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Date: Wed, 9 Sep 1998 16:36:13 +0100
From: Richard Wolfson <email@example.com>
Thanks to Alfred Pfeiffer for translating from German and forwarding the
This article appeared in Switzerland on the 6th of September 98 in the
Insurance companies fear because of genetic engineering
The Swiss reinsurance company Rueck rings alarm in a study
by written by Peter Knechtli
Zurich - Never before it was expressed so clearly as by the Swiss
reinsurance company Rueck: The risks of genetic engineering cannot be
insured anymore with traditional means.
The simple brochure is playfully illustrated with Japanese Folded-Art
Photos, the title (Gentechnology and Liability Insurance) is in small print
and cool, but the content of the article is dynamite: A few month after the
Genprotection Initiative the Swiss insurance company Rueck rings alarm on
The tone: The potential risks of genetic engineering can not be covered
with classical liability insurance models: "No, whatsoever high insurance
coverage is capable to reduce the potential risk of genetic engineering.
The focal point of the rigorous analysis are the pharmaceutical,
agricultural, and food companies, which are applying unproportionally
genetic technologies without in most cases being insured themselves against
likely Genetic-damages. Therefore the Swiss Rueck not only on a global
level intends to alert the primary level of the insured, but also the
second level, industry and society, said author Thomas Epprecht in the
The main danger of genetic technologies for insurance companies according
to the opinion of the Swiss Rueck insurance company lies in the fact that
political and legislative rules may change suddenly, the so called
Positive thinking towards genetic engineering may collapse suddenly.
The public opinion worldwide is an unpredictable factor. Gentechnology in
the area of medicine is more easily accepted than in the area connected
with food, even though "the few Gentechnology damages that occurred until
now ", occurred in the area of medicine. The tendency for a pragmatic
handling of Gentechnology may already collapse with the occurrence of a
minute instance of damage.
The dangers as undertakers to which insurance companies feel exposed to due
to the Gentechnology is hidden in many different areas:
Allergic reactions to transgenetic foodingredients are "possible in
principal" and could in the form of lawsuits by the inflicted "grow
worldwide to a insurance-relevant size". It cannot be the task of the
insurance-buisiness to satisfy lawsuit claims, which are the result of a
change in social valuing: "This risk is to be attributed to the undertakers
risk of the producer."
The change of trend of obligation of proof in the European legislation
moves from causing, to being the actual causal reason. The report states
about this: "In case potential claimants are not obliged to bring the proof
of a guilty negligence then one has to assume that claims for damages will
grow out of hand.
The transmission of transgenetic animal organs to humans in the context of
xenotransplantation could -"unless medicine and research were not already
aware of this danger" - cause a serial damage for the insurances, "which
could not only upset completely (cause the collapse of) the whole
The Rueck report without any make-up states that the profile of risks of
genetic engineering is "highly rich in facets and hardly anticipatable. A
"direct answer" how the risks of today"s genetic engineering should be
insured is "not possible today".
That the insurance systems with the large risks of Gentechnologies is
finding itself in suspension, is also confirmed by Giovanni Pelloni, a
lawyer of Winterthur International. The problem is that the insurance fees
are calculated respectively on the basis of experiential values, which is
not possible in the area of new biotechnology"s. The legal development of
liability is also an uncertainty: "Nobody knows which direction it will
In future companies must be held liable for risks.
Pelloni has this touchy report lying on his desk unread. But the Winterthur
lawyer says that "alerting of the primarily insured equally is not
necessary", also the insurances knew "exactly what this is about".
Only a indicative answer is found in the report about how these large risks
could be financed. Author Epprecht only believes that the companies should
also "carry part of the riskprofile of Gentechnologies: "We don"t want a
higher price in general, but the right one.
What is mentioned in the brochure in a neutral way as "alternative risk
financing", can practically only mean: The riskafflicted companies will
have to pay more in future. The subject in the debates initiated by Rueck
are also innovative financing models in which the risk becomes the subject
of investment. These mixed products of bank and insurance solutions are so
highly complex that even the experts that were asked for a detailed
explanation by the SonntagsZeitung were not able to do this.
"An investor is playing roulette", is the expressive description of a
liability insider of the possible financing of high risks in the future.
Investors invest in risk obligations. In case no damage occurs the profit
grows, in case there is a gentechnological damage, it will also be a
disaster for the investors.
Swiss Reinsurance Company was established over 130 years ago and is one of
the ten largest companies quoted on the Swiss stock exchange. Swiss Re is
the partner insurers turn to when the risks are beyond their reach. With an
annual premium volume of approximately CHF 13 billion, Swiss Re is the
world's second largest reinsurance company.
Swiss Reinsurance Company
Mythenquai 50/60, P.O. Box, CH-8022 Zurich,
tel. 0041 1 285 21 21, fax 0041 1 285 29 99
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign, for Mandatory Labelling
and Long-Term Testing of Genetically Engineered Food
500 Wilbrod Street, Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Subscription to genetic engineering news is $35 for 12 months.
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