Biotech research to receive higher priority in Europe. EU Presidency Conference: Life Sciences and Biotechnology - The Future of Europe

October 25, 2002

Copenhagen, 24 Oct 2002

The EU is to promote cross-disciplinary research within the field of biotechnology. This was the message at the conference Life Sciences and Biotechnology - The Future of Europe, which took place at Industriens Hus in Copenhagen on Monday 21 October.

The conference was organised by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs, the EU Commission, the Confederation of Danish Industries (DI), the Danish Agricultural Council and Novozymes. Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation Helge Sander opened the conference, which was also attended by Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Mariann Fischer Boel and European researchers, representatives of the EU Commission and the biotech industry.

"Biotechnology will help us reach the European goal for the next decade. Europe's ambition is to become the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world," said Helge Sander in his welcoming speech.

The purpose of the conference was to find the best approach for the parties to implement the EU Commission action plan Life Sciences and Biotechnology Strategy within the framework of the EU 6th Framework Programme for research. The conference discussed how they would be able to improve competitiveness and promote biotechnology research on a sustainable basis. The proposals most frequently put forward were that both the public and private sectors must provide more funding for biotechnology research, interest in natural sciences among students must be promoted along with co-operation between universities and industry.

"We need a running dialogue between industry and universities and research institutions," said Helge Sander.

Oslo University Professor Svein Sjøberg drew attention to the tendency that many young people today are interested in natural science without having any desire to become researchers themselves. "Researchers think that if we just shout a little louder, people will become interested in what we are doing. Young people today choose their subject more on the basis of what offers them personal satisfaction, and they do not stay with the same company for a long time. These characteristics are not easily compatible with natural science research, which is of a very long-term nature, " points out Svein Sjøberg.

Stefan Marcinowski, director on the board of German chemical company BASF, placed great emphasis on having biotechnology research cut across different academic disciplines, for instance co-operation between engineering, agriculture, chemistry and biochemistry. He also believes that it is a prerequisite of a competitive biotechnology environment that there should be proper possibilities for patent protection of inventions, and that the moratorium within the EU currently blocking approval of new permissions for selling genetically modified plants and food must be lifted.

France, Italy, Luxembourg, Greece, Austria and Denmark have introduced a de facto moratorium on new marketing approval of GMOs until there are common EU rules for traceability and labelling. The moratorium was introduced because the populations of the six countries were critical of genetically modified organisms in the food chain.

"Today, GMOs are seen as an advantage for agriculture and producers. The next generation must also see GMOs as an advantage to consumers. We must consider both the environment, society and the economy," stated Stefan Marcinowski.

Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Mariann Fischer Boel drew attention to the current EU effort to establish a European model that is to ensure that use of GMOs should receive safety approval before they reach consumers. "In other words, consumers may rest assured that no GMOs will be made available to the European market without first having been scientifically approved," said Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries Mariann Fischer Boel at the conference.

The Member States are currently working on rules for adequate labelling and traceability of GMO products. "Transparency is improved through labelling and traceability. This will ensure that consumers have a free choice, and the free choice will help build public confidence in biotechnology," predicts Mariann Fischer Boel. The Minister for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries emphasised that it is decisive for the development of the biotech sector that new biotech products take into account European needs and priorities. Mariann Fischer Boel concluded her contribution with a call for starting a public debate on the use of biotechnology.

Biotechnology will once again be the topic when the Competitiveness Council meets in November to discuss and adopt a road map for the European strategy on bio-science and biotechnology.

Danish Presidency Website http://www.eu2002.dk/main/

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