(NaturalNews) The British government has been accused of misleading its people in refusing to acknowledge that babies born through a new controversial in vitro fertilization (IVF) technique will actually be "genetically modified."
Britain's The Telegraph newspaper reported that, in late July, the UK government approve a new "three parent" fertility technique that uses donor DNA from a "second mother" to repair suspected genetic defects in unborn babies.
Scientists have said the process will essentially create "GM babies," because the genetic changes will be passed along to future generations, the paper reported, adding, as edited by GM Watch:
But they claim the Department of Health is wary of the backlash from the word 'GM' and so has redefined the term in a document so that the technique of mitochondrial DNA transfer does not fall under the category.
"Of course mitochondrial transfer is genetic modification and this modification is handed down the generations," Lord Robert Winston, Britain's leading fertility doctor, told The Independent, another British newspaper. "It is totally wrong to compare it with a blood transfusion or a transplant and an honest statement might be more sensible and encourage public trust."
No, these aren't GMO babies
Reports said that the new regulations that allow mitochondrial DNA transfer will now be sent to Parliament this fall after a three-month consultation. If they stand, Britain will become the first European country to legalize the process, and more than 100 "three-parent" babies could be born in the country each year.
Under the technique, parents who have abnormally high risks of having children with severe disabilities like muscular dystrophy will be offered the chance to use donor DNA from a "second mother," in an effort to fix any potential genetic defects.
According to Prof. Dame Sally Davies, the nation's chief medical officer, since mitochondria act as the power packs of cells, she has likened the technique to "changing a faulty battery in a car."
About 1 in 6,500 babies are born with a mitochondrial disease each year, The Telegraph reported.
The UK Department of Health has denied that the new technique amounts to genetic modification.
"There is no universally agreed definition of genetic modification in humans. People who have organ transplants, blood donations or even gene therapy are not generally regarded as being genetically modified," said a spokesman.
"The government has decided to adopt a working definition for the purpose of taking forward those recommendations."
'What's the big deal?'
A number of scientists share the government's position. They include Nancy Lee, a senior policy advisor at the Wellcome Trust.
"There has never been any suggestion, either by scientists working on mitochondrial replacement or by the Government or regulators, that this technique does not involve altering DNA: the whole point is to replace faulty mitochondrial DNA with healthy mitochondrial DNA from a healthy donor," she said.
"The technique is different from genetic modification techniques which alter DNA in the nucleus of an embryo, where the overwhelming majority of genetic material is held. It is thus important that the Government frames regulations in a way that permits mitochondrial replacement, without allowing modifications to nuclear DNA," Lee told The Telegraph.
Added Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Education Trust: "While it is true that mitochondrial donation techniques modify an egg or embryo, the crucial point is that these techniques move DNA molecules from one place to another while leaving them completely intact. Fears associated with the concept of 'genetic modification' are not relevant to mitochondrial donation, because these fears relate to the consequences of intervening in the gene sequence within the molecule. Mitochondrial donation involves no such intervention in the gene sequence, and therefore no associated risk."
Not all scientists, as you might imagine, agreed, however.
"My impression is the Government is doing all it can to contain and define these kinds of terms in ways that favour mitochondrial replacement being introduced as an uncontroversial therapy," said Dr. Ted Morrow, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sussex.