GENET archive


8-Misc: FAO stresses potential of biotechnology but calls for caution

----------------------------- GENET-news -----------------------------

TITLE:  FAO stresses potential of biotechnology but calls for caution
SOURCE: FAO Press Release 00/17
DATE:   March 15, 2000

-------------------- archive: --------------------

Dear GENET-news readers,
the FAO recently launched some (new) activities in the field of 
genetically engineered crops and food. On its web page (http:// you can read more about:

A) Task Force analyses the risks of foods derived from biotechnology
Do foods derived from biotechnology pose a threat to human health?
How can their potential risks be properly analysed?
These are some of the questions facing members of the FAO/WHO Codex 
Alimentarius Commission's Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on 
Foods derived from Biotechnology when they hold their first session, 
in Chiba, Japan, 14-17 March.

B) FAO launches an electronic forum on biotechnology
FAO has added a hot topic to its email conference list - 
biotechnology in developing countries. The Electronic Forum on 
Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture opened on 9 March and the first 
conference is due to start on 20 March. A website giving practical 
details, rules and background information is online (The Electronic 
Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture).

Hartmut Meyer


FAO stresses potential of biotechnology but calls for caution

Rome - Biotechnology provides powerful tools for the sustainable 
development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry and can be of 
significant help in meeting the food needs of a growing and 
increasingly urbanized population, the UN Food and Agriculture 
Organization (FAO) said in its first statement on biotechnology, 
published today. In the case of Genetically Modified Organisms 
(GMOs), however, FAO called for "a cautious case-by-case approach to 
determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO" and to 
address the "legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product 
and process prior to its release."

The statement was published on the occasion of the 'Codex 
Alimentarius Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived 
from Biotechnology', meeting in Chiba/Japan (14-17 March). The 
objectives of the Task Force are to develop standards, guidelines or 
recommendations, as appropriate, for foods derived from 
biotechnologies or traits introduced into foods by biotechnological 

Together with the World Health Organization, FAO provides the 
secretariat to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is an 
intergovernmental body with 165 member countries. It protects the 
health of consumers, ensures fair practices in food trade and 
promotes the coordination of food standards.

FAO recognized that genetic engineering has the potential to help 
increase production and productivity in agriculture, forestry and 
fisheries. It could lead to higher yields on marginal lands in 
countries that today cannot grow enough food to feed their people, 
the agency said. FAO also pointed out that "there are already 
examples where genetic engineering is helping to reduce the 
transmission of human and animal diseases through new vaccines. Rice 
has been genetically engineered to contain pro-vitamin A (beta 
carotene) and iron, which could improve the health of many low-income 

Other biotechnological methods have led to organisms that improve 
food quality and consistency, or that clean up oil spills and heavy 
metals in fragile ecosystems.

Tissue culture has produced plants that are increasing crop yields by 
providing farmers with healthier planting material. Marker-assisted 
selection and DNA fingerprinting allow a faster and much more 
targeted development of improved genotypes for all living species. 
They also provide new research methods which can assist in the 
conservation and characterization of biodiversity.

However, FAO said, it is aware of the concern about the potential 
risks posed by certain aspects of biotechnology that could have 
effects on human and animal health and the environment.

"Caution must be exercised in order to reduce the risks of 
transferring toxins from one life form to another, of creating new 
toxins or of transferring allergenic compounds from one species to 
another, which could result in unexpected allergic reactions. Risks 
to the environment include the possibility of outcrossing, which 
could lead, for example, to the development of more aggressive weeds 
or wild relatives with increased resistance to diseases or 
environmental stresses, upsetting the ecosystem balance. Biodiversity 
may also be lost, as a result of the displacement of traditional 
cultivars by a small number of genetically modified cultivars, for 

FAO called for a science-based evaluation that would objectively 
determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO. "The 
possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety 
need to be evaluated, and the extent to which the benefits of the 
product or process outweigh its risks assessed. The evaluation 
process should also take into consideration experience gained by 
national regulatory authorities in clearing such products. Careful 
monitoring of the post-release effects of these products and 
processes is also essential to ensure their continued safety to human 
beings, animals and the environment."

Investment in biotechnological research tends to be concentrated in 
the private sector and oriented towards agriculture in higher-income 
countries where there is purchasing power for its products, FAO said. 
"In view of the potential contribution of biotechnologies for 
increasing food supply and overcoming food insecurity and 
vulnerability, efforts should be made to ensure that developing 
countries, in general, and resource-poor farmers, in particular, 
benefit more from biotechnological research, while continuing to have 
access to a diversity of sources of genetic material. FAO proposes 
that this need be addressed through increased public funding and 
dialogue between the public and private sectors."

FAO assists its member countries, particularly developing countries, 
to reap the benefits derived from the application of biotechnologies 
through, for example, the network on plant biotechnology for Latin 
America and the Caribbean (REDBIO), which involves 33 countries. The 
Organization also assists developing countries to participate more 
effectively and equitably in international commodities and food 
trade. FAO provides technical information and assistance, as well as 
socio-economic and environmental analyses, on major global issues 
related to new technological developments.

The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, a 
permanent intergovernmental forum, is developing a Code of Conduct on 
Biotechnology aimed at maximizing the benefits of modern 
biotechnologies and minimizing the risks. The Code will be based on 
scientific considerations and will take into account the 
environmental, socio-economic and ethical implications of 
biotechnology. FAO is also working towards the establishment of an 
international expert committee on ethics in food and agriculture.

FAO emphasized, however, that the responsibility for formulating 
policies towards biotechnologies rests with the member governments 

For more information please contact:
Erwin Northoff
0039-06-5705 3105


|                   GENET                     |
| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
|                                             |
|             Hartmut MEYER (Mr)              |
|          Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51            |
|            D - 37083 Goettingen             |
|                 Germany                     |
|                                             |
| phone: +49-551-7700027                      |
| fax:   +49-551-7701672                      |
| email:                    |