It's not every day that I agree with something Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, says. So, his defence of what he calls "The coal face of applied science in the twenty first century," biotechnology, is worth quoting from quite extensively:
"We need an open and rational debate about the risks and benefits of biotechnology more than ever."The only point that I would add is he makes no mention of ethics. If the public believe there are ethical questions to answer, even if the scientists and politicians do not, then the "open and rational debate" and "careful explanation of the facts" needs to address those fears also.
"We are already living in a biotech era – from the medicine you take to the laundry detergent you use. ... The most recent Eurobarometer on this subject from 2005 actually showed that most Europeans are enthusiastic about potential new applications of biotechnology. But there is one glaring exception. Something like six in ten Europeans say they oppose Genetically Modified food."
"It is reasonable to insist that when the process [of thoroughly testing all new biotech products to the most rigorous scientific standards] has run its course, and the scientific issues have been thrashed out, we stand by the science. And that applies to both the technical experts and to the politicians they report to. A rigorous system means approving GM imports when the science is on their side just as we take a firm line when precaution is justified. ... If politicians and risk managers undermine their own system... we devalue objective science as our most important benchmark - and that is a dangerous step to take."
"We must be under no illusion that Europe's interests are served by being outside a global market that is steadily working its way through the issues raised by GM food. They are not."
"The biotech industry needs to keep in mind that while technology determines what is possible, consumer demand determines what is economically viable. Public fears may be misplaced, but they cannot and should not be dismissed."
"The way that human technologies affect us and the natural world has always been a flashpoint for debate. Biotechnology is no different. The only rational response is a patient assessment of the evidence and a careful explanation of the facts. Biotechnology has already improved millions of lives around the world. That alone is reason enough to ensure that we do not deny those benefits to millions more."