STRASBOURG, France, March 15 2001 (Reuters)
The European Parliament declared support for biotechnology on Thursday, but stopped short of calling for the European Union to lift its ban on new genetically modified (GM) food strains.
The parliament said in statement that genetic technologies were good for employment and could help the environment. The non-binding resolution may give a rare morale boost to biotechnology firms, which still face an unofficial EU ban on most of their products due to concerns that genetically altered plants could contain hidden health or environment risks.
The parliament itself recently approved a tough new system for licensing new GM crops for use in the 15-country bloc. The statement, drafted by British Conservative John Purvis and approved by a majority of EU deputies attending the assembly in Strasbourg, said the parliament "resolved to support the development of biotechnology in the European Union". But the assembly deleted a paragraph criticising "government actions to delay authorisation of GM products for reasons not based on objective scientific opinion", which would have been a direct attack on the EU freeze on granting new GM licences. The EU has not authorised any new GM strains since April 1998 pending new rules on testing and monitoring their effect on the environment.
Governments will re-consider the ban in the coming months once the EU's executive Commission has drafted the final elements of the new regulatory system.
The biotech industry may get more support next week when EU Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen presents a 10-year policy paper on biotechnology and life sciences to EU leaders at a summit in Stockholm. Liikanen welcomed the parliament's "valuable input" into developing biotechnologies in the EU. "Biotechnology has a very important role to play in fulfilling the commitment made (by the EU) to develop a competitive knowledge-based economy," he said in a statement.