More than 600 attend conference
cold and snowy Brussels welcomed more than 600 delegates
from around the world to the conference. Scientists mixed
with policy-makers, development experts, farmers, young
people and representatives of civil society to address the
most important and controversial issues surrounding the
use of bio-sciences and their ability to offer sustainable
solutions for food production and the alleviation poverty.
The EC’s Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin opened
the conference. In a keynote address on day two, he outlined
the Union’s commitment to ensuring technological developments
are placed in the correct environmental and social context.
Commissioner Busquin said that cooperation between the developed
and developing worlds is crucial if goals relating to sustainability
are to be met.
Read the full conference
A question and answer session moderated by Alex Puissant
brought proceeding to a close. This proved to be a dynamic
session as panellists and delegates debated issues such
as the safety and use of GMOs, the need to place science
in a broader development context, and the value of ensuring
that developing-world farmers are part of the collaborative
process of research.
Commenting on the conference, the European Group on Life
Sciences (EGLS) said people had the right to challenge scientific
developments. The Group noted that scepticism is a healthy
and essential part of the ‘proving process’
that can bring the correct scientific questions out into
the open for proper debate. Read the EGLS
statement in full.
Context for debate
Ten years after the Rio Summit and Agenda 21, this summer’s
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) World Summit
on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg reinforced the
message that sustainability is now a widely accepted international
priority. Today’s vision is also more broadly based,
with decision-makers recognising that sustainable development
cannot be isolated from other issues like combating poverty,
hunger, malnutrition, and infectious diseases, or from integrating
less advanced countries into the world economy, education
and the liberalisation of trade.
Forecasts point to a significant rise in the demand for
food, especially in developing countries. One response to
this need is to increase the area under cultivation. The
hard fact is, though, that such an increase, limited by
the desire to safeguard vital natural environments, will
contribute only one fifth of the increase in global cereal
production needed to feed the world’s growing population.
This makes it imperative to increase crop yields.
Responding to such a challenge requires the mobilisation
of human and financial resources. At the same time, the
current and future progress of life sciences and biotechnologies
represents an undeniable potential for facilitating sustainable
agriculture in developing countries, in particular where
they allow these countries to unshackle themselves from
more invasive mechanical and chemical methods.
Such a prospect may well encounter considerable resistance
in certain sections of European public opinion which show
a great deal of distrust about the use of genetically modified
organisms in farming and food processing. While the GMO
question is unavoidable, it is only part of the debate.
Soil and crop health, knowledge relating to the state of
biodiversity and of the climatic constraints on production,
as well as technological emancipation in rural zones, are
||An outline programme
of the conference is available on the site, and will
be regularly updated.
at the Commission
- Overall management: E. Magnien
- Assisting the organising scientific committee:
Directorate E: M. Parel, E. Sachez, E. Balzi
- Communication aspects: A. Vassarotti, M. Claessens
- Administrative aspects P. Roza Manzano, E. Le
- Organisation and logistics: M. White-Branagan
- Central contact point
In its Communication, “Life
Sciences and Biotechnology: a Strategy for Europe”
[(COM(2002) 27 final], the European Commission stresses
the need to place scientific and technological developments
in the context of building a knowledge-based economy and
The strategy states: “The success of any knowledge-based
economy rests upon the generation, diffusion and application
of new knowledge. Investments in research and development,
education and training and new managerial approaches are
therefore of key importance in meeting the challenges posed
by life sciences and biotechnology.”
It continues by calling for links to be strengthened between
research and other Community policies, and the need to involve
scientists in consensus building.
“New research partnerships should also be encouraged
amongst developed and developing nations to take full advantage
of promising technologies and biodiversity potential.”