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 paper.
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
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 SonntagsZeitung.
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 "Changerisk".
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 healthinsurance system".
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 take.
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
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
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