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Europe: Biotech Congress Cancelled

Corporate Europe Observer
October 1st, 2000

EuropaBio, the European biotech lobby group, has recently suffered a major blow when it had to cancel its annual congress. The Fourth Annual European Biotechnology Congress was scheduled to take place in Edinburgh, Scotland on October 9-13. According to the Dutch daily newspaper, De Volkskrant, EuropaBio, cannot deny that the conference was cancelled due to the fierce critique of genetic engineering in the UK and the resulting lack of sponsors.[1] Previous EuropaBio congresses were held in Amsterdam, Brussels and Munich.[2] De Volkskrant quotes a regular participant of EuropaBio events as saying that the event was cancelled in order to avoid sparking anti-biotech sentiments.

This seems a plausible explanation for the sudden cancellation the UK is probably the most hostile environment in Europe to organise a biotech congress. Genetically modified food is highly unpopular among the population, which has successfully forced UK-based supermarket chains and food companies to guarantee that the products they sell are GM free. A vibrant direct action movement has emerged which systematically uproots test fields for GM crops. Some UK anti-biotech campaign groups were already in the process of organising protests against the EuropaBio congress, before the announced cancellation.[3] EuropaBio has been at the forefront of successful biotech industry campaigns for the adoption of controversial legislation in the European Union such as the EU Life Patent Directive.[4] The lobby group also scored a victory for the biotech industry when it helped persuade the European Parliament to reject a proposed liability regime for biotech companies.[5] EuropaBio has tried hard to avoid publicity around the cancellation of the congress. While fiercely denying the suggestion that worries over protests and the resultant foot-dragging from sponsors played a role, the lobby groups official explanation is that the congress would overlap too much with another major international biotech event four months later the UN-sponsored BioVision Congress (to be held in Lyon, France, February 2001). EuropaBio itself contradicted this statement, however, when it admitted that it was already aware of the competing event when it sent out the first glossy brochures about EuropaBio 2000 in Edinburgh, and even earlier in the planning stages.[6] The group says it will organise its next annual conference in the Autumn of 2001, but location and date are not yet decided.

NOTES

1. Thijssen, Wil, Congres Biotechnologie Afgelast uit Angst voor Stemmingmakerij, De Volkskrant July 15, 2000.

2. The biotech lobby group describes its annual congresses as the key European events that bring together leaders in industry, science, government, NGOs and the public at large in sharing modern biotechnology in Europe (from the brochure announcing the EuropaBio 2000 Fourth Annual European Biotechnology Congress)

3. For more on the UK anti-biotech movement, see Genetic Engineering Network http://www.dmac.co.uk/gen.html, Womens Environmental Network http://www.wen.org.uk and Corporate Watch UK http://www.corporatewatch.org

4. The European Union Directive on the Legal Protection of Biotechnological Inventions.

5. The European Parliament originally proposed amendments to the EU Directive 90/220 calling for biotech companies to be held liable for any undesirable effects of deliberate release of genetically modified organisms into the environment. After much pressure from EuropaBio and others, the Parliament dropped its original proposal when it came to a second vote. For more information on EuropaBio, see also articles in the Corporate Europe Observer Issue Zero and Issue Five. For information from the horses mouth, see the EuropaBio website: http://www.europa-bio.be

6. Thijssen, Wil, Congres Biotechnologie Afgelast uit Angst voor Stemmingmakerij, De Volkskrant July 15, 2000.





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