Professor Jonathan Montgomery, Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, gave evidence on Tuesday 27 October to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry on GM insects.

The session explored ethical and safety concerns around GM insects and Professor Montgomery gave evidence alongside Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife. Council member Sir Roland Jackson also gave evidence on behalf of ScienceWise at a previous session on 13 October.

Watch Professor Montgomery’s evidence session on Parliament TV:

While the Council has not published a report looking specifically at GM insects, several of the Council’s published reports, including on emerging biotechnologies in 2012, and reports in 1999 and 2005 on GM crops, have touched on issues related to the topic. The Council’s current work on genome editing and the use of the concept of naturalness in public debates are also relevant. The Council outlined its response in its written evidence, available online.

During the session, Professor Montgomery stressed the importance of looking at a range of factors that should be taken into account when considering emerging biotechnologies such as GM insects. Rather than asking the question ‘are GM insects ethical?’, the debate should look at different ways of addressing societal problems (e.g. malaria) which may be technological or not. This approach enables us to ask whether there are good reasons for going down this particular technological route as opposed to other possible routes, and explain what motivates people to explore those reasons. Professor Montgomery stressed the importance of early public engagement and debate which should include engagement with affected communities.

Closing the evidence session, the Chairman the Earl of Selborne, thanked both witnesses for their contributions and for helping the Committee move from GM insects into wider ethical issues, and expressed an interest in the forthcoming publication of the Council’s findings on naturalness.

A transcript of the session is available online.