543rd meeting - 7 and 11 September 1995
DEVELOPMENTS IN BIOTECHNOLOGY AND
THE CONSEQUENCES FOR AGRICULTURE
Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1213 (1993)
The Deputies adopted the following supplementary reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1213 (1993):
"Further to the interim reply given to the Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1213 (1993) on developments in biotechnology and the consequences for agriculture, the Committee of Ministers, recognising the growing importance of biotechnology, wishes to inform the Parliamentary Assembly of the following:
The Committee of Ministers shares the opinion of the Parliamentary Assembly, that these matters are of a complex nature, covering such fields as biology, environment, agriculture and food, protection of animals and the promotion of human health and accordingly they should be dealt with following a multidisciplinary approach taking into account their various implications (scientific, economic, social, ethical and legal).
At their 497th meeting (September 1993), the Ministers' Deputies decided to ask the Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI) as well as the Standing Committee of the European Convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes (T-AP) to give their opinion on Recommendation 1213 (1993), especially on paragraph 9.vi.: proposition to draw up a European convention covering bioethical aspects of biotechnology applied to the agricultural and food sector.
It is recalled that the European Convention for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes of 10 March 1976 was amended by a Protocol adopted by the Ministers' Deputies at their 465th meeting (November 1991) which brings genetically modified animals within the scope of the Convention. In the Explanatory Report on the Protocol of Amendment, the T-AP concluded that "biotechnology was developing rapidly, presenting positive as well as negative aspects for the welfare of animals and raising many other ethical questions, and that in the absence of any specific international agreement, it was highly desirable to study these developments with a view to defining certain principles to be respected for the welfare of animals subjected to or resulting from biotechnological procedures".
The T-AP has discussed the implications for farm animals of advances in biotechnology on several occasions in recent years including the idea of drawing up a European Convention. In its third triennial report to the Committee of Ministers, the T-AP recommended considering "the possibility for the Council of Europe to take action, preferably by drawing up a new Convention".
The Committee of Ministers believes that the question of biotechnology is an important subject which requires in-depth reflection before any decision is taken as to whether a legal instrument of the Council of Europe is advisable in this field.
Biotechnology is advancing rapidly and the Committee of Ministers believe that a Convention would have to deal with fundamental principles rather than with current techniques which may soon become obsolete. The necessary flexibility could be provided by a framework Convention, setting up a permanent structure responsible for ensuring that the principles of the Convention were applied to techniques and procedures as they evolve and in a manner proportional to the ethical problems which they pose.
The Committee of Ministers agrees with the Parliamentary Assembly that it would be useful to convene a European Conference with representatives of all relevant professions and interest groups concerned, in particular representatives of the world of science and ecology, law, industry, consumers, the health field and protection of animals (paragraphs 9.iii and iv). It is also of the opinion that the European Community and the European Patent Office should be associated with such a Conference (paragraph 9.ii).
The Committee of Ministers is therefore currently envisaging the holding of a Conference in 1997 dealing with the developments in biotechnology and the consequences in agriculture, including environmental and health aspects.
The holding of such a Conference could also prepare the way for determining the desirability to draw up a European Convention covering bioethical aspects of biotechnology applied to the agricultural and food sector, since it could be based on studies dealing the various aspects involved. One of such studies could in particular focus on the monitoring of research in the field of biotechnology, as the Committee of Ministers agrees with the Parliamentary Assembly that this is a very important topic (paragraph 9.v), although the form of such a monitoring system has to be carefully examined.
With regard to paragraph 10 of Recommendation 1213, which calls upon States for action, the Committee of Ministers agrees on the importance of educating scientists and informing the public (paragraphs 10.v, vi and xi) and believes that such a topic could be addressed during a Conference on the developments in biotechnology and the consequences in agriculture. In this connection, the possibility of setting-up a network-type co-operation system, within the existing structures of the Organisation, to include bioethics in the education and training of biotechnology specialists as well as other persons involved in this field could be examined. Such a system could help countries, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe, to introduce instruction in bioethics for biotechnology specialists and enable teaching material to be exchanged more easily.
The Committee of Ministers will inform the Parliamentary Assembly of its action following the envisaged holding of a Conference dealing with the developments in biotechnology and the consequences in agriculture, including environmental and health aspects."