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Genetics and the future of Europe

 

  • Almost 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.

  • It 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.
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  • In 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.
     
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