daily the media announce new advances in genetics. Yet only
13% of European citizens feel adequately informed on biotechnology.
This is one of the lessons of the fourth Eurobarometer
survey on 'The Europeans and Biotechnology', published in
April 2000. Even more alarming than the perceived lack of information
are the growing doubts as to how reliable the available information
really is. In answer to the question "Which source(s) of information
on biotechnology do you trust?", consumer associations and doctors
scored highest, with 55% and 53% of Europeans saying they trust
these sources. Scientists and public authorities enjoy the trust
of only 25% and 15%, respectively.
is necessary to ponder these figures. Europeans feel confused
about advances in genetics research. Certainly, the power that
comes with increasing knowledge of life opens new horizons,
new prospects for improving the quality of life. Medically assisted
procreation is already a major step for mankind, but it does
raise issues. The new therapies and medicines stemming from
discoveries in genomics may lead to undreamed of progress in
human health. Yet when it comes to genetically engineering animals
and plants, many people tend to question or reject new advances
immediately. These fears and expectations are widening the gap
between the public and research in biotechnology.
today's society, the debate on these issues is highly sensitive.
Scientists at the cutting edge of progress in life science -
as well as the political and economic decision-makers who have
to endorse the choices of new applications - need new forums
for pursuing a dialogue with society, a dialogue open to all.
This pluralism should enrich the debate for everyone. In this
spirit, on 26 April 2000, Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin
launched a Life Sciences High
Level Group composed of 11 European biologists. The members
of this group are recognised for their scientific excellence,
their involvement in the debate with society, and their commitment
to communicating with the public on the stakes for research
in genetics. One task of these experts is to inform the Commissioner
on the prospects for life sciences research. Another is to formulate
proposals for a better dialogue between scientists and society.
The discussion forum on Genetics and the Future of Europe, held
in Brussels on 6 and 7 November 2000, is the first concrete
result of this initiative.