Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
delivered at the

Technical workshop on GM crops assessment
related to biosafety issues: the practical guidelines

Rama Garden Hotel,Bangkok, Thailand
7 - 10 September 2004

Chakarn Saengruksawong, Director-General, Department of Agriculture
Prapaisri Pitakpaiwan, Inspector-General, Office of the Permanent Secretary
Yoshitake Tsuzuki, First Secretary, Embassy of Japan
Distinguished guests and participants
Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning,

First of all, I would like to welcome all of you on behalf of the FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf and on my own behalf to this meeting in Bangkok. It is indeed a great pleasure for me to address this Technical workshop on GM crops assessment related to biosafety issues: the practical guidelines organized by the Department of Agriculture of the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and co-sponsored by FAO.

Despite limited natural resource endowments and its massive population base, Asia has made substantial inroads in eradicating poverty and food insecurity during the last three decades. Literacy rates have considerably increased, and improved nutrition and public health programmes have raised life expectancies by over a generation in only half a century.

These past achievements form the context for new advances, many in critical development areas: extensive education and agricultural research networks; developments in information and communication technologies; modern biotechnology; social innovations; growing regional and global economic linkages; and international trade.

In particular, the Asian region is still facing many socio-political and development challenges, two of the most pressing ones being high levels of poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor. In addition, many factors affect its ability to achieve sustainable food security for all. Ensuring access to food for the hungry and poor will thus persist as a major challenge within the strategic time horizon of the UN Millennium Development Goals and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Agricultural production systems in Asia are rapidly evolving in response to increasing demand for food as well as to globalization pressures. Modern biotechnology applications and their capacity to enhance both the quality and volume of food and agricultural commodities and products, have moved to the forefront of policy discussions.

Biotechnology, especially genetically modified or GM crops, is undergoing rapid progress and is regarded as having significant potential for increasing food productivity and improving food quality. While there is large consensus that agricultural research and development – including biotechnology applications – need to be pursued vigorously in order to meet future food demands of the increased world population, there are concerns over the safety of GM crops. These concerns relate to consumer safety as well as potential adverse effects on ecosystems considered essential for sustainable agriculture and for maintaining agricultural biological diversity.

FAO advocates that biosafety of GMOs should be considered in the framework of the integrated concept of biosecurity, which covers issues related to biosafety, food safety and plant as well as animal health. In fact, the integrated management of all biological risks can be conducive to significant efficiency gains and cost reductions, particularly in developing countries.

Recognizing the potential of biotechnology – including genetic engineering for increasing agricultural productivity – FAO continues to emphasize the need for systematic risk assessment and management in terms of biosecurity, environmental sustainability and food safety. In this regard, FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that determines in an objective manner the benefits and risks of each individual GMO product. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product prior to its release into the environment or placed on the market. The possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety need to be evaluated, and the extents to which the benefits of the product or process outweigh assessed risks are subjected to scientific assessment.

Unlike the green revolution, which was based on public sector research and resulted in dramatic increases of agricultural productivity in many Asian countries through disseminating the results freely as public goods, GMO research is dominated by the private sector, which focuses all efforts on commodities and traits that are of commercial value and privileges therefore goals of relevance for industrialized countries. It is therefore urgent to foster agricultural biotechnology research initiatives in the public institutions and to promote public-private partnerships, in order to address efforts and investments towards those objectives that can better meet the needs of the resource-poor farmers in less developed areas.

Recognizing the need to establish mechanisms for assessing and managing potential environmental risks associated with GM crops under the Cartagena Protocol on Biological Diversity, FAO with funding support from the government of Japan is implementing the regional project Capacity building in biosafety of GM crops in Asia together with national partners in the 10 participating and other selected countries in the region. The project aims to provide capacity building support to developing countries in the crucial endeavor of ensuring biosafety while embracing the full benefits derived from new technologies.

To meet these challenges, the project is carrying out activities which aim to enhance the capacities of the participating countries in assessing and managing the risks and monitoring the impacts on agro-ecosystems of GM crops. The National Stakeholders Workshop is the one of these activities in which relevant institutions – dealing with diverse aspects such as national legislation, regulation and capacity building – coordinate the promotion and establishment of national biosafety framework.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our present knowledge and appreciation of biodiversity and biosafety issues is the basis upon which we are carrying out consultations for the establishment of national biosafety frameworks. It is largely recognized that modern agricultural biotechnology and its applications, when properly integrated with other technologies and local wisdom, has great potential for increasing productivity, increasing the nutritional value of agricultural products, reducing production costs, and the adverse impact of agriculture on the environment.

As partners in this project, you all play a very important role in ensuring that critical scientific assessments of biotechnology and GMO products are undertaken. The workshop will provide added direction and programmes related to biosafety and biodiversity which need to be taken into account in particular for the assessment of GM crops or genetically engineered products prior to their release. The reference to “practical guidelines” in the title of the workshop highlights the genuine objective of this meeting to endow concerned parties such as researchers, government officers, policy makers and the private sector with practical knowledge and capacity on biosafety measures. Consequently, enhanced efficiency with and confidence in handling GM crops are the main intended outcomes of this workshop.

Your meeting also provides opportunities to discuss closer collaboration among participating institutions in order to promote the harmonization of national capacities, including in such fields as legislation, regulations and policies for biosafety of GM crops. Thus, your support through sharing of information and full participation in the discussions will generate the outputs required to further guide the project in achieving its objectives.

In conclusion, I should like to reiterate that FAO will continue to work with countries in the Asia-Pacific region and with international organizations like CGIAR, UNEP, JIRCAS, APAARI to address issues relating to the use of agricultural science to reduce hunger and poverty.

I wish you successful and fruitful discussions.

Thank you.