Doc. 9408

15 April 2002


Recommendation 1468 (2000)

Reply from the Committee of Ministers

adopted at the 791st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies (10 April 2002)

1. The Committee of Ministers has noted with interest Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1468 (2000) on biotechnologies.

2. It recalls that in response to the Parliamentary Assembly’s Recommendations 1213 (1993) on developments in biotechnology and the consequences for agriculture, 1389 (1998) on consumer safety and food quality, 1417 (1999) on the dioxin crisis and food safety and 1425 (1999) on biotechnology and intellectual property, and in order to address the conclusions of the International Conference on Ethical Issues Arising from the Application of Biotechnology (Oviedo, 16-19 May 1999), a multidisciplinary working party (CDBI-BIOTECH) was set up. Moreover, with regard to the above-mentioned Recommendations 1389 and 1417, it recalls the grouped reply given to the Parliamentary Assembly on 21 March 2001, which was based on the opinions of CDSP, CD-P-SP, CDBI and T-AP and referred also to Recommendations 1445 (2000) (Health security for Europe's population) and 1446 (2000) (Ban on antibiotics in food production).

3. With regard to Recommendation 1468, the attention of the CD-P-SP and its relevant subordinate committees was drawn to paragraph 6 i (adopting "the precautionary principle as a common tenet of decision-making"), in compliance with the decision adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 13 July 2000.

4. Biotechnology has indeed experienced great advances in recent decades and has the potential for continued advances in fields such as medicine, biology, forestry, food and agriculture. The discovery that DNA molecules are interchangeable to a large extent among animals, plants, bacteria and other organisms and the possibility of manipulating or changing their units (genes) have given biotechnology enormous scope for applications, but have also caused serious public concern about the safety and ethical acceptability of some of the new inventions. The Committee of Ministers is following these developments closely. The expanded use of biotechnology could have environmental, societal and economic consequences. These consequences could be both positive and negative, and could be perceived as such differently by different groups in European society.

5. The Committee of Ministers fully agrees with the statement that the central reference for choices to be made must be respect for human dignity and preservation of a healthy environment. It also recalls that cultural diversity, solidarity with the disadvantaged and the involvement of civil society are shared European values as is also our responsibility towards animals and the environment. It recognises the importance of providing consumers with relevant information in order to facilitate consumer choice.

6. The Committee of Ministers notes with interest the Parliamentary Assembly’s statement that public opinion should be adequately involved in political decision-making in regard to science and technology and scientists should be encouraged to participate more in public debate.

7. It agrees with the Parliamentary Assembly on the usefulness for the steering committees concerned to take account of the precautionary principle as appropriate and on the importance of instructing the Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI) to undertake an evaluation, in co-operation with other competent steering committees, and other relevant organisations, of the compatibility of new technologies in medicine and biology with fundamental ethical principles and human rights and of the relevance of the principles of non-commercialisation of the human body and individual consent.

8. The Committee of Ministers has considered the Parliamentary Assembly’s request concerning the elaboration of a future convention on the use of living matter. It agrees that the approach of utilising expert discussions, in conjunction with the involvement of citizens, the Parliamentary Assembly and national ethics committees, on issues related to the use of living matter in all the member states could be a very fruitful one. It recognises the importance of transparency and dialogue with all stakeholders in evaluating the applications of biotechnology and reaffirms the importance of the pan-European dimension of the Council of Europe, whose membership encompasses both member and non-member states of the European Union, in implementing co-operation in this field.

9. It fears, however, that it may be premature, before this debate has been undertaken, to state that the ultimate goal of this activity is a binding international convention, particularly on the world level. It may be that other solutions offer a more appropriate response to the specific questions of biotechnology. At the same time the Committee of Ministers recognises the importance of the member states’ being parties to global agreements on biotechnology and trade.

10. The Committee of Ministers notes the Parliamentary Assembly’s concern regarding the patenting of biotechnological inventions. It recalls, however, that the CDBI is mainly competent in the ethical, social and legal aspects of biomedicine.

11. The Committee of Ministers, alert to the spirit of transparency and public debate advocated by the Parliamentary Assembly, believes that the idea of an open, consultative forum on biotechnologies requires further examination. Taking into account the fact that fostering dialogue would be the objective of such a forum and also the Parliamentary Assembly’s experience in organising similar events, the Assembly could envisage taking responsibility for its organisation. The forum’s conclusions could contribute to opening up new ways for possible future action.