BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ Biotechnology is not only a big challenge for the legislator, but requires a fundamental change in the culture and in the behavior of the biotechnology industry and the scientific community, said Margot Wallstrvm, European commissioner for the environment.

She was opening a conference of industrialists, scientists and non-governmental organizations on how the new EU legislation on the marketing of GMOs and their derivatives will be put into effect in October of next year.

¿We want to restore public confidence in the regulatory system, by establishing a set of rules that safeguard public health and address environmental concerns,¿ she said.

But she admitted that the EU still has not gotten it right on biotechnology legislation. ¿We want to give the consumer the right to choose and we want to create conditions that allow for an informed choice,¿ she said. ¿At the same time, we want to make sure that the European industry and research can rely on a predictable and stable legislative process.¿

Public opinion remains largely unconvinced or at least skeptical about the consumer advantages that currently marketed GMOs provide. And against the backdrop of a low level of acceptance by the public opinion, some member states have introduced trade barriers, challenging the EU¿s own internal market rules. The process of authorization of new GMOs has come to a standstill: Since October 1998 no authorizations have been granted.

¿In the presence of this deadlock, research activity has been progressively reduced and firms have basically abstained from submitting additional demands for new authorizations,¿ she acknowledged. In addition, the EU is exposed to the criticism of trading partners, notably, the U.S., which ¿accuses us of introducing unacceptable barriers to international trade.¿ The situation ¿is not without costs,¿ but has become ¿politically difficult to challenge.¿

Wallstrvm made an attempt to enlist the industry and the European research community in a bid to overturn the negative prejudice against biotechnology in Europe.

¿A new regulatory framework for the release of GM products might not, on its own, be enough to address the public concerns,¿ she said. ¿Once we have filled the regulatory gap, we still need to bridge the big communication gap that exists between industry, the scientific community and civil society. Politicians and authorities have the responsibility of putting an adequate regulatory framework in place. However, I believe that industry and the research community have a crucial role to play. What we need is a substantial effort in communicating and addressing public concerns also on the part of the industry and the scientific community.¿

The new legislation, which will replace the 1990 rules on marketing GMOs, was formally adopted in March this year. It aims to increase the efficiency and the transparency of the decision-making process, brings in harmonized risk assessment measures and improves the monitoring of GMOs in the environment, by way of new requirements on labeling and traceability throughout the marketing process.