BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - EuropaBio welcomed a public hearing in the European Parliament on Oct. 10 that reviewed the prospects and challenges for biotechnology in agriculture in Europe. The industry association said it "strongly supports fora such as this parliamentary hearing that look to examine the arguments for and against GM farming in a methodical, sensible fashion, using science-based research to drive the discussion."

The hearing, organized by the parliament's committee on agriculture and rural development against a background of growing public concern in Europe over biotechnology applications in agriculture, heard senior scientists from across Europe present views that almost entirely were supportive of the potential and safety of the technology.

The evidence presented by Jussi Tammisola, an academic and leading adviser to the Finnish government, was typical. He told the committee that GMOs offered the possibility of "the creation of aromatic rice and wheat, edible vaccines for asthma or allergies and breeding corn that is resistant to pests and bio fuels."

Ewen Mullins, from the Irish Crops Research Institute research program, spoke of the future focus on the potential of GM crops for bio-energy and crops engineered for the production of human therapeutics, such as insulin.

But Witold Tomczak, a Polish member of the Independence and Democracy Group in the parliament, demanded to know about the risks of GM contamination, and accused scientists of "failing to show humility." And Leopold Girsch, from the food safety agency of Austria - one of the EU's most GM-resistance member states - said that "Austria is not going to authorize products with potential adverse health effects. Our overarching objective is consumer protection."

Responding to suggestions that consumers have a hard time seeing any clear benefits associated with genetically engineered crops, center-right Irish parliamentarian Mairead McGuinness urged scientists to accept that they "have a duty to come out of their labs more frequently to explain their activities to ordinary citizens."

Kyösti Virrankoski, the Finnish liberal member of parliament currently drafting a report on biotechnology for the agriculture committee, concluded: "The European Parliament cannot bury its head in the sand. We already consume GM products, and we have to ensure the continuity of agriculture in Europe. GMOs are one tool in a toolbox - research is thus vital."

His report is due to be debated and voted on in parliament in early 2007.

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