The Guardian August 2, 2000


Taking issue:
Human Genome Project and pharmaceutical companies

by Kerry Ans

The cataloguing of the three billion instructions that form a blueprint for 
human life  the Human Genome Project  has been hailed by scientists in 
both socialist and capitalist countries as a major scientific step forward. 
The main benefits to the human species are seen to be, at the moment, in 
the area of health. Whilst most scientists acknowledge that there are 
social, legal and ethical issues related to the outcomes of the project, 
many seem to presume that nation states and multi-nation agencies will be 
able to manage the worst excesses of these.

The reality, in a global economy that is dominated by the multinational 
companies and nation states which see their citizens' interests as 
synonymous with capital's, is that these related social and ethical issues 
will not be managed in the interests of ordinary people.

News reports of the human genome achievements have been dominated by 
predictions of accelerating pharmaceutical advances. The major drug 
manufacturers' trade association in the US has claimed the project is 
changing the very way drug development is now conceived.

The business sections of major papers in the US contain reports of ever-
growing numbers of genomics companies which are finding a variety of ways 
to make money out of the project.

According to two scientists, Daughton and Ternes, writing in a respected, 
peer-reviewed journal (Environmental Health Perspectives), the 
range of pharmaceuticals will continue to diversify exponentially as the 
project is advanced.

Their major concern is that the current load of pharmaceuticals is already 
causing large environmental health problems, both in the quality of 
waterways and in landfill.

They say that huge quantities of prescription drugs, diagnostic agents, and 
a wide range of other compounds are entering the environment without any 
regulation or examination of adverse environmental effects.

Given that significant numbers of pharmaceuticals are designed to change 
immune and endocrine systems, and can be long-lasting in the environment, 
their presence in waterways and in sewerage sludge mixed with soil is great 
cause for health concerns.

If there is so little monitoring of the current (mainly capitalist) 
pharmaceutical regime on the health environment, the probability of being 
able to manage the expected proliferation of new pharmaceutical products is 
low.

Half of the world's population die from malnutrition and diseases caused by 
lack of access to safe water and food. The excesses of the pharmaceutical 
companies in their quest for more profits, now accelerated by the human 
genome project, will do very little to solve this basic global health 
problem.

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