Welcome to GeneWatch UK
GeneWatch UK is a not-for-profit group that monitors developments in genetic technologies from a public interest, human rights, environmental protection and animal welfare perspective. GeneWatch believes people should have a voice in whether or how these technologies are used and campaigns for safeguards for people, animals and the environment. We work on all aspects of genetic technologies - from GM crops and foods to genetic testing of humans.
Please help to support our work by making a donation.
- GM Crops and Food
GeneWatch UK and TestBiotech are calling for herbicide tolerant crops awaiting approval for use in food and feed in the EU not to be approved. These crops are blanket sprayed with weedkillers which leave residues on the crop and safety testing is inadequate. Read the article in the Ecologist, the press release, open letter and technical background.
Syngenta's RoundUp Ready GA21 maize is the only remaining GM crop in the commercial pipeline for EU cultivation that would be suitable for growing in England or Flanders (Belgium): areas of northern European countries which grow maize and have not used the opt out. RoundUp Ready crops are controversial for several reasons, including harm to wildlife habitats from blanket spraying with weedkiller and pesticide residues on food. Read about the problems in Chemical and Engineering News.
Finland, Sweden and Estonia have not used the EU opt out, but don't grow maize, so there is nothing in the pipeline suitable for growing there. Spain, Portugal, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia already grow small quantities of Monsanto's MON810 maize (a Bt crop, resistant to some pests) for use in animal feed. Most of the cultivated area is in Spain.
- GM fish
In the USA, the FDA has approved GM salmon for use as food: the first time a GM animal has been allowed into the food chain. The GM salmon eggs will be produced by the company AquaBounty in Canada, shopped to Panama for growing in an on-land facility, and then shipped as dead fish products to the US market, where they are not required to be labelled as GM. Environmentalists are concerned about the impacts on wild salmon if the GM fish escape, including if GM fish eggs are accidentally or deliberately diverted to fish farms elsewhere in the world. The Center for Food Safety has stated it will bring a legal case against the decision.
- GM insects
Read GeneWatch UK's new briefing on proposed releases of GM diamondback moths in New York State. Read the joint press release from the Center for Food Safety, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth US and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York about the proposed trials.
The Catalan Government has rejected a (second) application by Oxitec to release GM olive flies in Catalunya (Spain).
Panama has rejected Oxitec's GM mosquitoes, after conducting a preliminary trial. Malaysia and the Cayman Islands also stopped releases after preliminary trials. Trials continue in Brazil, however the Brazilian Health Authority ANVISA has not authorised commercial releases amid doubts about the efficacy and risks of the technology.
- Genes and Marketing
The EU council has begun "trialogue" negotiations with the European Commission and Parliament about new regulations for medical tests, including genetic tests.
Read about concerns about the tests in the Times (subscription required).
The Daily Mail reports that 23andMe is encouraging parents to test their children's genes, against ethical advice.
The FDA has allowed 23andMe to resume selling some health-related tests (carrier status for genetic disorders) in the USA but has not approved the controversial tests for supposed genetic predispositions to complex disorders. The FDA also warned three more companies against selling unregulated genetic tests.
- International DNA databases
Kuwait has become the only country in the world to pass a law to put its whole population on a DNA database. Read the press coverage here.
There has been widespread criticism of India's DNA Bill for lack of adequate safeguards to protect privacy and human rights and prevent miscarriages of justice. Read the background here. Critics are calling for greater scrutiny by Committee and significant amendments before the Bill is sent to parliament.
Read the article Forensic DNA databases: Ethical and legal standards: A global review.
GeneWatch UK, the Council for Responsible Genetics and Privacy International are working together on the Forensics Genetics Policy Initiative to develop international standards for DNA databases worldwide. Visit our website.
- A DNA database in the NHS?
The "Safe Harbor" agreement on transferring data to the United States has been ruled invalid by the European Court of Justice.
Loopholes in new data protection legislation proposed by the European Council would allow personal health data, including genomes, to be handed to private companies without an individual's consent and stored indefinitely. This conflicts with stronger data protection proposals from the European Parliament and a commitment from the Commission not to weaken safeguards. Read the GeneWatch UK briefing.
Read the Mail article on Government plans to share NHS medical records with Google: the newspaper already revealed how supposedly confidential medical records are being sold to cold callers.
Read GeneWatch UK's report on the plan to build a DNA database in the NHS by stealth and share whole DNA sequences (genomes) with companies like Google. The 100,000 Genomes Project is a pilot project for this plan.
As a first step in the plan, NHS England plans to share people's medical records with private companies without people's knowledge or consent. This "care.data" plan was put on hold until after the election, but is set to restart at end June 2015.
Medconfidential has published information about how to opt out from sharing your medical records using a letter you can send to your GP.
- GM Contamination Register
An on-line database of incidents of GM contamination, illegal releases and adverse agricultural side-effects run by GeneWatch UK and Greenpeace. Read the new journal paper The GM Contamination Register: a review of recorded contamination incidents associated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), 1997-2013 and the Greenpeace blog.
- Genes and Health
Listen to GeneWatch's Director on Family Caregivers Unite!.
A major new study shows that chance plays a significant role in who gets cancer.>
As more evidence accumulates, more scientists are questioning claims that genes play a central role in health and behaviour. Read the blog by Arto Annila and Keith Baverstock and visit the BioscienceResource Project.
For a discussion of policy issues around plans to sequence the genomes of whole populations, read the reports of the EU project PACITA on public health genomics here.
- The UK Police National DNA Database
The Home Office has published new guidance for people seeking the early deletion of DNA profiles, fingerprint records and Police National Computer records. An application form is included.
The effectiveness of the National DNA Database has improved following the removal of more than a million innocent people's records, according to data in the new Annual Report. Read the blog on Gizmonaut.
- GM and Cloned Mammals
MEPs have voted for a comprehensive ban on cloned farm animals. Read the Compassion in World Farming press release.
- Patents on seeds
The European Patent Office has backed patents on conventional plants, in landmark cases on broccoli and tomatoes.
- New Plant Breeding Techniques
Companies are lobbying for new developments in genetic engineering to fall outside Europe's regulations on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). If they get their way, this could mean that environmental risk assessments are not conducted before releasing these GMOs into the environment and new types of genetically modified foods are not labelled for consumers. Read the open letter from civil society organisations calling for proper regulation.