Britain's first over-the-counter paternity kit will be on sale in the high street within weeks, it emerged today.
The DNA kit - which sells for £30 - allows a concerned father to discover whether he is the biological parent of a child without the mother's knowledge or approval.
The results are posted, emailed or phoned back anonymously to the man in just one week.
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The British company launching the kits at high street chemist shops say they are legal, safe and at least 99.9 per cent reliable.
But medical ethical experts warned that the DIY paternity tests would foster a 'culture of suspicion' and could lead to heartbreak for rejected children.
DNA testing as been a growth industry in the UK in recent years, fuelled in part by the popularity of daytime talk shows such as Jeremy Kyle where bitter paternity disputes are played out in front of the cameras.
International Biosciences claims their kits 'offers consumers a quick, convenient and affordable solution that doesn’t require any courts, doctors or solicitors.'
Ian Meekins, head of the company's UK division in Kent, said they had been available on the internet for years.
'They are aimed at everybody,' he said. 'We have ladies who aren't sure who the father of a child is, and there are chaps who want to find out. We don't stand as moral guardians and we don't judge. We give people factual information.'
He added: 'We are confident that we will have our DNA paternity product available to customers through the majority of pharmacies in the UK by the end of the year.'
The kits come with six swabs to collect samples of DNA from cells inside the cheek.
The swabs are placed inside prepaid envelopes and - for an additional fee of £119 - processed at a laboratory in New Mexico, America.
Mr Meekins said the tests are '100 per cent sure' if a man is not a father, and 99.9 per cent certain that he is a parent. If a mother's DNA is also submitted for testing, then a positive test is 100 per cent accurate, he said.
It is illegal in Britain to take DNA samples from an adult without getting their consent.
However it is legal to take a DNA swab from a child under 16 as long as consent is obtained from one of the child's legal guardians.
That allows an uncertain father to test whether he is a child's biological parent without the mother knowing.
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said the easy availability of paternity tests raised deep concerns.
'One of the big problems with genetic testing is that the information isn't neutral - it isn't just wheeled out in a moral vacuum,' she said.
'The discovery that a child isn't related to their father can have a huge impact on that child.
'There may be times when there is a benefit for the child - for instance to see if they are going to be at risk of a genetic disease. But most of the time there is no benefit - they are victims of a battle between parents splitting up.'
The kit is being supported by the National Pharmacy Association, the trade body that represents 98 per cent of high street chemists.
A spokesman said the association was happy that the tests were accurate and the American laboratory was reliable.
'We are working with the company and we will be supplying the kits to pharmacies,' he said.
The results will not be accepted as evidence in court.
Some DNA testing services have been criticised for giving unreliable results.
However, International Biosciences claims its New Mexico lab is 'fully accredited' and meets 'international accreditation standards'.
HOW IT WORKS
1) The £30 kit contains swabs, instructions and prepaid envelopes. The swabs are for the child, father and - optionally - the mother.
2) Swabs - large cotton wool buds - are wiped inside the cheek of each person and placed inside the envelopes.
3) For another £119 the samples are sent to a lab in New Mexico.
4) Within a week, the company will send the results by post, email or over the phone. It claims the test results are at least 99.9 per cent accurate.
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