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World Summit Negotiators Urged to Make Good on Promises

C.S. Prakash at 1-334-444-7884 (prakash@agbioworld.org)
  Gregory Conko at 1-202-550-2974 (greg@agbioworld.org)

Auburn, AL August 22, 2002 -- The AgBioWorld Foundation today urged representatives to next week's World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa to live up to a ten-year-old commitment to facilitate the introduction of advanced biotechnologies into less developed nations. "At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, negotiators committed to using biotechnology to advance sustainable development goals," said AgBioWorld president C.S. Prakash, a professor of plant genetics at Tuskegee University. "But for the past ten years, most industrialized nations have been actively preventing this from becoming a reality."

The Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN's "Agenda 21" -- adopted by more than 178 governments at the Rio Earth Summit -- both acknowledge that biotechnology can be used to improve food security, healthcare, and environmental protection, and the governments committed to fostering its introduction. Thousands of scientists from around the world, and dozens of independent scientific bodies, including the UN's World Health Organization and Food and Agricultural Organization, agree that food biotechnology poses no more risk to consumers or the environment than conventional breeding.

Most importantly, biotech methods can enhance food productivity in less developed countries, while reducing pesticide use and improving biodiversity. "To meet the needs of the 8.3 billion people projected to be on this planet in 2025, the genetic improvement of food crops must include both conventional technology and biotechnology," said Dr. Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico.

Nevertheless, the UN's 2001 Human Development Report found that "the opposition to yield-enhancing [biotech] crops in industrial countries with food surpluses could block the development and transfer of those crops to food-deficit countries." Restrictions and regulations that are scientifically unjustified could jeopardize the ability of the poorest nations to feed growing populations, the report noted. "To continue blocking biotechnology, as many European, Asian, and African nations have, is a derogation of their duty under Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity," said Prakash.

"Extremists in the environmental movement, largely from rich nations or the privileged strata in poor nations, seem to be doing everything they can to stop scientific progress in its tracks," added Borlaug. "It is ironic, that the platform of the anti-biotechnology extremists, if it were to be adopted, would have grievous consequences for both the environment and humanity."

The AgBioWorld Foundation (www.AgBioWorld.org) is a non-profit organization that provides information to teachers, journalists, policymakers, and the general public about developments in plant science, biotechnology, and sustainable agriculture.