|PARIS - Governments must do more to educate people about scientific and technological advances to counter misinformation and often unfounded fears of risks to health and the environment, a free-market forum said Monday.|
Innovation in areas like e-commerce, nuclear power, stem cell research and genetically modified crops offers huge growth potential, but public confidence is vital, Donald Johnston, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), told a forum on investment.
\"To preserve the vast potential of science to better the human condition, governments must do much more to ensure the maintenance of public confidence. Fears abound, stoked often by claims of some NGO activists who exercise media power without... shouldering responsibility,\" Johnston said.
\"Governments need to take back the initiative on science issues -- through transparency, education and broad consultation. The public must understand the trade-offs.\"
Noisy protests have greeted recent innovations like genetically modifying crops to make them immune to disease or improve their quality, or advances in the use of stem cells as potential treatments for diseases like cancer.
Opponents of GM foods say tinkering with the genetic make-up of crops could upset the natural balance of the environment with serious consequences. Others worried about the effect on human health have labeled such crops \"Frankenfoods.\"
Controversy is also raging over research into the use of stem cells because although they are found in adult tissue, the most flexible stem cells are found in very young embryos. Johnston said the economic potential of electronic commerce would never be fully realized unless national and global regulatory frameworks were put in place to provide consumer protection and give people the confidence to use the Internet commercially.
\"Governments must be able to satisfy the public that they are equipped and able to identify and manage the risks which might otherwise place the safety, security and sometimes privacy of the public in jeopardy,\" he said.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE