25 December 1998

Cunningham is back…

PUBLIC opinion will be included during a thorough government review of the bodies and committees which oversee developments in biotechnology and advise policy makers.

The review will be conducted jointly by the Cabinet office and the Office of Science and Technology and will be led by government policy enforcer Jack Cunningham.

Dr Cunningham said that the existing regulatory and advisory framework included no fewer than 15 committees and groups. But there were gaps and overlaps in their remit and government needed to be sure that the advice it received was comprehensive and clear.

He said: "Government has an important role to play in ensuring that the public is protected from any risks involved with the new technology."

And that, he explained, was why the public would be encouraged to have its say. He invited all interested parties and groups to comment on the framework by the end of January so that government could make an announcement on any changes to the framework in the spring.

But Dr Cunningham added Britain was a world leader in biotechnology and the industry could be a major wealth creator and provider of jobs. "Therefore any changes to the regulatory framework must not inhibit beneficial developments."

In a separate move, the OST is to canvass public opinion on biotechnology through pollsters MORI. The ethics of cloning, genetic testing and genetically modified crops will all be the focus of the questionnaire to be completed and sent to government by May.