Biotechnology regulation at the crossroads

The biotechnology industry was jubilant when its calls for a relaxation of regulations on the contained use and deliberate release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were endorsed in October by a report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology.1 The report's outspoken recommendations in favour of cutting red tape in order to unleash the industry's promised wealth-creating potential have perplexed regulators who say they were already doing most of what it recommends. And some scientists are unhappy at the way in which the Committee dismissed as "conjectural" the concerns about GMOs' potential to damage the environment voiced by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) four years ago.

The potential risks associated with genetic modification have been exercising scientists, industrialists and regulators since the early 1970s. In a reversal of the history of other technological developments, scientists themselves called for a moratorium on certain aspects of experimentation as they became aware of biotechnology's startling potential - and its capacity to cause adverse consequences if adequate controls were not applied.

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