Swiss referendum on banning all gene manipulation

Max More (
Fri, 23 Jan 1998 17:34:00 -0800

>F. Cavalli (Ospidale San Giovanni Bellinzona, CH), a member of
>the Swiss Parliament, in a letter to the journal Science,
>responds to the recent editorial by Nobel Laureate Rolf M.
>Zinkernagel concerning the coming Swiss referendum on a
>constitutional prohibition of gene manipulation. Cavalli suggests
>that Zinkernagel and others have made an erroneous assessment of
>the current situation in Switzerland, and that there is distrust
>throughout Europe "of giant companies whose solicitude for their
>shareholders appears to outweigh their concern for their
>thousands of workers."QY: Franco Cavalli, Ospidale San Giovanni,
>6500 Bellinzona, CH (Science 9 Jan 98)
>Related Background:
>There is an interesting science policy development brewing in
>Switzerland. A policy formulation called the Gene Protection
>Initiative has come into existence, and it will be voted on in a
>national referendum in 1998. This initiative, if approved by the
>public referendum, will result in a constitutional prohibition of
>gene manipulation, prohibition of the use and patenting of gene-
>modified animals (including worms and flies), and prohibition of
>the cultivation of gene-modified plants. The Swiss scientific
>community says that if the referendum is passed it will cause the
>end of Swiss biotechnology and molecular biology. Both houses of
>the Swiss parliament have voted against the Initiative, agreeing
>with the scientists and the Swiss industrial biotechnology
>community that passing the referendum will produce a disaster. At
>the present time it is not clear how the public will vote. Those
>supporting the initiative claim that gene-modified plants cause
>allergies, that science is one step away from the creation of
>super-monsters, that scientists lack ethics, morals, and a sense
>of responsibility, and that scientists have let the public down
>on too many occasions. So they say gene technology must be banned
>from Switzerland, and they hope the rest of the world will follow
>suit. In an editorial in the journal Science, Rolf M. Zinkernagel
>(Institute for Experimental Immunology, Univ. of Zurich, CH) is
>optimistic that the good sense of the Swiss public will prevail
>and that the Gene Protection Initiative will be defeated in the
>referendum, but he points out that scientists must play their
>part in dispelling the negative image of science and scientists,
>and they must educate the public concerning the beneficial
>applications of modern science. (Science 14 Nov 97)
>There are movements underway in Britain and Europe to ban or
>rigidly control the use of transgenic animals in biological
>research. In the UK there are calls for a commission of inquiry
>to investigate the welfare of transgenic animals. A recent survey
>supported by the European Commission into public attitudes to
>biotechnology evidently showed most respondents in EU countries
>consider the creation of transgenic animals for research and for
>organ transplantation to be morally unacceptable. In Switzerland,
>Swiss scientists have issued a warning that biomedical research
>in universities will be seriously harmed if a referendum to be
>held next year to restrict genetic engineering (including a ban
>on the use of transgenic animals) wins approval. An irony is that
>surveys in Switzerland have shown that although three-quarters of
>the population is against field trials of genetically modified
>organisms, novel food, and cloning, a majority are in favor of
>medical applications of technology. The apparent view of most
>biologists about this matter is not complicated. The feeling
>among biologists is that after centuries of arduous struggle by
>thousands of biological researchers to understand fundamental
>principles and apply them in medicine to alleviate suffering and
>extend life, we are now, at the end of the 20th century, at the
>threshold of the most important applications of basic biological
>science to human health and the control of human disease. Genetic
>engineering and the use of transgenic animals are absolutely
>essential to extend molecular biology and apply it expeditiously
>to human clinical medicine. It is indeed ironic that the same
>people who call for a halt to transgenic animal research expect
>the ultimate in scientific expertise when they or their children
>are victims of disease or other biological misfortunes. It is sad
>to have a public uneducated about these matters; it is even
>sadder that many politicians deem it wisdom to follow the public
>mood rather than lead it. (Nature 24 Jul 97)