Researchers in genetic engineering have understandably grown impatient with the administrative morass that has developed around getting approval for tests of altered organisms. More than a decade has passed since fears of potential catastrophes from gene-splicing were first voiced, and all evidence to date indicates that those fears were groundless. A few months ago the Reagan Administration put a new, liberalized regulatory program into effect. But proposals for field-testing potentially beneficial new products continue to languish under threat of legal challenge.
Tired of waiting, some biologists have decided to conduct their tests overseas, where foreign governments are less encumbered by skeptics and regulations. Last July the Wistar Institute of Philadelphia and the Pan American Health Organization took a new rabies vaccine produced by genetic engineering to Argentina and tested it on 20 cows. Argentina has no regulations about genetic engineering, and the researchers simply conducted the experiment without telling anyone. This has got the Argentine government upset, and with good reason.
Now it turns out that the experiment in Argentina was no isolated case. Researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis who have genetically engineered a vaccine against a common animal virus went to New Zealand in April of this year and inoculated 37 calves, 16 chickens and 4 sheep with it. Unlike the Argentine affair, however, the Oregon State people told the government of New Zealand what they intended to do, and the government approved the experiment.