Brussels June 20 - Friends of the Earth has condemned a high-level meeting on Europe's future biotechnology strategy, that is taking place today behind closed doors and from which environmental NGOs have been barred entry.
Helen Holder, GMO Campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: "Meeting in secret to discuss issues of high public importance is an absolute disgrace and a bad sign of what is to come under the Finnish Presidency of the EU. Once again, big industry has a permanent seat in biotech strategy discussions whereas environmental groups are barred."
The meeting, taking place in Helsinki today, provides a platform for biotech industry representatives to engage in discussion with Member States and the European Commission. The biotech industry will be presented with preliminary results of a major Commission study and they will be invited to comment, even though the period for input from stakeholders like environmental and consumer groups has not even finished yet. Friends of the Earth Europe has already criticized the study's lack of independence and transparency.
The meeting has been organized by the Finnish and Austrian Governments in collaboration with the European Commission and is part of a mid-term review of the EU's biotechnology strategy. Issues such as competitiveness, the impacts of biotechnology, regulation of biotechnology and public perceptions of biotechnology, will be discussed.
"The review of the EU's biotech strategy should have been an excellent opportunity for an open debate on how Europe handles new controversial technologies such as genetically modified food. Instead it has turned into a back-slapping exercise for the biotech industry whilst other stakeholders are kept out. This makes a farce out of the attempts to make this review transparent and open," Holder added.
Friends of the Earth Europe is calling for:
- all papers presented at today's meeting to be posted on the website of the European Commission immediately
- participation of all stakeholders in the EU biotech strategy mid term review (MTR)
- a timetable of all MTR meetings, agendas and minutes
- a meeting with the Commission's Joint Research Centre for stakeholders excluded from today's meeting, to discuss the preliminary results of the study
 Friends of the Earth Europe enquired anonymously into free places at the event and were informed that several spaces were still available. When attempting to register minutes later in the name of Friends of the Earth Europe, conference organizers responded that unfortunately the event was full. A second anonymous query to the hotel venue confirmed that this was untrue. When Friends of the Earth went to the conference location this morning they
were refused entry.
 "Consequences, opportunities and challenges of modern biotechnology for Europe", European Commission Directorate General Research, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies.
 Friends of the Earth Europe participated in the first stakeholder meeting in January 2006 and made a presentation at the second meeting in May 2006. Stakeholders have been given until June 30th to submit written papers for the study.
 Biotech Round Table Discussion, June 20th 2006, Helsinki. Programme at http://tekes.fi/neobio/