GMOs on display The use of genetically modified organisms in exhibitions

Policy reports | 08.01.2015 | CGM/141219-01

The Netherlands Commission on Genetic Modification (COGEM) was asked by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (IenM) to prepare a report on the societal or public interest aspects of exhibitions involving the use of GMOs.

The reason for this study was a permit application for an exhibition involving zebra fish embryos which would be injected with genetically-modified (GM) cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). In dealing with this request it became clear that the present assessment framework has no provision for exhibitions. There is a trend in art in which biological (living) materials are used, treated and exhibited. Government, risk assessors, artists and the general public hold differing views about the desirability and admissibility of such activities. The differences make it clear that there is a clash between the technological possibilities and how public opinion is formed.

The response of the general public to BioArt exhibitions with living genetically-modified organisms has been mixed, ranging from curiosity and interest, to objections to the use of genetic modification in organisms. The use of higher order organisms and genetic modification without a primarily scientific goal would appear to heighten the discussion.

COGEM notes that most applications of GMOs and organisms in exhibitions are covered by the existing regulatory framework. COGEM observes that certain niche applications of BioArt, specifically combinations of GMOs with embryos, however, are covered only by the GMO legislation. From a judicial point of view this can only look at the environmental risks, because ethical considerations do not form part of the decision-making process on whether or not a permit will be granted such uses. As a consequence, objections or a general sense of public unease could arise in society.

This report is about the use of genetic modification in BioArt: the altering of genetic material in microorganisms, plants and animals or combinations of these in exhibitions. It sets out the various elements involved in the use of GMOs in exhibitions.

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