GeneWatch UK's Aims and Principles

GeneWatch UK is a not-for-profit policy research and public interest group. We investigate how genetic science and technologies will impact on our food, health, agriculture, environment and society. These aims and principles explain why GeneWatch exists and what we are trying to achieve.

Our principles

Genetic science and technologies are being promoted as the solution to problems as diverse as hunger, crime, climate change and cancer. GeneWatch UK believes that:

  • An over-emphasis on genetic explanations and solutions to these problems can mean that underlying social, economic and environmental issues are ignored;
  • Commitments to particular assumptions about science, technology, nature and society are often made behind closed doors, with insufficient public scrutiny;
  • Consideration of the impacts of genetic technologies on the environment, health, animal welfare and human rights should be at the heart of decision-making.

Our aims

GeneWatch UK's aims are to:

  • ensure that genetic technologies are developed and used in the public interest and in a way which protects human health and the environment and respects human rights and the interests of animals;
  • promote public involvement in the decisions that are made about science and about whether or how genetic technologies are used;
  • increase public understanding of genetic science and technologies;
  • carry out or support research about their impacts.

What we want to achieve

GeneWatch UK is working to increase public understanding of genetic technologies and to secure public, academic, media, investor, regulatory, parliamentary, local, national and international governments' support for a comprehensive programme to ensure genetic technologies are developed and used in an ethical and safe manner. This includes:

  • Improving public understanding, accountability and participation in decision making

    • A balanced independent and open scientific research agenda.
    • Effective public involvement in the decisions about whether and when genetic technologies should be applied.
    • Systems to ensure people can exercise choice about whether to eat GM foods.
  • Protecting people, the environment and animals

    • Protection of plants and animals from contamination by GMOs.
    • The biotechnology industry to be held liable for environmental or economic damage caused through the use of GMOs.
    • A ban on the patenting of genes, plants and animals to prevent their monopolisation compromising human rights and food security.
    • Equity for people in developing countries in access to the benefits of genetic technologies and protection from genetic exploitation.
    • A presumption against the genetic modification and cloning of all animals, both of which can lead to considerable animal suffering, and which should only be allowed if it will contribute significantly to the relief of serious human suffering and there is an absence of more acceptable alternatives.
    • Effective national and international laws preventing biological weapons development because genetic engineering is seen as a way of improving the potential for their use and increasing the threat of their development.
  • Protecting human rights and dignity
    • Laws to prevent the misuse of genetic information including a ban on the use of genetic test data by insurers and employers.
    • A guarantee of genetic privacy and the right of people to refuse to undergo genetic testing.
    • Independent regulation of genetic testing and genetic databases.
    • A ban on human reproductive cloning and human genetic modification.
  • Promoting positive, safer alternatives
    • Recognition that tackling lifestyle, social, economic and environmental health factors are often more important than genetics in preventing disease.
    • Recognition that providing a healthy diet and establishing food security requires social, economic and political solutions and will not be achieved through technological interventions alone.

How we work

GeneWatch UK works by:

  • Researching and analysing new developments in genetics and how they will affect people, the environment and animals.
  • Clarifying and making accessible to the public, the emerging science of genetics and its implications.
  • Communicating the issues to decision makers, the public, media and other organisations affected by genetics, such as farmers, doctors and businesses.
  • Advocating and justifying practical measures to protect against adverse impacts of genetic technologies on people, the environment and animals.
  • Intervening where most effective to see that adequate safeguards are introduced.
  • Networking and alliance-building with a wide variety of organisations and individuals interested in human, environmental and animal health and welfare.
  • Challenging the biotechnology industry and others if they produce misleading information. 

How is GeneWatch UK funded?

Most of GeneWatch's funds for research and education projects come from charitable trusts. We have also received some research funding from the European Commission. A smaller amount comes from undertaking commissioned work usually, but not exclusively, for other groups in the voluntary sector who need our specialist knowledge. The remainder of GeneWatch's income comes from donations.

GeneWatch UK staff

Dr Helen Wallace - Executive Director
Helen joined GeneWatch as Deputy Director in 2001, specialising in the ethics, risks and social implications of human genetics. She became Director in 2007. Helen has worked as an environmental scientist in academia and industry and as Senior Scientist at Greenpeace UK, where she was responsible for science and policy work on a range of issues. She has a degree in physics from Bristol University and a PhD in applied mathematics from Exeter University.

Topics

  • International DNA databases

    Read the new report by the Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative: Establishing Best Practice for DNA databases. This report was developed using an innovative consultative approach. The final report reflects input from civil society groups around the world from a human rights perspective.

  • GM insects

    Oxitec's GM diamondback moths are being released for the first time in open experiments at Cornell University's research station in New York State. Read the GeneWatch UK press release.

    New evidence showing the ineffectiveness and risks of Oxitec's GM mosquitoes has been released in the Cayman Islands. Read the updated GeneWatch UK briefing and press release about a proposed expansion of open release GM mosquito trials in the Cayman Islands.

  • Commercial interests

    As the major GM companies begin a period of consolidation, concerns have been raised about even greater monopoly control over seeds. See GeneWatch UK's Open Letter to the EU's Competition Commissioner. See also the petition against the merger between Syngenta and the Chinese Government-owned ChemChina.

  • Patents on seeds

    In a long awaited explanatory statement, the EU Commission has said that plants and animals that are obtained by means of "essentially biological" breeding are non-patentable. Read the press release from No Patents on Seeds.

    In contrast, the European Patent Office has previously backed patents on conventional plants, in landmark cases on broccoli and tomatoes.

  • New Genetic Engineering Techniques

    Read the Gene Drive Files and articles in the Guardian and Independent Science News, about US military funding of gene drive research, and secret lobbying for gene drives funded by the Gates' Foundation.

    Read the resolution and press release from the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD).

  • GM Crops and Food

    The use of the weedkiller glyphosate (Monsanto's brandname RoundUp) is becoming increasingly controversial. RoundUp is blanket sprayed on Roundup Ready GM crops grown in North and South America. Read the article in the Huffington Post.

    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. This crop is awaiting approval by the EU.

    GM Freeze and thirty-two other organisations have come together to voice their concerns about a proposed GM potato trial at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich.

  • A DNA database in the NHS?

    Google subsidiary DeepMind has been given access to NHS patient data from millions of Londoners, without patients' knowledge or consent. Read the 2013 GeneWatch UK report about how the Government plans to share NHS medical records and genetic information from every patient with companies like Google.

    For more information on sharing of NHS medical records, visit Medconfidential.

  • Genes and Marketing

    A study has found that communicating the results of DNA tests to patients has little or no impact on unhealthy lifestyles.

    The EU has adopted new regulations for medical tests, including genetic tests, known as the In Vitro Diagnostics (IVD) Regulation. However it is unclear if this will be implemented in the UK after Brexit. The regulation requires companies to provide evidence of the claims they make about a person's risk of developing disease.

    Superdrug is selling unregulated genetic tests by the Google-funded company 23andMe, which have been banned in the USA. Read the GeneWatch UK press release and the Guardian article.

    Read about concerns about the tests in the Times (subscription required).

  • 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 and Cloned Mammals

    The Guardian reports that a UK couple have cloned their dead dog.

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