BioWorld International Correspondent

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Sweden, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union for the first half of this year, is determined to improve the climate for biotechnology in the EU.

Looking ahead to the summit of EU leaders in Stockholm in March, the Swedish minister for education and science, Thomas Östros, told the European Parliament Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy that "an area to which the Swedish presidency wishes to devote particular attention at the Stockholm summit is biotechnology."

He said "forceful measures from a broad perspective" are necessary to boost biotechnology research, to promote the industrial application of research results, and "to stimulate the discussion on ethical issues that must ensue." He said he had followed "with great interest" the recent initiatives by the Parliament on these issues, and the draft report on the future of the biotechnology industry that is currently under discussion in the Parliament. But he said the presidency was also planning to take up ethical issues at a special conference being organized in Umea, Sweden, in June, in addition to the discussions at the summit itself.

Aventis' GM Rape Is Safe, Committee Finds

There is no reason to believe that Aventis' new genetically modified rape is harmful, according to the European Union's scientific committee on plants.

In an opinion published on Feb. 8, the committee said "the placing on the market of oilseed rape line . . . with the purpose to be used as any other oilseed rape, is not likely to cause any adverse effects." Its risk assessment of this new product, which is tolerant to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium, found no evidence to indicate adverse effects on human and animal health and the environment from cultivation of this oilseed rape and the varieties derived from it by conventional crossing, and their uses for food, feed and industrial purposes.

But, as in previous opinions, the committee recommended that the introduction of the herbicide-tolerant oilseed crops should be accompanied by an agreed code of practice for field management.

Patent Office Sides With Aventis In GM Case

The European Patent Office, based in Munich, Germany, ruled in favor of Aventis against the environmental pressure group Greenpeace in the debate over patents for genetically modified plants. The EPO effectively gave the go-ahead on Thursday to a controversial patent for plants modified using genetic engineering techniques, which make them resistant to ammonium glufosinate (Liberty), a pesticide produced by Aventis. The patent was registered in 1987 by Aventis CropScience and granted in 1993.

After a public hearing on Feb. 5, the Patent Office rejected Greenpeace's 1993 complaint. Greenpeace claimed that the gene can be isolated from bacteria found in its natural state using methods that are already well known, and a patent was not warranted. Aventis claimed the gene has been modified and does not exist in a natural form, and that modification of natural genes was an invention.

LibertyLink (a brand of modified seeds) and the pesticide Liberty are currently sold in Canada (canola or summer rapeseed) and in the U.S. (maize).