Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Biotechnology is a powerful tool to feed an increasing world population,
but its "positive and negative potential" should be carefully evaluated,
the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today. "All concerns
must be clearly balanced, respecting ethical aspects but reflecting the
actual and potential possibilities of increasing food supplies and alleviating
hunger," FAO said in a report prepared for the Committee on Agriculture.
The Committee will meet on 25-29 January in Rome. Delegates from some
100 countries will discuss issues such as organic farming, urban agriculture
and the monitoring of land and freshwater resources.
World population is forecast to reach 7.5 billion people by 2020, with
6.3 billion living in developing countries. Although the rate of population
growth is decreasing, the increase in absolute numbers of people to be
fed may be such that the carrying capacity of agricultural lands could
soon be reached given current technology.
Biotechnology (*), together with other technologies, could provide new
solutions for some of the old problems hindering sustainable rural development
and achievement of food security, FAO said.
"Biotechnology-derived solutions built into the genotype of plants could
reduce use of agrochemicals, thus promoting sustainable yields." The application
of pesticides and fungicides could be reduced through plants with genetic
pest resistance. Plants with high tolerance for conditions of salinity
or high iron toxicity could help to improve agricultural production in
Some biotechnological techniques, like in vitro culture, are very helpful
for maintenance of germplasm collections of species with low fertility
and of species that are hard to keep as seeds or in field gene banks,
according to the FAO report.
"Biotechnology may reduce GENETIC DIVERSITY indirectly by displacing
landraces and their inherent diversity as farmers adopt genetically uniform
varieties of plants and other organisms. At the same time it increases
the potential to preserve and sustainably use diversity. In the case of
endangered animal breeds, cryopreservation and somatic cloning can strengthen
traditional conservation strategies," the report said.
"In many developing countries funding for research in agriculture is
being reduced, and often research is being privatized with the risk that
it could be aimed mainly at resource rich farmers", the report said.
"Biotechnology research and policy should also address the needs of the
poor who depend on agriculture, particularly in marginal areas where productivity
increases will be more difficult to achieve."
"Much biotechnology is more expensive than conventional research, so
it should be used only to solve specific problems where it has a comparative
advantage," the report said.
To be truly productive, knowledge and infrastructure are required to
apply biotechnology, according to the report. Biotechnology research requires
skilled scientists, well-equipped laboratories, a constant supply of good
quality water, reliable electricity and access to the Internet and other
The report called for "adequate BIOSAFETY REGULATIONS, risk assessment
of biotechnology products, mechanisms and instruments for monitoring use
and compliance to ensure that there will be no harmful effects on the
environment or for people." Countries must be helped to develop appropriate
legislation and to set up proper regulatory bodies for all aspects of
biosafety, FAO said.
Some of the potential environmental risks concern plant pests. Gene escape
from Genetically Modified Organisms may result in increased weediness
in wild species, according to FAO. The inclusion of novel genes for herbicide
resistance in plants may increase the occurrence of weeds with resistance
to certain agrochemicals, the report warned. "The inclusion of pest resistance
in plants should be carefully evaluated for potential development of RESISTANCE
IN PESTS and possible side-effects on beneficial organisms."
"It is vital that developing countries are not left at the edge of development
nor in a disadvantaged position," the report said. FAO should help members
to optimize their capacity to develop, adapt and utilize biotechnology
and its products to suit their needs and environment, and thus enhance
global food security and improve living standards for all. (*) This covers
the application of tissue culture, immunological techniques, molecular
genetics and recombinant DNA techniques in all facets of agricultural
production and agro-industry.
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The complete FAO COAG document on Biotecnology is available on Internet