Genetically modified crops and food remain one of the most controversial issues of recent times. In 1993, long before ‘GM’ became a public issue, SRT brought together a working group of experts in GM research, ethics, sociology, agriculture, risk and animal welfare, in a far-reaching five year study on the ethics of genetic engineering in crops and animals. Our resulting book Engineering Genesis proved very timely in 1998, and was widely acclaimed for its informed and balanced insights by both sides of a now rapidly polarising public debate. Based on these findings, the SRT Project presented a detailed report to the 1999 General Assembly, taking an intermediate position. The Assembly did not oppose the use of GM food and crops as such and saw some potential benefits. But it was highly critical of the behaviour of multi-national companies in thrusting GM imports into Europe without labelling or segregation, of the commercially driven priorities of the technology, of spurious claims to “feed the world”, and of the dismissal of emerging public concerns by the UK Government and EU. Read More
Hard on the heels of the news that South Korean scientists have produced cloned human embryos (see SRT Comment), Roslin scientist Ian Wilmut proposes, in an article in the New Scientist, the production not only of cloned embryos for various types of research, but also of cloned babies under some circumstances. He declares that he is still implacably opposed to reproductive human cloning, in the sense of producing a new individual who is the genetic copy of a person who already exists, but describes future circumstances under which he would advocate using the technology of cloning to produce babies without genetic disease. Dr Donald Bruce, Director of Society Religion and Technology Project of the Church of Scotland, who has been in the forefront of ethical evaluation of cloning since 1996, says “It is already highly controversial to advocate the use of cloned human embryos in research, but I am concerned that this new suggestion causes at least as many ethical problems as it might seem to solve. It needs to be thought through more carefully in ethical terms. It would be illegal in many countries, including the UK, and runs contrary to worldwide opinion.” Read More
Should we become a GM Nation? is the title of a new Church of Scotland report just released for debate at the General Assembly on 18 May. It is written by the Kirk’s own Society, Religion and Technology Project (SRT), which has pioneered the examination of ethical and social issues of GM since 1993 in its seminal study Engineering Genesis. The new report argues that although GM is not wrong in itself, the Government should not have given the go-ahead last month for herbicide tolerant GM maize to be grown commercially in the UK. “Given the current strength of public opinion revealed in last summer’s official public consultation, and the continuing uncertainties about environmental impacts, these are the wrong type of GM crops at the wrong time,” says the SRT Project Director, Dr Donald Bruce. Read More
Future technological developments concerning food, agriculture and the environment face a gulf of social legitimation from a sceptical public and media, in the wake of the crises of BSE, GM food, and foot and mouth disease in the UK. There is distrust of the bioindustry, the regulatory system and the assurances of Government. This paper examines agricultural biotechnology in terms of a social contract, assessing the conditions which would be necessary to re-establish a measure of public trust against a climate of suspicion. A vital factor is how far new shared visions can be found for future developments in this field. Read More
The recent genetic engineering of a monkey in the USA has now brought to the fore some important issues about the research on animals for human benefits. The dramatic developments in cloning and embryonic human stem cells are raising another basic question of the increasingly blurred borderline between animal and human research. Research done on animals today, like cloned sheep and mouse stem cells, can rapidly become applied for use in humans. Insights from human examples feed back into animal research. In this report, we wish to examine how far we may use and modify animals for human uses, and the relationship between biotechnology in animals and in humans. Read More
A short history of SRTP has been prepared by Dr. John Francis.