BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Parliament will be subjecting biotechnology research and development to another tough scrutiny Thursday, when it debates the latest twist to the European Union's attempts to create a new regulatory framework. The Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, France, is likely to call for tighter controls on the release of new biotechnology products onto the market.
The European biotechnology industry is bracing itself for another battle over bringing the 1990 EU rules up to date.
Three years of discussion already have gone into planning a more refined version of the cumbersome EU controls on releasing new biotechnology products into the environment. The aim is to provide Europe with a flexible system more in line with international standards - particularly those in the U.S.
But in the Parliament, UK Socialist Euro-MP David Bowe is spearheading a call from the Parliament's committee on the environment, public health and consumer policy for a more conservative approach to legislation. He wants 30 further changes to the proposed new rules - nearly all of them designed to limit marketing opportunities. He will be stressing that gene transfers from GMOs to other species should be prevented, and he will call for special measures such as separate greenhouses for GMO crops.
Another amendment being tabled would refuse authorization for the release of GMOs that are resistant to antibiotics, even for research. This contrasts with the position taken by EU member states in the discussions. They feel there is no need for special controls, since these considerations already are dealt with in the course of environmental risk assessments.
One of the potentially most damaging proposals for the industry is the focus on environmental liability, and a call for companies that deliberately release GMOs to be subject to strict civil liability for any damage to human health and the environment. Other amendments state that GMOs should not leave EU territory without the prior consent of the importing country, and insist that environmental risk assessment should be strengthened through a yearly study of the socioeconomic costs and benefits of proposed deliberate releases.
The European biotechnology industry association, Europa-Bio, said the proposals could "mean the end of further developments using modern biotechnology," and would lead to biotechnology research and production facilities being moved out of Europe to other locations. The association's secretary general, Anthony Arke, said specific liability would increase insurance costs and would discriminate against biotechnology.