BRUSSELS, Belgium ¿ Biotechnology received another favorable mention when European Union research ministers held a first policy debate on the EU¿s next Research Framework Program, for the years 2002-2006.

The program focuses on selected priority research areas, with prominent attention to genomics and biotechnology for health. The aim is to help Europe use integrated research efforts to exploit breakthroughs in decoding the genomes of living organisms, particularly for the benefit of public health and citizens and to increase the competitiveness of the European biotechnology industry. The program also will devote new resources to food safety and health risks, relying in particular on biotechnology tools.

The initial budget for genomics and biotechnology is EUR2 billion (US$1.7 billion) over the period, and food safety and health risks will receive EUR600 million. But the research program funding totals more than EUR16 billion, and includes other opportunities for biotechnology funding in programs covering human resources, training, research infrastructures, coordination and support for coherent development of policies.

At the meeting, the European Commission also provided ministers with an update of its current activities concerning research in biotechnology. The Commission¿s report, presented by European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin, responds to the call for a ¿strategic vision on life sciences and biotechnology¿ that was requested by EU leaders at their Stockholm summit in March, as a response to the recognition that biotechnologies constitute a frontier technology for the future of Europe. Since March, the Commission has created a steering group and a work plan aiming at the adoption of a formal proposal by the end of 2001, covering the potential of the new knowledge to address the needs of society; the regulatory framework to ensure safety for human health and the environment; biotechnology research; innovation and competitiveness of the industry; public perceptions, governance and ethics; and EU policy in the global context ¿ in other words, reserving freedom to maneuver for EU companies.

Commissioner Busquin also used biotechnology as one of his key examples in a speech he gave in Paris on Monday on health for the entire world. It was necessary, he said, for answers to be found to new ethical questions linked to advances in the human genome. But he insisted that the mapping of the human genome ¿ to which the EU had made a major contribution, he said ¿ was only ¿the first step¿ in the use of this information to combat disease.

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