Ladies and gentlemen
It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here with you to open the second meeting of Focal Points for the FAO implemented and Japan funded project on Capacity building in biosafety of GM crops in Asia. First of all, I would like to welcome all of you to Bangkok on behalf of the Director-General of FAO, Jacques Diouf, and on my own behalf.
The world is now facing many challenges, some of which are due to its high unproportionally distributed populations and high population growth rates which exacerbate resources and leads to problems of poverty and food insecurity.
Biotechnology, especially with regards to Genetically Modified or GM crops, is regarded as having a significant potential for increasing food production and for the improvement of food quality. Although expectations are high regarding its role in addressing food and economic solutions, there are some concerns over the safety of GM crops. These concerns relate to the potential adverse effects they might have on ecosystems as well as their safety for consumers, which have become the critical issue for maintaining sustainable agriculture and biological diversity.
FAO, while recognizing the potential of biotechnology for increasing agricultural production, continues to give careful consideration to the potential risk of GM crops on ecosystems and human health. Thus, FAO maintains a consistent policy relating to the application and use of biotechnology that it should always be viewed within a framework that includes systematic risk assessment and management relating to biodiversity, environmental sustainability and food safety. In this respect, FAO supports a scientific evaluation system which would objectively determine the risks and benefits of each individual GMO. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product prior to its release. The possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety needs to be carefully addressed, evaluated, and monitored. The extents to which the benefits of the product or process outweigh the associated risks are subjected to the final scientific assessment.
In the Asia region, countries are at different stages of research and development in dealing with GMOs and also with regards to their capacity to scientifically evaluate, assess as well as manage the risks and benefits associated with the release, use and cross boundary movements of GM products. Regional harmonization of biosafety standards, regulations and guidelines should therefore foster better use of resources among countries together with improved national capacities for the implementation and enforcement of regulations that would promote mutual acceptance of modified organisms and the products derived from them.
Recognizing the need to establish mechanisms for assessing and managing the 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 this project Capacity building in biosafety of GM crops in Asia together with partners at national level in selected countries in Asia. The project aims to provide support for institutional and capacity building to developing countries in this crucial endeavor of ensuring biosafety while embracing the full benefits derived from the new technologies.
Last year, the project held a regional consultation from July 7 to 10 and identified the strengths and weaknesses of national capacities in order to prioritize support needed for enhancing biosafety practices and promote harmonization of biosafety methodologies, standards and regulations. The establishment of an Asian Bio-Net which could provide a mechanism for sustained collaboration amongst Asian countries was one of the main issues discussed and approved at the regional consultation. So, we would like to call this meeting in brief the Asian Bio-Net Meeting. It will review the present status of biosafety in participating countries in order to fully understand and apprehend the problems and constraints faced in the region. The consultation will consequently draw up an enhanced and more focused project work plan for 2004, while deepening our discussions on the long-term strategies to be adopted by countries in the region.
As national partners to this project, participants to this meeting have a very important role in ensuring that critical scientific assessments and management of GMOs are undertaken. In this connection, the project will provide guiding directions and propose programmes and activities in relation to biosafety which will facilitate a comprehensive and science-based assessment for every GM crop or genetically engineered product prior to its release in countries in the region.
The Asian Bio-Net Meeting in my view also offers a unique opportunity to discuss opportunities for networking and enhanced collaboration among participating countries in order to promote the harmonization of national capacities – including legislation, regulations and policies – for biosafety of GM crops and the implementation of supporting national training and workshops. Thus, your support through the sharing of information and your full participation in the discussions should generate much needed information and provide a platform which will guide the project in achieving its objectives.
I wish you all a fruitful meeting and an enjoyable stay in Thailand.