Doc. 8102

4 May 1998

Biotechnology

Motion for a recommendation

presented by Mr Melnikov and others

This motion has not been discussed in the Assembly and commits only the members who have signed it

1. The European Federation of Biotechnology defines biotechnology as "the integration of natural sciences and engineering sciences in order to achieve the application of organisms, cells, parts thereof and molecular analogues for products and services."

2. Biotechnology processes are based on renewable resources which makes them interesting as non-renewable conventional resources will dwindle. Every sector of the applied life sciences offers opportunities for biotechnologies applications. Among the most important sectors are agriculture and food, health care and pharmaceutical, and the protection and care of the environment through decontamination techniques and cleaner products and processes (bioremediation).

3. The world market for biotechnology products for the year 2000 is estimated at 83.3 thousand million ecus of which chemistry will account for 14.3, agriculture for 40, the environment for 2 and equipment for 2.8.

4. Biotechnology has a history as long as breadmaking and brewing. It has experienced huge advances in recent decades following the elucidation of the nature and functioning of the nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) in the 1950' and later work on molecular genetics and the mapping, sequencing and interpretation of entire genomes (human and other). The discovery that DNA molecules are interchangeable among animals, plants, bacteria and other organisms and the possibility to manipulate or change their units (genes) have given biotechnology enormous scopes for applications.

5. Insulin for diabetics is produced by bacteria that have received the appropriate human gene and could tomorrow be produced by gene-engineered goats or other mammals. In gene therapy, a gene that is missing or is not functioning correctly is replaced with a correct gene. Transgenetic plants (containing DNA from an external source) can be made to resist insects or viruses. A multitude of genetically engineered fruits and vegetables are on the market in some countries. Transgenetic animals are already used in cancer research (the "onco-mouse" or "harvard mouse"). Plants and animals can be made identical by use of cloning techniques. The release of genetically modified organisms has been the subject of many debates. Biotechnology is also increasingly used in waste and sewage water treatment and in metals extraction processes. The use of enzymes in industrial processes and products has steadily increased during recent decades.

6. The growth potential of biotechnology industries is considered to be substantial. The first patent for a biotechnological invention, a genetically modified bacterium, was granted in the USA in 1981. Since then many patents have followed - including on animals and plants. To favour industrial development in this sector the European Commission has drawn up a directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions (COM (95) 0661 - C4-0063/96 - 95/0350 (COD)). A modified proposal to patent new inventions involving biotechnology or a technical process within industrial application was given green light by the European Parliament on 16 July 1997.

7. The safety issues related to biotechnological applications have been the subject of considerable research as well as public debate. OECD already in 1983 started work to establish scientific criteria for the safe use of genetically engineered organisms in industry, agriculture and the environment. These general guidelines were published in 1986 and were followed by work to define rules for safe handling of industrial applications of low risk rDNA (recombinant DNA) organisms. Much work has also been devoted to the safety of introducing genetically modified organisms in the environment, (plants and various categories of micro-organisms: biofertilisers, biovaccines, biomining agents, bioremediation agents, biopesticides, biofeed, etc). Another problem concerns safety of food derived by use of biotechnology.

8. In light of the above the Assembly recommends to the Committee of Ministers:

a.       to speed up the preparation of the planned Council of Europe Conference on Biotechnology;

b. to invite member Governments, the European patent Office and the European Union to cooperate in drawing up and harmonising laws in the field of biotechnology and its applications;

c. to invite member Governments and the European Union :

      - to pursue research and development work in this field

      - to seek to enhance European co-operation and co-operation between public R&D
institutions and industry.

Signed (see overleaf)

Signed1:

Melnikov, Russia, UEL

Birraux, France, EPP/CD

Glavan, Romania, SOC

Gonzalez Laxe, Spain, SOC

Guirado, Spain, SOC

Lengagne, France, SOC

Liiv, Estonia, LDR

Lorenzi, Italy, NR

Melcák, Czech Republic, SOC

Newall, United Kingdom, EDG

Onaindia, Spain, SOC

Prokes, Slovakia, NR

Raskinis, Lithuania, EPP/CD

Roseta, Portugal, EPPC/CD

Speroni, Italy, NR

Theis, Luxembourg, EPP/CD

Tiuri, Finland, EDG

Toshev, Bulgaria, EPP/CD

Vella, Malta, EPP/CD

Wittbrodt, Poland, EPP/CD


1        SOC: Socialist Group

      EPP/CD: Group of the European People’s Party

      EDG: European Democratic Group

LDR: Liberal, Democratic and Reformers Group

      UEL: Group of the Unified European Left

      NR: not registered in a group