19 June 2006
ByAppeared in BioNews 363
The European parliament has voted to allow European Union (EU) funding for projects involving human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. In the latest stage of the approval for Europe's 2007-2013 research budget, the 7th Framework Programme (FP7), politicians backed the proposal by 284 votes to 249, with 32 abstentions. The measure was part of an amendment passed on 15 June, and states that EU money may not be used for human reproductive cloning, genetic alteration of humans or the creation of human embryos specifically for research.
Policy on human ES cell research varies across Europe, with some countries banning all embryo research, while others allow such research to take place under strict guidelines. The UK, Belgium and Sweden have the most liberal regulatory approach to such work. Last October, a group of 73 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) sent a letter to the commission president Manuel Barroso, calling for an end to EU funding of human ES cell research. The MEPs - predominantly from Italy, Austria, Germany, Malta, Poland and Slovakia - argued that Member States that do not permit the research should not have to share the cost of funding it elsewhere.
However, since the letter was sent, Italy's new, more liberal government has withdraw its support for the group. Fabio Mussi, the Italian Research Minister, told the Times Higher Educational Supplement that 'it did not seem to me right stopping research funding in other European countries'. Commenting on the outcome of the vote, Italian lawmaker Marco Cappato called the result 'a success for a tolerant and secular Europe', adding that the European Parliament had 'rejected an attack by fundamentalists and extremists'. But Irish MEP Kathy Sinnott criticised the move, saying that it would put countries who haven't already legislated to allow ES cell research.
Before last week's vote, the EU's Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik was asked to reveal the results of a new European poll on biotechnology, to indicate how the public feel about ES cell research. The results, to be published soon, show that 'Fifty-five per cent of Europeans approve embryonic stem cell research under the current government regulations, 17 per cent under some extra conditions, 9 per cent declare not to approve it under any conditions and 15 per cent say they don't know', said Potocnik.
Eight EU-funded projects on ES cells were funded under the previous FP6 budget. The FP7 funding will allocate €54.5 billion (£38 billion) for scientific research in Europe over the next seven years, less than the 70 billion Euros the European Commission had asked for two years ago.
Dr Jess Buxton is Contributing Editor at BioNews and a Trustee at the charity that publishes it, the Progress Educational Trust (PET). She is co-author of The Rough Guide to Genes and Cloning (buy this book from Amazon UK) and Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Reproducing Regulation (buy this book from Amazon UK).