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Dr. Pere Puigdomènech

EU Committee on Ethics in Science and New Technologies

At present, he is Research Professor at CSIC and director of the Centre de Recerca en Agrigenòmica (CRAG) of CSIC-IRTA-UAB. He has been president of the Catalan Society of Biology and member of the EU Scientific Committee, and member of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies.

His research focuses on molecular biology of plants, specifically in the genes that participate in the development of corn, as well as the melon genome. Pere Puigdomènech is one of the reference experts consulted about security aspects related to consumption of transgenic plants by humans.

You are a European Union consultant in new technologies issues. What does this responsibility implies?

My responsibility is to give my opinion about complex issues in Europe and that is useful for decision takers. We scientists, have to be strict in the information we provide and be as independent as possible in our criteria.

Your research is about plants’ molecular genetics. What are your work areas of application?

My work helps to increase our knowledge on plants. Sometimes we do not realise that our feeding depends on plants, which are the best solar reactors and are an essential component of the ecological balance of our planet.

Lately a popular proposal has arrived to the Catalan parliament asking that Catalonia be transgenic-free. Also there are countries that have made this demand before the European Union. What do you think? What implications would have such decision?

I believe that it is a right of Catalan citizens. I hope that when the Catalan Parliament takes its decision it has the maximum possible information. From the scientific community, we are open to provide all the information to the Parliament if they ask us. In other occasions, such questions have been presented in Europe and have ended up having no practical effect.

How are Europe and the rest of the world living this debate?

The debate in Europe is still very complicated. Very diverse issues get mixed: our relations with food and with agriculture in a context ruled by the perception of chaos and lack of credibility of institutions and big companies. Moreover, we have to add companies’ interests involved in the different levels of the food chain as well as political and some organisations’ interests. In the rest of the world some countries draw their own paths within a regulation framework, like the United States or China. Other export to Europe and follow their own criteria. We are not in a stable situation.

It seems that the Scientific Panel on of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not proved that there are risks with the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)? According to you, what are the benefits and dangers of these GMOs?

It is clear that there are benefits since there are farmers who buy the seeds and cultivate the plants in over a hundred millions hectares all over the world. Essentially, the direct beneficiaries are farmers and producers but indirectly it has served to stop price rising. Every new technology shows certain risks. The current regulations should be useful for minimizing them and experience demonstrates that so far, they have been effective.

Why is it so difficult to communicate benefits to people?

Until now, people have not been aware of the need to sustain agriculture with a high productive level. Benefits do not turn up directly; on the other hand, there have been very active groups that have amplified the possible risks.

Scientists are the people to listen. Do you believe this is really so or do they feel little consulted by politicians in these kind of debates? Do you believe there is being a shift towards this direction?

The existence of an independent scientists group who help people and political representatives to take decisions is essential. In these matters, the scientific positioning has been expressed at every level in a repeated and constant way. I am afraid these opinions have only been listened to when it has been convenient for them.

There are ethical considerations in many of the areas of application of biotechnology and biomedicine. How does the commission value research and innovation implication in these areas? What corrective mechanisms are applied?

Indeed, biotechnology brings up ethical dilemmas which different societies treat in different ways trying to solve them within their own values. In all Europe, and now even in Spain, spaces to encourage reflection have been created. Experience demonstrates that these commissions are usually useful to go deep in the issues and can bring up options which can end up becoming laws or directives.

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