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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Science in Europe in October, 08

In today's edition:
  1. Industry leaders team up on science and maths education
  2. Study: Regulatory hurdles hinder use of green pesticides
  3. EU food safety watchdog outlines future challenges
  4. No regulatory void on nanotech, says Commission
  5. Report: Technology platforms failing on R&D commercialisation
I mostly enjoy articles showing the helplessness of European science. We're many, we are strong, but we're kind of stupid. And I don't mean we're not intelligent, we are. The problem is that we're so used to the old ways, we simply don't know how to use the current situation. But that eventually will change. Hopefully. What I'm talking about? Check the articles.

Industry leaders team up on science and maths education

3 October 2008

Europe's main industry leaders have launched an initiative to develop cooperation between schools and businesses to renew interest in maths, science and technology (MST) in a bid to avoid shortages of skilled engineers in future.

"Europe needs more highly skilled, qualified and motivated individuals to push back the technological frontier in order to improve economic growth and employment," said Commission President José Manuel Barroso, welcoming the European Round Table of Industrialists' (ERT) initiative on 2 October.

Describing MST skills as the driving force of Europe's increasingly knowledge-based societies, Barroso stated: "We need to adapt our education and training systems so that they provide these skills alongside specific technical or vocational competences." This, he said, could only be done via continuous dialogue between business and education.

ERT Vice Chairman and Volvo Group CEO Leif Johansson said ERT member companies were committed to supporting Europe's schools, teachers and universities to "put MST into meaningful life and career contexts, provide access to role models and keep teachers informed of what MST careers are". He promised hat such engagement would be "long term".

According to the Commission, science education is key to innovation, with some 20 million new, high-skilled jobs expected to be created by 2020. Last year, an expert group at the EU executive recommendedPdf external an overhaul of science teaching in European schools to fully harness potential and inspire future generations of science students. source

My comment:Very good idea. It's nice to see that industry guys got interested in science. Even if it's somewhat lame try, it's still better than nothing. And I also think that it's extremely important to get more young people on the scientific track. It's so deserted in our faculty...

Study: Regulatory hurdles hinder use of green pesticides

8 October 2008

The development of biological pest control agents is being held back by shortcomings in the current European regulatory system for pesticides, argues a UK study, which describes biopesticides as "midway" between conventional and organic farming.

Biopesticides include naturally occurring fungi, bacteria and viruses. They are applied like chemical pesticides, but according to a recent studyPdf , their "obvious benefits" include their minimal impact on other organisms, compatibility with other natural enemies, absence of toxic residues and the fact that "they are relatively cheap to develop".

"It is evident that biopesticides have a potentially important contribution to make to a competitive agriculture industry," said University of Warwick Professor Wyn Grant, who led the research on biopesticide sustainability.

According to him, biological pest control has the potential "to increase consumer confidence in fruit and vegetables whilst moving away from a polarised and over-simplified choice between conventional and organic modes of production".

The study further suggests that their wider commercial availability is being hampered by the absence of an internal European market for pesticides, which makes securing economies of scale difficult for SMEs, the main developers and producers of green pesticides.

It suggests introducing a system of mutual recognition of pesticides between EU countries to help overcome the problem. Such a measure is currently being considered at EU level under a broad review of EU pesticides legislation.

The study also found that environmental groups lack public engagement in the biopesticides debate, which was due to "indifference rather than hostility".

Finally, the researchers underlined that the environmental sustainability of deploying green pesticides in agricultural systems remained "unclear", arguing that more research into the ecology of micro-organisms was needed to understand the function of even those that are naturally widespread in agro-ecosystems. source

My comment:Mhm, that's interesting. But I think that we should be careful with the little guys-there are not as harmless as we think. The only good think in chemicals is that they are very definite in their action. Even although we don't know all about them yet. While organisms are different. They change, adapt and ultimately-evolve. And then, they get very unpredictable.

EU food safety watchdog outlines future challenges

7 October 2008

Globalisation, climate change, new technologies and environmental pollution caused by agri-chemicals are among the risks that the agri-food sector will face in future, argues the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The challenges are identified in a draft strategic planPdf external outlining the agency's work for the next five years.

Adopted by the EFSA management board on 2 October, the strategy notes that global food trade is rising and consumers are increasingly demanding year-round access to seasonal and convenience foods. Further globalisation is expected to increase the likelihood of "new or re-emerging risks" such as mad cow disease (BSE), it says.

Societal changes, including challenges posed by ageing societies such as health and diet and changes in consumer behaviour - as well as obesity and associated diseases - are also expected to impact upon the work of EFSA.

New food production technologies also present "new challenges", notes EFSA, listing nanotechnology, cloning, genomics and proteomics (the study of proteins) as examples.

Regarding European agriculture and sustainability, the authority notes that "the trend towards high-yielding, disease-free raw materials and the application of agrichemicals" poses a challenge as it impacts upon soil, water supplies and pollution and could lead to the potential contamination of food and feed crops. Therefore, EFSA expects to carry out more environmental risk assessments in years to come.

