BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ Biotechnology will get a boost from Belgium now that is has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union for six months, starting Sunday, with Agriculture Minister Jaak Gabriels planning to promote biotechnology.

¿I think that an economic sector like agriculture has to be sustainable and competitive and should therefore be open to new technologies,¿ he said in Brussels. Gabriels is aiming to persuade EU farm ministers to move toward a new authorization process for genetically modified foods when they meet in September for the first time under the Belgian presidency. ¿I want to give this technology the chance to be applied in Europe,¿ he said.

Genetic Database Planned In Estonia

Estonia is about to become home to the world¿s largest database of genetic information. The Estonian Genome Foundation hopes to catalogue the genetic makeup and physical characteristics of more than three-quarters of the country¿s people.

The Estonian Genome Foundation was established more than two years ago to investigate the genetic and environmental factors of Estonian health. It proposes to map genetic data of at least three-quarters of the 1.4 million people of Estonia. The state-owned Estonian Genome Project Foundation hopes to raise two-thirds of the funds through EGeen, a public limited company.

The researchers need US$5 million to launch the pilot project, which they hope to start in late October.

Estonia will own all the genetic material and data, but nonexclusive access will be licensed to private companies. Academic institutions will have free access. Donors will have access to diagnostic tools and treatments that are developed as a result of this project. Individuals can choose whether to be informed about their specific gene profile, while the whole community still benefits from general discoveries.

African Official Touts Biotechnology

Biotechnology received backing from a leading African food expert during his recent trip to Brussels. The ability of African countries to access, assess and use biotechnology is crucial for future economic development in Africa, and agricultural biotechnology projects for small-scale cotton farmers in South Africa show that this technology has a role to play in sustainable agriculture, according to John Wafula, the deputy director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

He points to new techniques such as tissue-culturing bananas to ensure seedlings are free of harmful fungi and bacteria and to increase productivity. ¿We want the European Union to aid Africans in the utilization of biotechnology in a responsible and safe way, thus improving the livelihood of the communities in Africa,¿ he said.

His sentiments were echoed by AfricaBio, the Biotechnology Stakeholders¿ Association. Its executive director, Jocelyn Webster, said, ¿Over 70 percent of Africans are involved in agriculture. Agricultural biotechnology allows African farmers to have access to new technology packaged in the seed and does not require costly mechanized systems.¿

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