BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European association for bioindustries, EuropaBio, has a completely new team at the top. It elected Erik Tambuyzer as chairman, succeeding Pol Bamelis, a Bayer AG official who is stepping down after two years. Meanwhile, EuropaBio's newly appointed secretary general, Hugo Schepens, has taken office.
Tambuyzer, a 50-year old Belgian, is vice president of corporate affairs, Europe, for Genzyme Corp. He previously was a co-founder of Innogenetics, of Ghent, Belgium. Tambuyzer will continue to chair EuropaBio's bioethics platform. He also is a leading figure in the new biotechnology industries grouping set up by the European pharmaceutical industry association, but he has vowed to "further reinforce the voice of EuropaBio, as the representative Brussels-based biotechnology organization for dialogue about biotechnology with all stakeholders."
He insists on the need for "responsible use of new technologies," claiming: "Our industry considers ethics and responsible public policy as an important component of its long-term strategy." EuropaBio represents 40 corporate members operating worldwide and 13 national biotechnology associations (totaling about 700 smaller firms) involved in research and development, testing, manufacturing and distribution of biotechnology products.
EU Backs Fundamental Rights Charter
The European Union is one step closer to formalizing its views on bioethics. French President Jacques Chirac said Sunday that the EU summit meeting in Biarritz, France, on Oct. 13-14 had backed the new EU charter of fundamental rights.
Chirac, currently in the rotating presidency chair of the EU, said EU heads of state and government had unanimously endorsed the text, which goes beyond classic human rights into "new territory, such as new rights in the field of bioethics." The text will be formally adopted at the EU summit in Nice, France, in December.
Among the first of its provisions, it says that "human dignity is inviolable," and must be respected and protected, that "everyone has the right to respect for his or her physical and mental integrity," and that in the fields of medicine and biology, particular respect must be paid to "the free and informed consent of the person concerned, according to the procedures laid down by law, the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons, the prohibition on making the human body and its parts as such a source of financial gain, and the prohibition of the reproductive cloning of human beings." At the same time, it also said "the arts and scientific research shall be free of constraint" and "academic freedom shall be respected."
Friends Of Earth Continue Campaign
Friends of the Earth Europe is investigating possible GMO contamination of food products in the EU with even greater assiduity following the Kraft Foods national recall of the Taco Bell brand taco shells in the U.S. and the agreement by Aventis to buy back the offending StarLink maize grown in the U.S.
"We wrote to Kraft and Philip Morris corporate European headquarters straight after the Taco Bell story broke," said Gill Lacroix, biotechnology coordinator at FoEE in Brussels. "So far, neither of them has had either the courtesy or guts to reply but we are following that through."
Lacroix said the U.S. food scandals highlight once again the failings of the current draft revision of the EU's basic biotechnology rules, which date from 1990 and are still in the process of updating after more than two years discussion. "Traceability and liability are just not addressed in the current text," she said, "yet these shocking examples of illegal GMOs getting onto supermarket shelves show how very crucial these issues are."
Environment Ministers Call For GMO Action
European environment ministers have insisted that the European Commission speed up its work on traceability and labeling of GMOs. After European Environment Commissioner Margot Wdllstrom briefed ministers on progress in developing new proposals during the EU's Oct. 10 Environment Council in Luxembourg, ministers told her that they did not want to wait much longer before receiving draft texts on these "urgent and important matters."
Ministers said they were unable to make progress either on finalizing the update to the EU's 1990 basic rules on GMOs or on lifting the current moratorium on new GMO authorizations until proposals came from the Commission on traceability and labeling. So they urged the Commission to produce proposals "as soon as possible, and, in any case, before Christmas."
EU Officials Continue Work In Two Areas
Work is advancing on two EU texts that will significantly affect the operating environment for the biotechnology sector.
The Council of Ministers of the European Union is working on a draft resolution on the precautionary principle, to provide guidance on risk assessment and risk management in the EU. The text, which draws heavily on the rather conservative communication the European Commission produced earlier this year, will be reviewed by EU foreign affairs ministers in November, and, if approved there, it will be submitted to the EU's summit in Nice, in December, for adoption by heads of state and government.
Meanwhile, the European Commission said it started to draft a directive on environmental liability, based on the response it received to its consultation on the subject. The draft text is likely to be presented to ministers for formal debate late in 2001, but an initial debate is scheduled at the December 2000 Environment Council.