EUROPE RISKS BEING LEFT BEHIND IN THE BOOMING BIOTECHNOLOGY SECTOR
unless it finds a way to address public fears about genetically modified organisms, a top European Union official warned Wednesday.
We have to stop making decisions on such a difficult issue as biotechnology on a purely emotional basis, EU Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler said in a speech at a Belgian agricultural trade fair. It is high time that Europe finds a way to address questions regarding the potential health or environmental risks of gene-altered products, he said. Describing Europe's current response to biotech issues as muddling through, Fischler urged EU leaders to focus on finding a comprehensive policy at their summit in Barcelona, Spain, next month.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, released a broad strategy paper last month for the summit with recommendations for a common biotechnology policy. It expects that by 2010, the global biotechnology market, not counting agriculture, could amount to more than 2 trillion .
Yet while Europe today has more dedicated biotechnology companies (1,570) than the United States (1,273), those in Europe are relatively small, newer and undercapitalised. The U.S. biotechnology industry employs 162,000 people, compared to 61,000 in Europe, and has far more products in the pipeline, according to EU figures. The commission has proposed spending 2.15 billion on biotechnology in its next research budget, which starts in January 2003. But public resistance to biotech foods and crops remains high in Europe, making governments reluctant to embrace them.
Last October, European Union governments refused to lift a 1998 ban on the marketing of new genetically modified organisms in the EU, despite pressure from the commission and from Washington. Some 70 percent of the world's genetically modified crops are grown in the United States.