Compromise avoids all-out ban on embryonic work pushed by Germany
By Stephen Pincock | July 25, 2006
European ministers yesterday (July 24) reached a compromise to allow EU funding of embryonic stem cell research to continue, so long as it doesn't involve destruction of embryos. The decision avoided an all-out ban on embryonic research that some countries had been pushing for.
The agreement by ministers at a European Council meeting in Brussels came just a week after US President Bush vetoed a bill to extend government funding of embryonic research.
In large part the deal retains the status quo, meaning that human embryonic stem cell research will still be funded out of EU coffers, but that derivation of the cells cannot be funded by the EU and must be supported by national or other sources of cash.
Still, it has left some scientists disappointed. "It appears to be rather irrational," said Robin Lovell-Badge of the UK's National Institute for Medical Research in a statement, referring to the fact that it allows funding of research without funding derivation of the cell lines.
A spokesman for the Royal Society said Britain's national science academy was also disappointed. The decision prevents EU research funding being used to extract stem cells from early human embryos that are left over from fertility treatment "and that would anyway be destroyed," he said in a statement.
The council's negotiations were part of the ongoing process to approve the EU's next seven-year research funding budget, following its first reading in the European Parliament last month.
A coalition of eight countries, led by Germany, had wanted more restrictive rules to prevent the EU funding any embryonic stem cell research. Another group of countries, including Britain and France, said they wanted the EU to fund all stages of the research, including derivation of the cells. But in the yesterday's meeting, the countries agreed to the compromise.
Some scientists were more sanguine about the decision. "I think that it is a satisfactory compromise," Anthony Hollander from the University of Bristol told The Scientist. "Derivation of new lines will only take place in a few centers anyway...and I think it's very important that the EU acts in a united way, particularly in light of what's going on in the US."
EuropaBio, the biotech industry group, also welcomed the agreement. "We do think it's an advance," spokeswoman Adeline Farrelly told The Scientist. "It's a positive signal for European biotech research."
Meanwhile the decision by the council is not yet the final word on these restrictions. They will be revisited again in November in a second reading at the European Council.
Links within this article
2747th COMPETITIVENESS (Internal Market, Industry and Research) Council meeting, Brussels 24 July 2006 (provisional version)
N. Stafford, "EU stem cell funding in jeopardy?" The Scientist, March 28, 2006.
T. Agres, "Stem cell supporters upset by Bush veto," The Scientist, July 20, 2006.
S. Pincock, "European Parliament backs embryo research," The Scientist, June 16, 2006.