Rapid technological development in genetic engineering and biotechnology raises fundamental questions about our responsibility for nature. If we simply leave industry to answer these questions anything technically feasible might be put into practice without actually considering the long- term impacts on people, animals, the environment or on future generations.
In countries such as the USA, Argentina and Brazil, genetically engineered crops are already grown for food on millions of hectares of land. In addition, genetically engineered salmon and transgenic flies have been developed and may soon be on the markets.
The first genetically engineered mammals were developed even before the first transgenic plants. In 1974, it was announced that the first genetically engineered mice had been created. In 1985, the first genetically engineered sheep and pigs were presented to the public. At present, transgenic fish are awaiting approval in the US, and in Europe we are looking at the possibly imminent release of transgenic flies into the environment.
Synthetic biology enables radical changes to the genome of all kinds of living organisms, some of its proponents even want to create artificial life.
An important prerequisite for risk research and risk assessment is independence from the economic interests of those companies which develop and market genetically engineered and biotech products. This is not only relevant for genetic engineering and biotechnology, but also for pharmaceuticals, pesticides or nanotechnology. However, this independence is rarely found in practice.
One of the consequences of the introduction of techniques for genetic engineering is that living organisms are now considered to be patentable. In 1992, the first mammal, the so-called "oncomouse", was patented in Europe. Other patents granted at that time covered genetically engineered plants, micro-organisms and human DNA-sequences.