BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium One of the European Union’s key advisory bodies, the Economic and Social Committee, has warned that current EU attempts to fill in the gaps on its biotechnology legislation could add unnecessarily to manufacturers’ costs. It said new rules are needed, and endorsed the main thrust of the proposals. But it claimed that parts of them are insufficiently precise.

“Existing legislation on the placing on the market and labeling of GMOs is inconsistent and incomplete.” It “does not fully ensure consumers’ right to be informed and make informed choices,” the ESC said in a formal opinion it has just adopted on the proposals the European Commission released last year for new rules for identifying genetically modified organisms and GMO-derived food and feed products.

The ESC said the new proposals “will provide greater coherence, clarity and security for operators, users and consumers” by setting a framework for traceability and labeling, in order to facilitate withdrawal of products in the event of unforeseen adverse effects, target monitoring of possible environmental effects and provide accurate labeling.

But the proposals need sharper focus, ESC said. For instance, it said, they should differentiate more clearly between products that use GMOs in their manufacturing process, and products that are actually manufactured from GMOs. Since the proposed traceability requirements would be expensive to meet, it is important to make sure they are not imposed where they are not needed, it said. A particular problem, it said is posed by imported products that either contain GMOs or were produced from GMOs, but where GMOs are not present in the final product. The ESC also criticizes the proposals for leaving unresolved the outstanding issue of liability for adventitious contamination with GMOs.

Meanwhile, to improve the longer-term prospects for biotechnology in Europe, the ESC added its voice to those many other calls from within Europe for better public information.

European Genomics Projects Win EU Money

To boost European research on genomics, the European Union has awarded EUR39.4 million (US$37.5 million) to three large research projects, relating to the genetics of twins, mouse genomics and structural proteomics.

By networking the major “twin registries” of Europe and the top researchers in the field, the “twins” project is expected to considerably increase the chances of identifying the genetic origins of common diseases, since twins’ identical genetic makeup offers researchers an invaluable base. The mouse project will develop models for the study of human diseases, to test potential new treatments. It aims to analyze in detail the large number of mouse mutants already available, so that the best mouse model for a specific human disease can be efficiently identified. The proteomics project will speed up the structure determination process by optimizing each step of high throughput, such as protein production, purification, crystallization and structure analysis. The structures of more than 600 proteins of medical interest will be identified.

European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said as he announced the grants that Europe can exploit biotechnology’s potential only “if we are better organized across Europe to meet scientific challenges that go beyond the capacities of individual countries.”

EU Increases Funding For TSE Research

The European Union has given its backing and EUR21.5 million to 15 research projects on bovine spongiform encephalopathy and related transmissible encephalopathies. That brings the total EU funding for BSE research since 1996 to more than EUR85 million.

The projects focus on surveillance, understanding, prevention and treatment of TSEs, and are being complemented by continuing efforts to coordinate TSE research via a European register. This register is now to be extended to cover the former communist countries of central and eastern European countries that are currently bidding to join the EU in 2004. The projects range from new presymptomatic detection tests to developing a therapeutic vaccine to induce antiprion immunity and to work on an antibody-based therapy for sufferers of Creutzfeld-Jacob syndrome, the human equivalent of BSE.