September 16, 1988

Laws of Life

Another Development and the New Biotechnologies

By Cary Fowler, Eva Lachkovics, Pat Mooney and Hope Shand

It is more than a year since the Dag Hammarskjöld Seminar at Bogève and in Geneva. We have tried our best to retain the spirit of those important discussions while updating the information. The pace of technical, political and corporate change makes both the data and the analysis something of a moving target. No doubt we have sometimes missed our mark.

In the swirl of enthusiastic and uncritical media 'hype', we have found it most appropriate to present mainly the negative Socioeconomic implica- tions of the new biotechniques. Readers are exposed to enough of the other side already. This leaves us open to the criticism that we are ‘Luddites’. This

is not true. We see many wonderful possibilities in the science—most especially in the area of human health care—but we are very doubtful that the positive potential will be realized.

The new technology is 'arriving'—it is not really 'here' yet. We are sending out a warning signal. This means that we have had to talk most about the places where the technology is being developed—North America and Europe—the United States most of all. We regret what might appear to be an ethnocentric view of the technology. Future writers will be able to talk much more about the impact in the South, that is where the most serious consequences are likely to be felt.

Explaining biotechnologies to lay people is not an easy task. (Explaining it to ourselves has been painful!) Although we have tried to be technically accurate, we have opted for what are sometimes oversimplifications in order not to bury policy-makers in technical detail. We have also noticed that the industry sometimes appears to deliberately obscure or mystify the issues in their own news releases and journals. The biotech industry should not be the ones to define our terms for us. To the scientists we apologize for our simplifications. To the majority of our readers, we apologize for our 'technolingualism'.

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