The European Association for Bioindustries, EuropaBio, held its Health, Food, Environment, Economy: Can Biotechnology Help Us or Not? conference in Brussels on 27 March 2012. Speaking at the event were EU Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, and John Dalli, EU Commissioner with responsibility for Health and Consumer Policy, highlighting the increasing importance with which biotechnology is viewed in the European Union.
Also present was Pan European Networks, where we caught up with EuropaBio Secretary General, Nathalie Moll, for her thoughts on the event, the sector and what needs to be done to make sure biotechnology is to stay in Europe.
It was a really good event to bring all these different sectors together and people can get very different perspectives of biotechnology. What is your overriding impression and what will you take away from the gathering today?
What we wanted to do was to open a public dialogue in the European Parliament to discuss the myths and facts that surround biotechnology and go outside of our comfort zone involving stakeholders and individuals, and hopefully we’ve done a little bit of that here today in Brussels.
Moving forward we want to continue this debate and widen the discourse further, that is why from next year we will have a European Biotechnology Week; we will choose one week of the year where every member state’s biotechnology association involved in this pan-European effort will organise something during that week to raise awareness and understanding about biotech.
The idea is to really bring the knowledge of biotech, the industry, the products, the processes, and of course the benefits, more into the public sphere than it has been to date.
A lot has been said about the lack of understanding and the emotiveness surrounding biotechnology. Who should take the lead in communicating the issues?
We are going to need everybody to speak up in a responsible way: scientists need to explain what it is they’re doing because they don’t often have or take the time to do so; there needs to be education in schools about the science of biotechnology; and governments need to further explain the legislation that is in place, because many people don’t know about the rigorous safety procedures and approval processes that these products undergo before they reach the market.
There is a big gap in public knowledge about this sector and both the media and industry have a role to play and a responsibility to showcase the benefits of biotechnology to society. We need to convey the true facts regarding the science of biotechnology, leaving aside any emotional judgements.
Then, hopefully, we can get to a better level of common understanding.
Other markets such as the US, Asia and Brazil, have taken a lead over the EU in terms of biotechnology – do you feel Horizon 2020 could help reverse that trend?
History has shown that to date, we have been funding the research in Europe but making the resulting products elsewhere. Horizon 2020 goes a step further than just research funding as it also covers innovation and addresses demonstration facility needs and scaling up. However, any research and innovation funding will never be sufficient unless the legislation in Europe also facilitates the access of safe products to the market.
If you constantly have an unpredictable regulatory framework you can throw as much money as you like at research and innovation, the products will not be put on the market here.
Coherent legislation and funding must go hand in hand.
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