EU bids to overcome public unease over GMOs

Research commissioner appoints scientists to advise on communicating new developments

The European Commission today launched an attempt to dispel public confusion and unease over biotechnology by creating a new scientific advisory body on biosciences.

Speaking at a press conference today, research commissioner Philippe Busquin said he wanted to improve the public's understanding of all genetic modification (GM) techniques - including creation of GMOs, human cloning and DNA sequencing - so that EU decision-makers could make better policy choices.

"A conscious political decision...is not possible without informed advice and public debate," he said. "Europe should not stagnate in the field of biotechnology," but should "take greater account of the scientists views on the opportunities and risks associated with biosciences." A "biosciences summit" to be held in November would to further increase public understanding of research, he added.

Mr Busquin said a recent poll of EU public opinion showed that only 11% of people felt "adequately informed" on biotechnology. The poll also revealed that the proportion of EU citizens that trusted environmental NGOs most of all to inform them on biotechnology matters had fallen from 24% in 1996 to only 14% now. Consumer organisations were the most trusted source of information, preferred by 26% of those questioned. Universities, the workplace of most of the scientists on the commissioner's new panel, are most trusted by only 7% of the population.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; see also press release IP/00/412 dated 27 April on Rapid.

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