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Wednesday, 20 November 2002 - Strasbourg OJ edition

Life sciences and biotechnology

  Montfort (NI ).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, although Mrs Damião’s report needs some modification, it is an excellent report. While highlighting the constraints on the development of biotechnology and life sciences, it demonstrates their role and importance to our society in a pertinent manner. It is fully in line with the approaches and strategies defined at the Lisbon European Council. Biotechnology and life sciences are undoubtedly key in building a more competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy. This report also throws all its weight behind the Sixth Framework Programme for Research and Development, a programme I strongly support. Biotechnology will bring a new and broader dimension to the economy in future. It has implications for farming, nutrition, the environment, and, of course, medicine and the treatment of illness. Biotechnology also has implications for our competitiveness and the development of employment, increasing both the quantity and quality of jobs. However, this does not mean that a free rein should be given to research in this area. Biotechnology cannot be allowed to dominate over everything else. We are faced with an extraordinarily rich scientific field, many areas of which are still unknown and have yet to be exploited. There are two aspects to this area of science, but one of them does not always present what is best for mankind and the well–being of our societies. We must be wary of the sorcerer’s apprentice.

Life sciences should be supported and encouraged, but they must be regulated. Life sciences must only be allowed to grow and expand within the bounds of strict regulations, all of which should prioritise the principles of public health, prevention, precaution and the respect for human life and dignity. I am sure you understand that I have in mind the problems posed by GMOs and research on human embryos. I am therefore pleased to see that the report reflects these concerns and I also commend the work of the Committee on Industry, External Trade, Research and Energy to establish better regulations on research and to improve information given to the consumer.

In this spirit, we must do everything possible to improve the financing of companies in this sector and to allow them access to risk capital. These companies are generally very young, often small, and therefore vulnerable. We must also encourage the development of researchers in our universities and facilitate their laboratory work within the spirit of the European Charter for Small Enterprises. Research forms the basis of our future competitiveness.

We must also remember, however, we cannot have science without awareness. All sciences worthy of the name must be aware of their role in society. Biotechnology is certainly the key to a new society, which, if we manage it well, will be more just and more equitable.

Finally, I would like to comment on how this affects developing countries. Although we act to combat hunger, poverty and disease, which are all holding back development in these countries, we do not have the right to impose a scientific model or a way of thinking on any country. We need to uphold the principle of respect for others. Therefore we cannot consider imposing science and technology as a means of development. It is up to each individual to choose how they want to feed themselves and what standards they want to live by.

Ladies and gentlemen, biotechnology is the third technological revolution for our society, following the industrial revolution and the information revolution. I fervently hope that will rise to this splendid challenge, and that, in the interests of Europe’s reputation and of our children’s future, we act with respect for basic ethical standards and human dignity at all times.

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