The sustainability risk is said to go hand-in-hand with the challenge of climate change, which is expected to change plant and animal disease distribution and, indirectly, the use of agri-chemicals. Bluetongue, a cattle disease common in southern Europe, was recently found as far north as the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany (EurActiv 21/08/06), and "may be an early indicator of what we might expect in future," stated EFSA.

Finally, the authority notes that its own workload represents a challenge due to steadily increasing demand for its services caused by changes in the EU's policies and regulatory framework. The organisation therefore plans to grow from about 300 employees in 2007 to nearly 500 in 2013.

A public consultationexternal on the draft strategic plan is open until 3 November, after which the EFSA management board is expected to adopt the final plan before the end of 2008. source

My comment: Lol, some documents of EU resemble very much of some communist documents :) As for this document-it's simply non-sense. I think some guys get paid only to write propaganda. If only they worked not only on words.

No regulatory void on nanotech, says Commission

7 October 2008

While knowledge gaps remain regarding the potential risks of nanotechnologies, the European Commission again expressed confidence that existing EU regulation can be applied to this emerging sector, stressing that the challenge ahead lies in their implementation.

"We are not in a regulatory void," said Cornelis Brekelmans, an official in charge of regulatory aspects of nanotechnology at the European Commission.

Speaking at a conference on 2 October, Brekelmans said this was because EU rules impose a risk assessment on all products, adding that nanomaterials were no exception to this obligation.

"We may decide not to authorise a product," the official warned during the Second Annual Nanotechnology Safety for Successexternal Dialogue Workshop in Brussels. Depending on the outcome of such assessments, the authorities may review, modify or cancel authorisations, he explained.

According to the Commission official, "the real issue is implementation and enforcement". The basis on which a product can be banned must be better identified, he added, calling for enforcement capacities at national level to be strengthened in this respect.

The Commission, he said, remains "convinced that a lot of work still has to be done" on testing, standards and guidelines, while product authorisations must be conducted "on a case-by-case basis".

Cornelis Brekelmans, an official in charge of regulatory aspects of nanotechnology at the European Commission retorted that the absence of specific regulation on nanomaterial was "not really important," describing EU rules on product approvals as "technology neutral". If a specific regulation needed to be modified every time there was a new technology, it would mean we had failed, the official pointed out.

As for the labelling of nanotech-based products, Brekelmans said current rules stated that if there was a risk, it should be indicated.

Brekelmans's view was challenged by Greens/EFA Group political advisor Axel Singhofen. Arguing that "the reality is not quite how you present it," Singhofen asked whether the Commission was ready to accept a shift to pre-market authorisation for nanomaterials. This would mean that their safety would have to be proven before they could enter the market.

However, Brekelmans said he did not believe that prior authorisation was "the best way forward". source

My comment: I also think that the current legislation is not very good. People simply don't realise how different nano-stuff are from ordinary stuff. And they definitely need better testing. And the way-forward is very effective, for testing. The only problem is that people generally don't agree to be test-subjects when their health is in danger.

Report: Technology platforms failing on R&D commercialisation

3 October 2008

More regulatory and standardisation efforts are needed to help translate research results into new products and services, concludes an independent evaluation of the European technology platforms (ETPs).

It is clear that the 30-odd ETPs launched by the EU since 2003 have contributed to more R&D investment and helped to overcome EU research fragmentation, said Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik at a meeting of the platforms' industrial leaders on 30 September. However, he noted that a recent evaluation of the platform had "identified some areas where we might consider changing the way in which ETPs work".

Technology platformsexternal are large industry-lead stakeholder groups aiming to define a common long-term vision and a 'Strategic Research Agenda' in a specific research sector. Their primary objective is to influence industrial and research policy at the EU, national and regional levels, so as to encourage public and private investment in R&D and innovation in key technological areas, as well as to help overcome barriers to quick commercialisation of research results.

But the evaluation shows that industry has not made as much progress as expected. But "in spite of the huge amount of work carried out to build the SRA [Strategic Research Agenda] and to animate the deployment [of key technologies], the practical results are still very low-level and disappointing," one stakeholder involved in the evaluation says.

The evaluation also highlights the failure of the ETPs to make research results more easily translatable into new products and services. To remedy the situation, the evaluation recommends that ETPs "move beyond scientific and technological challenges" and instead start focusing on the application of research results.

In addition, the evaluation concludes that the platforms have "underachieved" regarding the identification of future education and training needs and recommends the introduction of more initiatives in this field in the near future.

Finally, the report notes that there have been some "differences in expectations between the Commission, the ETPs and the various stakeholders" and that industry is disappointed that SRAs have not had more influence on the strategic priorities and funding allocation of the EU's Seventh Reserch Framework Programme (FP7). Therefore, the report recommends clarifying the concept and the ambitions behind ETPs. source

My comment:Hehe, my beloved reports on obvious things. I don't know when people will get it that the problem isn't in the science or in the industry, but in the people in the middle-those that sniff for potentially profitable researches and find funding for them.

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