Negotiating the policy crossroads
Life sciences and biotechnology are promising 'frontier' technologies capable of improving our quality of life and fuelling future economic growth. They also raise important ethical and policy challenges requiring coherent European and national strategies.
Europe is poised for a bioscience revolution. Progress in the life sciences and biotechnology is opening the way for groundbreaking discoveries and applications in a wide range of fields, including healthcare, agriculture and environmental protection.
These exciting advances are also spawning new scientific disciplines with potentially profound social and economic impacts. Advances in genomics and bioinformatics offer the prospect of even more radical applications, such as personalised medicines and genetic testing leading to preventive health care.
Life sciences and biotechnology are widely recognised as the next wave, after information technology, contributing to achieving the EU’s vision of becoming the world’s leading knowledge-based economy.
However, Europe’s current performance in these rapidly changing fields is not on track to achieving this objective. In the absence of a shared vision of what is at stake, and without common goals, Europe has only slowly addressed the challenges and opportunities of these new technologies.
There is a pressing need for intensive debate on the social, economic and ethical implications of these emerging sciences and technologies. However, public debate in Europe appears to have become too narrowly focused on genetically modified organisms and specific ethical questions, which polarise public opinion.
Uncertainty about societal acceptance of these new technologies has led to the stifling of innovation. Debate needs to be oriented towards ensuring the responsible development and application of life sciences and biotechnologies that bring clear public benefit and respect fundamental human values.
Traversing the crossroads
Europe is currently at a crossroads. It can accept a passive role and bear the implications of seeing these technologies developed elsewhere. Alternatively, it can shape the agenda by forging proactive policies to exploit these new sciences responsibly and in a way that is consistent with European values.
The Commission believes that Europe’s policy choice is, therefore, not whether but how to deal with the challenges posed by the new knowledge and its applications. We need to develop policies that take a forward-looking and global perspective.
Taking the leap
These policy issues can only be partly addressed at EU level. National governments, the general public and industry all have their roles to play in plotting Europe’s course through this unfamiliar terrain. The ultimate responsibility for success or failure is a shared one.
As its contribution to the debate surrounding the creation of a common vision, the Commission has proposed a strategy for developing sustainable and responsible policies in these emerging fields.
Read the Third Progress Report “Life Sciences and Biotechnology – A Strategy for Europe”
[ - 1.00 Mb ] and the Annex [ - 226 Kb ] to this communication (both June 2005).
Agriculture DG website
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Environment EC website
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External Trade EC website
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Biotechnology strategies around the world
Just like the European Union, EU Member States and other countries around the world are developing their own biotechnology strategies or have established sets of legislations aimed at managing this new area. These countries show strong concerns in this field, since they have set up advisory bodies of scientists and stakeholders to provide guidance to governments. Each of them has its own focus in the management of biotechnologies. Some place more emphasis on markets and competitiveness, whereas others concentrate on capacity building, or governance and ethics. The links below give access to a number of these national initiatives:
- Argentinean Forum of Biotechnology
- Australian National Biotechnology Strategy
- Belgian Biosafety Advisory Council
- Canadian Biotechnology Strategy
- Chile: National Biotechnology Policy
- Finland: Strategy for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering in Agriculture 
National Advisory Board for Biotechnology
- Hungary: Agricultural Biotechnology Centre
- India: Biotechnology Policy produced by the Department of Industries and Commerce of the Government of Andhra Pradesh.
- The Millennium Biotech Policy, document produced by the Information Technology and Biotechnology Department of the state of Karnataka.
- Maharashtra Biotechnology Policy.
- Biotechnology Policy of Government of Tamil Nadu, produced by the Industries Department of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
- National Biotechnology Development Strategy, document produced by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India.
- Ireland: Inter-Departmental Group Report on Modern Biotechnology, Irish Government Report, Government Publications Office 
- South Korea: Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology - Long Term Vision and Strategic Objectives
- Namibian National Policy Document: Enabling the Safe Use of Biotechnology, Ministry of Higher Education, Vocational Training, Science and Technology; Ministry of Environment and Tourism; Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development
- The Netherlands: Integral Policy Document on Biotechnology of the Netherlands, Presented by the Government to Parliament in September 2000
- New Zealand: Biotechnology Strategy
- Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board
- South Africa: Biotechnology Strategy
- The Swedish Gene Technology Advisory Board.
- USA: Advisory Committee on Biotechnology and 21st Century Agriculture (AC21)
- FAO Statement on Biotechnology