GENET archive


8-Misc: FAO debate

Title: 8-Misc: FAO debate

Invitation to join the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and

Dear Colleagues,

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is
establishing an Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture.
We wish to invite you to be a member of the Forum.

Objectives of the Forum:

To provide an open forum that will allow a wide range of parties, including
governmental and non-governmental organisations, policy makers and the
general public, to discuss and exchange views and experiences about specific
issues concerning biotechnology in food and agriculture for developing
countries. This will be done through a series of e-mail conferences, each
lasting two months, on specific topics, for which background (before the
conferences) and summary documents (after) will be produced.

Background to the Forum:

Farmers and specialist breeders have developed and used many biotechnologies
to improve plants and animals within agriculture, or to make food and
agricultural products. Now, improvements in molecular science and in
reproductive biology and a radical new understanding of genetics have
resulted in the development of a range of new cutting-edge techniques. These
allow us to directly modify genetic material, better study the
extent/pattern of genetic variation, and they may greatly speed up progress.
They may also help us to tackle so far intractable problems. The Forum will
focus on such techniques.

Biotechnology is a collection of tools that can be applied to many areas of
food and agriculture (including animals, crops, fish and forest trees). This
collection comprises scientific tools that are very diverse and sometimes
highly controversial. They may pose ethical problems and require substantial
debate among policy makers, researchers and the public at large.
Particularly in some areas of biotechnology, the debate has become quite
polarised and there is therefore an increasing need for quality, unbiased,
factual information. It is in this spirit that the Forum is being

Practical Aspects of the Forum:

The Forum is open to all parties interested in biotechnology in food and
agriculture - NGOs, private industry, researchers, regional networks,
private individuals and, the main target group, policy makers (especially
those in developing countries). Registration is open to all, although active
participants will be required to state clearly their affiliation, if they
have any. The Forum is an official FAO activity and will be operated as a
joint activity of technical Departments of FAO and of the National
Agricultural Research Systems secretariat to the Global Forum on
Agricultural Research, and co-ordinated by the recently established FAO
Inter-Departmental Working Group on Biotechnology.

The Forum will operate a series of e-mail conferences on specific topics
that will be discussed for a limited 2-month time period only. The topics
will all have biotechnology as the core subject and may cover themes such as
biosafety, public/private agricultural research, biodiversity,
capacity-building, food safety, poverty alleviation, benefit sharing,
intellectual property rights and food production, all topics as they relate
to developing countries. As the Forum covers the broad range of activities
found within the area of food and agriculture, it will include topics both
of specific relevance to those interested in the animal, crop, fish or
forestry sectors or of general relevance to all sectors. To register for any
conference, individuals must first be members of the Forum and agree to
abide by the rules of the Forum.

Before a given e-mail conference begins, all members of the Forum will
receive an e-mail message inviting them to join the conference and giving
them information on the timing of the conference plus a background document
written in ''layman's language'' on the topic to be discussed. For all
topics, certain issues should always be addressed in the conference and
sought in the outputs, such as the practical consequences of the topic for
developing countries or the relative importance of the topic for different
regions of the developing world.

Forum members who register for a given e-mail conference will receive all
e-mail messages from the conference, although they can sign off whenever
they wish, and they may submit messages (of no more than 600 words) to the
discussion. At the end of 2 months, the discussion is terminated and a brief
summary document, again in layman's language, will be written and sent to
all members of the Forum. At the same time, a more comprehensive summary
document will also be written and made available. The summary documents will
provide a synopsis of the main arguments and concerns discussed and, as
such, will represent the current 'state of the debate' for that particular
topic. The background and summary documents will be used as material for a
future FAO publication. Whenever possible, the Forum will be linked to other
ongoing FAO activities. For example, selected contributions to the Forum
could be used as a basis for inviting people to present papers at the
planned International Symposium on Basic Food Commodities to be held at FAO,
Rome in June 2001.

More than one conference may be in operation at any given time. Each
conference will have a moderator, who will screen all messages before they
are posted to ensure that they follow the rules of the Forum (e.g., that
they are not offensive) and are relevant to the topic of the conference. The
moderator will play an active role in the conference to ensure that the
discussion is of high quality. The level of involvement of individual
members of the Forum will differ greatly. Some may choose not to register
for any conferences and will only receive the announcements and the
background and summary documents of each conference, while others may
register for many conferences.

A website to complement and support the Forum has been established
( It will contain information on the
e-mail conferences, including archives of all messages posted, plus a
glossary of biotechnology terminology.

Initial e-mail Conferences:

It is planned to begin with four conferences which will deal with the crop,
forestry, animal and fish sectors separately. The first conference will
begin within the next 2 weeks and will deal with the theme of ''how
appropriate are currently available biotechnologies in the crop sector for
food production and agriculture in developing countries''. It is planned
that the next two conferences (on the forestry and animal sectors) will
follow the same theme and begin roughly one month later and that the fourth
conference (on the fish sector) will begin a further two months after that.

Joining the Forum:

Individuals may register for the Forum at any time. This can be done by
sending an e-mail message to leaving the subject
blank and entering the one-line text message as follows: -

subscribe BIOTECH-L

No other text should be added to the message (e.g., mail signature)
otherwise FAO's mailserv facility will reject the subscription request. 

After registering, members will be provided with more information on
upcoming e-mail conferences and the rules of the Forum. Participation in the
Forum and its e-mail conferences is contingent upon and constitutes
acceptance of the rules of the Forum.

Contacting Us:

Please tell others about the Forum or let us know of others we should inform
about the Forum. For further information on the Forum, contact the Forum
Administrator at

9th March 2000
Research and Technology Development Service (SDRR)
Sustainable Development Department
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome

Huib de Vriend
stichting Consument en Biotechnologie
Postbus 1000
2500 BA Den Haag
The Netherlands
phone: +31 70 44 54 498
fax: +31 70 44 54 592