For immediate release 13th March 2002
GeneWatch UK called today for urgent regulation of human genetic tests and their immediate withdrawal from sale in High Street shops. Genetic tests by the company Sciona are being sold by the Body Shop in eleven of its stores (1). Sciona claims to be able to use the test results to give advice on diet based on an individual's genetic make-up but the tests were yesterday criticised by several leading scientists as being meaningless and unethical (2).
"Scientists cannot yet tell you what to eat based on your genetic make-up," said Dr Helen Wallace, Deputy Director of GeneWatch UK. "A healthy diet is important whatever genes you have. At best, these tests are a rip-off - an expensive way to be advised to eat more vegetables. Worse, you could be misled about your health."
Scientists are studying links between some of the genes tested and serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease and birth defects. For most people, however, non-genetic factors such as smoking are probably more important in determining whether they will be affected by these conditions. Nevertheless, some companies and scientists have claimed they will be able to predict people's risk of future illness from their genes.
A GeneWatch UK briefing released today (3) highlights that:
- genetic tests may be misleading - for most people, a healthy balanced diet, getting enough exercise and not smoking are much more important in determining their future health;
- genetic tests may tell people information that they don't want to know about their risk of future illness. Employers or insurers may seek access to this information in the future and use it to exclude people from employment or insurance (4);
- there are no laws to prevent Sciona selling genetic information from its database or patenting people's genes without their knowledge (5)
GeneWatch UK called on the Body Shop again today to stop selling Sciona's genetic tests. It has also written to the Secretary of State for Health and the Human Genetics Commission, which advises the Government on genetic testing. GeneWatch is seeking urgent regulation of genetic testing to ensure that consumers are protected and receive proper medical advice and counselling if they choose to take a test.
"By selling Sciona's genetic tests, the Body Shop is actively condoning quackery," said Dr Wallace. "More importantly, people who buy the tests are not warned about the implications and receive no proper medical advice. The Government should enforce strict regulation of genetic tests.
For further information, please contact:
Dr Helen Wallace (GeneWatch UK) on +44 (0)1298 871898
Notes for Editors:
- The genetic tests are for sale in Body Shop stores in: Knightsbridge, Kings Road, Bluewater, Milton Keynes, Oxford Street, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Leeds and Birmingham.
- "Public 'misled by gene test hype'", The Guardian, 12th March, 2002.
- "Genetic Testing on the High Street" is available on the GeneWatch UK website at: http://www.genewatch.org/humangen .
- The Government has not yet signed or ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, which bans genetic discrimination. It has agreed only a voluntary 5-year partial moratorium on the use of genetic tests with the insurance industry, which does not prevent genetic tests taken now from being used to set insurance premiums in the future. There is also no law banning employers from using genetic tests to decide who they employ.
- Current UK law allows people's genes to be patented by companies, without the individual's knowledge, and there is no specific law covering the privacy of genetic information.