Norfolk firm pioneers DNA test kits

EXPERT DNA tests developed by a Norfolk firm and used by courts to settle family disputes are to go on general sale over the counter in chemist shops for the first time, it has been revealed.

EXPERT DNA tests developed by a Norfolk firm and used by courts to settle family disputes are to go on general sale over the counter in chemist shops for the first time, it has been revealed.

The do-it-yourself kits will allow couples themselves to establish who the father of a child is without recourse to lawyers.

The firm behind the kit, Anglia DNA, said it would offer parents “peace of mind” and stressed that both mother and “father” had to consent before the test was carried out.

But concerns emerged last night that the kits might encourage a “casual” attitude to having a baby - and whether regulations to protect child welfare were keeping pace with changes in technology.

Anglia DNA founder Dr Thomas Haizel said the firm would seek assurances that couples had considered the welfare of the child - and what would happen if the result was positive or negative.

The kits cost �29.99, plus a �129 lab fee, and are about to go on sale in up to 50 independent chemists around the country, including Norfolk. They allow couples to take a DNA mouth swab and then post the samples to a Norwich laboratory for testing, with the results following five days later.

Most Read

But the company is also offering an express service costing �329 that will see results delivered in 24 hours.

Talks are also under way between the firm, which is based at Norwich Research Park, and a major high street retailer about stocking the kits in its chain of branches.

Last night Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said he would write to the Human Tissue Authority, the regulatory body for DNA testing, to clarify how the new test would be monitored.

“There's an inevitability about the increasing availability of DNA testing and the development of technology that makes it available more widely,” Mr Lamb said.

“But there's a question about whether the regulatory system keeps pace with changes in technology and whether there's a need to change the rules in which this sort of product can operate.

“On the face of it, I don't oppose the idea of people having a right to know what their parentage is, or finding out whether or not someone is responsible for a child.

“But I can also see there are potential negative consequences and risk of a casual attitude to having a child.

“There's an absolute need for the government and Human Tissue Authority to consider fairly urgently whether the emergence of this requires some rules about how and when it should be used.”

Chloe Smith, new Tory MP for Norwich North, said Anglia DNA's move showed the city could be at the forefront of new technology.

But she added: “The most important thing is that the results can be sufficiently regulated to protect those involved - foremost among them, the children.”

Anglia DNA has been working with courts to establish identity and paternity since it was founded in 2004 - including work in family disputes, immigration cases and police investigations. It has also been working with local authorities involved in family welfare cases. It is accredited by the Ministry of Justice to carry out tests for the courts.

Generally, DNA testing kits have been available on the internet for the last five years.

But Anglia DNA's kit will be the first to go on sale in chemist shops where samples are tested in the UK rather than sent overseas. The results of the over the counter tests will have no legal standing.

“We are confident in the success of the kit,” Dr Haizel said.

“It's great to have been able finally to launch the product and we hope the UK consumer will find great confidence in knowing this is a product developed for the UK market with all the testing done in a UK laboratory.”

Dr Haizel added: “Rarely do we give people results that they weren't expecting. Most of the time, people just want to confirm what they'd thought about a baby not being theirs.

“But everyone has to consent to the test. So even if the mother isn't being tested - if it's just the child and father - the mother still has to give consent for it to happen.”