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TITLE:  FAO warns of 'molecular divide' between North and South
        Biotechnology - the gap between poor and rich countries is widening
SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organisation, Italy, News Release
DATE:   Feb 18, 2003

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FAO warns of 'molecular divide' between North and South
Biotechnology - the gap between poor and rich countries is widening

18 February 2003, Rome -- The promises and potential of biotechnology are
not equally shared between developed and developing countries, the FAO
Assistant Director-General, Louise Fresco, said in a statement issued
today. She warned of a "molecular divide", saying that "the gap between
rich and poor farmers, between research priorities and needs, and between
technology development and actual technology transfer, is widening." To
bridge the molecular divide, "biotechnology must be redirected to address
the pressing needs of the poor and the new requirements for food quality
and quantity and new agricultural products." An open dialogue should be
ensured on the benefits and risks of biotechnologies. Poor countries and
farmers should have access to genetic resources and to the technologies
and means to use them.

Neglected crops

"There are currently no serious investments in any of the five most
important crops in the semi-arid tropics - sorghum, millet, pigeon pea,
chickpea and groundnut," said Louise Fresco, who heads FAO's Agriculture
Department. "This is largely because 70 percent of the agricultural
biotechnology investments are by multinational private sector research,
mostly in developed or advanced developing countries." "Today 85% of all
plantings of transgenic crops globally are herbicide-resistant soybean,
insect-resistant maize and genetically improved cotton varieties,
designed to reduce input and labour costs in large scale production
systems, not to feed the developing world or increase food quality,"
Louise Fresco said. "There are no major public sector programmes to
tackle more critical problems of the poor and the environment or
targeting crops such as cassava or small ruminants."

Choosing the best option

Biotechnology is only one way to increase food quality and quantity in a
sustainable way, Ms Fresco said. Choosing the best options to address
specific production problems in developing countries should be based on
economic, technical, social, trade and safety considerations.
"Biotechnology may add new dimensions to the existing integrated
approaches, but not replace them." "Perhaps the greatest potential of
biotechnologies does not come from genetically modified organisms (GMOs),
but from genetic markers, genomics and proteomics which can complement
conventional breeding strategies and enhance their efficiency," Ms Fresco
said. "Vaccines and virus-free plant materials hold great potential.
Biotechnology-based diagnostic tools can be of great help to quickly
identify many viral, fungal, and bacterial pathogens. Biotechnological
research should focus on key challenges facing developing countries such
as drought, soil erosion and salinity. The point is harnessing genetic
resources through biotechnology, and not just manipulating them," Ms
Fresco added.

Research needs to be reversed

"I am most concerned that agronomic research is becoming increasingly
specialized and exclusively focused on the plant or cellular levels."
"Pressures on research institutes to obtain external funding may lead to
over-emphasizing biotech-related research. Already, the perceived profit
potential of GMOs has changed the direction of investment away from
systems-based approaches to pest management and toward a greater reliance
on monocultures: the possible long-term environmental and economic costs
of such strategies should not be overlooked," Ms. Fresco warned. The key
for reorienting research for the benefit of developing countries is a
funding issue, Ms Fresco stressed. "I would like to call urgently for
reversing the decline in funding to public research, and creating
incentives to harness private/public sector partnerships."

Contact: Erwin Northoff Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105

read the full statement at: