22 September 1997
Fischler backs biotechnology – but not on animals

By Amanda Cheesley in Brussels

BIOTECHNOLOGY can open up new opportunities for European agriculture – but experiments such as Dolly the cloned sheep have lead to public unease, European farm commissioner Franz Fischler has said.

Speaking at the Europabio conference in Brussels on Friday, Mr Fischler said its questionable whether some applications of biotechnology, such as cloning sheep, are ethical or economically desirable.

Experiments of this nature contribute to public uneasiness about the use of biotechnology, as well as creating an image problem for agriculture as a whole, he said.

However, Mr Fischler said Europe cannot ignore the benefits biotechnology can bring. Plant varieties can be cultivated which are drought resistant, make better use of nutrients, are disease- and pest-resistant, and contain more nutrients essential for the human diet.

Biotechnology can also be used for diagonostic purposes, he said. For example, early detection of a plant disease may allow the farmer to intervene quickly and therefore reduce the amount of pesticide needed to combat the problem.