SOC: Canadian poll on biotech issues

Date: Sat Jan 08 2000 - 17:10:17 MST

This article is particularly ominous, since it seems to clearly link negative
public perceptions of medical biotech with the "frankenfoods" issues. Also,
note that a substantial majority of Candadians polled indicated that they
would NOT want to prolong their lives by 100 years if they could do so.

>From The Ottawa Citizen Online,
Saturday January 08, 2000

Biotech advances spook Canadians: poll

GM foods top list of technology fears
Mark Kennedy
The Ottawa Citizen

Canadians fear the brave new world of science that has spawned genetically
modified food and could soon lead to lab-grown organs for transplant,
according to a new poll conducted for the Citizen.

The distrust of what medical technology can offer is so deep that even the
prospect of prolonging life by an extra 100 years has people wary.
Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed said that, if it were medically
possible, they would opt not to live another 100 years.

The survey by Toronto-based Pollara suggests that governments, scientists
and health care researchers have a huge sales job to make before
technological advances can be put into action.

"There's a sense that there are no limits to science in this area and while
anything is possible, not everything should be," said Pollara vice-president
Don Guy.

The nationwide poll found that Canadians are particularly wary of
genetically modified food. Three-quarters of those surveyed think that it
will be commonplace within the next decade for stores to be selling
genetically engineered groceries.

But 62 per cent oppose this happening, a clear indication of public anxiety
about an issue that has become a hot political issue in the past few months.

Public interest groups have urged the federal government to conduct more
research into genetically modified foods instead of relying on data supplied
by the industry. As well, they have said the government should introduce a
system of mandatory labelling that informs consumers which products are
genetically modified.

Last fall, 200 scientists from Health Canada's Health Protection Branch
signed a petition that, among other things, raised alarm at the acute
shortage of scientists for evaluations and risk assessments of genetically
modified foods.

In December, the federal government moved to soothe public fears by creating
an independent panel of experts to provide advice on whether to change the
regulatory system for approving genetically engineered products. Critics
still weren't satisfied.

Mr. Guy, of Pollara, said the problem is that Canadians simply don't trust
the assurances from some scientists that genetically modified foods are
safe. "The big thing among people is, 'We don't understand it and we can't
control it. So why would we proceed with something like this? If I can't see
it and touch it and understand it, then how can I make decisions?' "

Pollara researchers interviewed 1,017 Canadians over three days in late
December. In theory, results of the poll would not differ by more than 3.1
percentage points from those that would be obtained by interviewing all
Canadian adults in 19 cases out of 20.

Among Pollara's other findings:

Human cloning: Canadians are almost overwhelmingly opposed to the notion of
allowing humans to be cloned. Two-thirds expect it will be possible to clone
people within the next decade. But 88 per cent are opposed.

The notion of cloning humans -- once confined to science fiction novels and
Hollywood movies --is no longer an academic question. Animals have been
cloned and experts say it is only a matter of time before researchers do the
same with humans.

For several years, the federal government has been drafting legislation that
would outlaw human cloning and set limits for other reproductive
technologies and genetic practices. But the bill, despite repeated promises
from Health Minister Allan Rock, has not yet been tabled.

Replacement body parts: Unlike human cloning, Canadians seem to have fewer
ethical qualms about the emerging field of research on breeding body parts.
Still, the public is evenly split on the issue -- a fact that should concern
biotechnologists who might assume that patients would naturally support
their work.

They are involved in one of the most promising areas of bioengineering that
could conceivably save the lives of thousands of people awaiting organ
transplants. In labs throughout Canada and the U.S., researchers are making
great strides in their attempts to produce unlimited quantities of skin, eye
corneas, bone and human organs for grafting and transplantation.

Pollara found three-quarters of Canadians expect there will be a "market"
for body parts in the next decade. But there is a clear split on whether it
should happen -- 48 per cent in support, and 48 per cent opposed.

Curing disease: Canadians are very optimistic that there will be cures
within the next decade for some of the most deadly diseases that have
plagued science. Seventy-four per cent think AIDS will be cured by 2010, and
73 per cent expect a cure for cancer by that year. On a less positive note,
55 per cent also expect an epidemic worse than AIDS will arise in the next

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