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FAO Press Release 02/32

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Ethics in Food and Agriculture

Presentation of the Panel of Eminent Experts

Ethics panel addresses biotechnology concerns

Ethics in food and agriculture: new publication series

Rome, 18 March 2002. - Ethical issues related to globalisation and agricultural intensification will be addressed by the Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture (*) gathered in Rome from 18 to 20 March 2002 for its second session, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today.

The Panel was established by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf in 2000 to advise FAO on key ethical issues in food and agriculture and to help raise the level of public awareness and debate. At its first session in September 2000, the Panel addressed biotechnologies and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

This time, Panel discussions will focus on two concept papers being prepared by FAO: "Ethics and Globalisation of Food and Agriculture" and "The Ethics of Sustainable Agricultural Intensification". Its recommendations on these issues will be important not only for FAO but also for the scientific community, which is giving higher priority to the ethical dimensions of economic and agricultural development.

Ethical challenges for food and agriculture posed by the process of globalisation include loss of cultural identity and diversity and accelerated loss of biodiversity and degradation of natural resources. In certains circumstances, globalisation may lead to the persistence of food insecurity and poverty in rural communities and it may also intensify clashes of interests between poor and rich countries, FAO says.

The Panel's deliberations will focus on a series of unresolved questions, such as: Can the needs of today's generations be balanced against those of future generations if globalisation speeds the process of loss of biodiversity? Does concentration of economic power in the hands of multinational corporations play a significant role in the persistence of food insecurity and poverty? Does the economic power of the rich countries put the poor ones at a disadvantage in developing their agriculture sectors? Is there a political will to launch new international agriculture initiatives?

Regarding sustainable agricultural intensification, the FAO concept paper suggests that ethical considerations must be taken into account when attempting to reconcile the need for more intensive production systems, with the need to protect the environment. "Sustainable intensification will require development paths that achieve greater productivity without dependency on non-renewable resources and that respect the integrity of the global biosphere."

The paper continues: "Sustainability will require ensuring that everyone has access to food and development opportunities. In deciding the agricultural development paths of the future, there is an ethical imperative to establish an adequate practical process of systematic consultation, through public forums, citizen's representation on policy boards, and greater civic education. Who has, and who should have, the responsibility for choices among alternative paths of agricultural intensification?"

At the end of its second session, the Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture will present its findings at a news conference scheduled for Wednesday 20 March 2002 at 14 h 30 in the Iran Room, at FAO Headquarters.

(*) The Panel members are Professor Francisco J. Ayala (University of California, Irvine), Professor Chen Chunming (Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine), Professor Asbjorn Eide (Norwegian Institute of Human Rights), Madame NoŰlle Lenoir (former member of Conseil constitutionnel franšais), Dr Mohammed Rami (Adviser to the Prime Minister and former Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Rabat, Morocco), Dr Mohammed Nor Salleh (Tropbio Research, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), Dra Lydia Tablada Romero (CENSA, Habana, Cuba) and Dr Melaku Worede (geneticist, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).

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