07 July 1997 00:00 [Source: ICB]
The European association for bio-industries, EuropaBio, has published a draft code of ethics for consultation. If adopted by its 600 member firms, EuropaBio claims the code will commit firms to prioritising environmental protection in the manufacture and use of biotechnology products.
The code, presented at the recent first annual European bio-industry congress in Amsterdam (ECN 7 July 1997, p26), is seen as EuropaBio's response to recent polls which indicate that ethics rather than risk represent the greatest public concern about biotechnology.
According to Andrew Dickson, secretary general of EuropaBio, 'people tend to look at industry and see only the profit motive'.
A study by Eurobarometer has shown that despite Europe's lead in environmental applications, the use of biotechnology for pollution prevention and control remains limited.
Under the draft code, EuropaBio pledges to maintain dialogue on the ethical and societal implications of biotechnology. The congress was told progress had been made in setting up an independent panel to advise the industry on ethical issues.
However, Benedikt Haerlin of international lobby group Greenpeace told ECN he believes all binding pledges in the code are already covered by existing European or international law. These include proposed bans on bio-weapons, human sperm, egg and embryo alteration and genetic cloning of humans.
Haerlin claims EuropaBio's proposal for improved consumer information on food products contradicts its claim in a letter to US president Bill Clinton that separation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) contravened World Trade Organisation regulations.
Greenpeace campaigners protested generally against GMO use by dumping 'possibly modified' soyabeans in front of the congress hall.
In addition, Haerlin said the code rarely mentions, and does not define, environmental protection and makes no mention of the precautionary principle or the Bio-Safety Convention. EuropaBio has graduated from 'green washing to value-washing', he said.
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