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. 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. She has published extensively on issues associated with genetic science and technologies; given expert evidence to numerous parliamentary committees and the the European Court of Human Rights; and is quoted widely in the press and media. Previously, Helen 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.

Dr Eva Sirinathsinghji

Eva joined GeneWatch UK in 2020, as Policy Officer (Human Genetics). She holds a PhD in Neurogenetics from King's College, University of London, where her work involved the use of genetic engineering techniques for biomedical research purposes. Since completion in 2011, she has researched the biosafety considerations as well as the wider social concerns of genetically modified organisms, working with various civil society organisations across the world. She a member of the The Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Risk Assessment and Risk Management at the UN's Convention on Biological Diversity, representing Third World Network.

Topics

  • Genes and Marketing

    Vist GeneWatch's new website, My DNA, My Family, My Rights.

    Read the GeneWatch UK response to the MHRA's consultation on the future regulation of medical devices in the United Kingdom. Medical devices include genetic tests, which can currently be sold without any independent check on the claims made by commercial companies. GeneWatch has long argued that these tests should be regulated so that people are not misled about their health.

  • New Genetic Engineering Techniques

    The UK Government has proposed deregulating gene edited organisms (plants and animals) in England. Read the GeneWatch UK briefing on the Genetic Technologies (precision Breeding) Bill.

    GeneWatch UK's response to the Government's earlier consultation is here.

    GeneWatch UK has published a briefing on problems with DNA repair during the gene editing process.

    Read the joint briefing by Third World Network (TWN) and GeneWatch UK Why genome edited organisms are not excluded from the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

    Read GeneWatch UK's response to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Call for Evidence on Genome Editing and Farmed Animals.

    In the EU, gene edited crops and animals are genetically modified organisms (GMOs), covered by GMO regulations. Read the press release and judgment from the European Court of Justice and the articles by Reuters and the BBC.

    Gene editing can be used to construct 'gene drives', which aim to spread genetically modified genes across wild populations faster than the normal ruls of inheritance allow. Find out about the scientific, ethical, socio-economic and regulatory aspects of gene drives here.

  • GM insects

    The UK-based company Oxitec, owned by Intrexon, has applied to release a second generation of its GM mosquitoes in Florida and California. Read GeneWatch UK's submissions to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) here and here.

    A scientific paper reports that genes from Oxitec's GM mosquitoes, released in experiments in Brazil, have spread into the wild population of mosquitoes. See also the reports in the Cayman Compass and Yale News.

    Read the joint press release on Target Malaria's release of GM mosquitoes in Burkina Faso.

    Read the joint briefing by GeneWatch UK, Third World Network, and the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB): Oxitec's failed GM mosquito releases worldwide: Forewarnings for Africa and the Target Malaria. See also ACB's website.

  • International DNA databases

    Vist GeneWatch's new website, My DNA, My Family, My Rights.

    Corporations selling DNA-profiling technology are aiding human-rights abuses: read the article in Nature.

    Read the 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 Crops and Food

    Reports from the RAGES project (Risk Assessment of genetically engineered organisms in the EU and Switzerland) have now been published.

  • A DNA database in the NHS?

    Vist GeneWatch's new website, My DNA, My Family, My Rights.

    Read the debate in the British Medical Journal about plans to sequence every baby's DNA at birth.

    Read the 2013 GeneWatch UK report about previous 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.

  • GM fish

    In the USA, a Federal Court has declared genetically engineered salmon unlawful. Read the press release from the Center for Food Safety. The court ruled that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to analyze risks to endangered salmon from escape, when appropproving the GM salmon. The court also rejected the FDA's claim that it lacks a duty to protect the environment from genetically engineered animals.

  • GM trees

    There are plans to release GM American Chestnut trees into forests in the USA. Read GeneWatch UK's submission to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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