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Press Release 01/27


Rome, 3 May, 2001.- "Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), like all the new technologies, are instruments that can be used for good and for bad in the same way that they can be either managed to the benefit of the most needy or skewed to the advantage of specific groups," the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf said today.

"As scientific progress presents us with ever more powerful tools and seemingly boundless opportunities, we must exercise caution and ensure thorough ethical consideration of how these should be used. The benefits deriving from GMOs, for example, should be shared more fairly with developing countries and with resource-poo farmers. Above all, ways must be found to guarantee that increased production benefits accrue to the poor and food-insecure," FAO Director-General underlined.

The head of the UN specialized agency was commenting on two FAO publications - the first in a new series dedicated to ethics in food and agriculture - and on a report by an independent panel of eminent experts on the major issues and challenges facing humanity today, including the need for an equitable, ethical food and agriculture system.

The first publication, entitled "Ethical issues in food and agriculture", introduces ethical questions as they relate to FAO's mandate and describes a vision for building an ethical and equitable food and agriculture framework.

"Today ethical concerns are central to debates about the kind of future people want (...). Perhaps the most egregious problem is the widespread bias against the hungry and the poor (...). A more equitable, ethically-based, food and agriculture system must incorporate concern for three widely accepted global goals, each of which incorportate numerous normative propositions: improved well-being, protection of the environment and improved public health," the paper says.

The purpose of the second publication, entitled "Genetically modified organisms, consumers, food safety and the environment", is to share the current knowledge of genetically engineered products in relation to consumers, including the safety of their food and protection of their health, and environmental conservation.

The paper seeks to unravel and explore the claims and counterclaims being made in the GMO debate from an ethical perspective, considering issues related to the ownership of the necessary tools to produce GMOs, the potential consequences of their use and the undesirable effects that their application could have, both now and in the future.

The publication advocates interaction and involvement of all stakeholders in the decision-making process regarding GMOs. It underlines that modern biotechnology, if appropriately developed, could offer new and broad potential for contributing to food security. "However, it is not possible to make sweeping generalizations about GMOs, each application must be fully analysed on a case-by-case study."

Recently, FAO set up an internal committee on ethics in food and agriculture to provide guidance and determine the scope of ethical issues relevant to the Organization's mandate. "FAO is now addressing ethics in a more systematic way, and is giving higher visibility to the ethical dimensions of its work in an interdisciplinary manner across the various technical fields," FAO expert Margret Vidar points out.

FAO has also established an independent Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture to advise the Organization and raise public awareness of ethical considerations associated with such vital issues as food security for present and future generations and sustainable management of the earth's limited resources.

In their report, the Panel of Eminent Experts says: "FAO should support developing countries in increasing research and development related to socially useful and environment-friendly biotechnologies, including - as appropriate - the possible development of certain GMOs."

The Panel includes scientists from Ethiopia, China, Cuba, France, Malaysia, Morocco, Norway and the United States, appointed for a four-year period. They met, for the first time, last September and will meet again in 2002.


For further information on FAO ethics series papers, please call Margret Vidar (tel.: 0039.06.57054260; email: or consult website

Audio clips (2)

1. Dr. Asbjørn Eide, Norway, Chair of the Panel, is a Member of the UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. In a News Conference that took place in FAO, last 28 September 2000, he reported on what the Panel addressed as the major potentials and risks of GMOS.


In Realaudio(241Kb)

In mp3 (912Kb)

2. Dr Francisco J. Ayala, USA, is a Professor of Biological Sciences and Philosophy at the University of California at Irvine. Addressing the Press at FAO HQs, last September, he reiterated the Panel's appeal to Corporations to take into consideration the interests of others. (1min26sec)

In Realaudio(177Kb)

In mp3 (669Kb)


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