Biotechnology debate must remain science-based, says Verheugen

September 29, 2005

Brussels, 28 Sep 2005

The EU Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry, Günter Verheugen, has reiterated the need for an open debate on the benefits of biotechnology and the ethical questions surrounding it, but insisted that such a dialogue must remain science-based.

Mr Verheugen was outlining the Commission's biotech policy at a high level roundtable organised by the European association for bioindustries, EuropaBio. He said that if Europe is to compete with the US and other emerging challengers, then knowledge-based sectors, including biotechnology, would have to be at the forefront of the Commission's policies.

'It is my objective to ensure that we create the conditions so that Europe becomes the natural home for biotechnological innovation,' said Mr Verheugen. He went on to outline the areas where the Commission would concentrate its efforts in order to achieve this goal.

Support for innovation and the general science base are 'critical issues' for the Commission, but equally important is making sure that innovations result in applications that generate revenues. The new Competitiveness and Innovation Programme (CIP) is designed to do precisely that, said Mr Verheugen, by developing the innovative capacity of enterprise and industry.

The worrying trend of pharmaceuticals actors relocating their research and development (R&D) activities outside Europe was also highlighted by Mr Verheugen as an area for action. 'We must not underestimate this widening gap. Losing R&D in life sciences is going to have major social and economic consequences for Europe,' he said.

What is needed is an overall strategy for biotechnology, said the Commissioner, and fortunately for the EU it already exists. The Commission's Biotechnology Strategy, published in 2002, lays the groundwork for Europe's catch-up efforts and covers all fields of biotech - green, white and red. Mr Verheugen acknowledged the need to address societal concerns concerning biotechnology, however, and said that the Commission would launch a debate as part of the mid-term review of the strategy in 2006.

'The debate must, however, remain science based, and we must take a balanced view on matters of concern, such as GMOs, and avoid taking extreme positions. Clarity and knowledge will help to lower emotional prejudices,' he said, before highlighting the potential of genetically modified organisms to provide better crop yields, increased sustainability and better food and feed quality.

'However, we all know that public attitudes as well as Member States' positions hamper the development in this area. [...] Europe has to make its mind up whether it wants to use the full potential of green biotech to become competitive vis-à-vis countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, China and India,' the Commissioner argued.

'By keeping Europe at the cutting edge of biotechnology research, we will [...] contribute to the more general goals of creating more highly-qualified and well-paid jobs, boost economic growth and improve our terms of trade. Let's be clear: it will not be an easy task to achieve this [but] I am convinced we are able to face the challenge and come out successful,' Mr Verheugen concluded. To download the full text of Mr Verheugen's speech (in PDF format), please: click here

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities
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