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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 13:48 GMT
MEPs back research on stem cells
By Shirin Wheeler
BBC correspondent in Strasbourg

Stem cell
Stem cells can be taken from embryos
Members of the European Parliament have voted to allow EU money to be used to fund research on embryonic stem cells.

They backed the European Commission proposals to lift the current ban imposed in some EU states where using human embryos in research is banned.

The European Union's research budget is worth billions - second only to its budget for farming subsidies.

But the final decision on whether to allow to fund research will rest with EU trade and industry ministries.

The European Parliament's vote is not binding, but it will be a positive signal to Europe's biotech companies - who are concerned that they could lose out to countries in the Far East like Korea, China and Singapore.

'Most promising'

Members of the European Parliament from Catholic countries like Ireland, Germany and Austria mounted a fierce campaign to uphold a ban, but a majority of MEPs still voted to lift the moratorium.

Stem cell research is regarded by many as one of the most promising and profitable areas of biotechnology, with European companies leading the way.

It is hoped it could help treat diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's, but the fact that it uses human embryos has meant resistance to allowing EU funds to be channelled into this area for research.

However, the final decision will rest with the EU's trade and industry ministers. It will not be easy to find consensus in this ethical minefield.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Shirin Wheeler
"Finding agreement in this ethical minefield won't be easy"



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