Press Release 01/27
"GMOs CAN BE USED FOR GOOD AND FOR BAD," JACQUES DIOUF SAYS
FAO DIRECTOR-GENERAL UNVEILS TWO NEW PUBLICATIONS, THE FIRST IN A SERIES
ON ETHICS IN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
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
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
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
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
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
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:
email@example.com) 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 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 mp3 (669Kb)
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