agriculture,
    • an appraisal of the regulatory authorities’ reactions,
    • proposals for improvements.

  • Briefing 1: Genetically Modified Foods: Will Labelling Provide Choice? portable document file (PDF)
    1st March 1998

    Examines the debate over the labelling of genetically engineered foods with particular reference to:

    • public concern over genetically engineered foods,
    • the response of industry and regulatory authorities to the demand for labelling,
    • the confusion surrounding current and proposed regulations,
    • recommendations for solutions.

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