Agricultural Biotechnologies
Agricultural Biotechnologies in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry  Biotech-banner

The News items relate to applications of biotechnologies in food and agriculture in developing countries and their major focus is on the activities of FAO, other UN agencies/bodies and the 15 CGIAR research centres. The News items cover all food and agricultural sectors (crops, forestry, fisheries/aquaculture, livestock, agro-industry) and a wide range of biotechnologies (e.g. use of molecular markers, artificial insemination, triploidisation, biofertilisers, micropropagation, genomics, genetic modification etc.). New documents are included as News if they are freely available on the web and, for people who can't download them or who wish further information, an e-mail contact is also provided. The News service was launched in January 2002 and all News items posted since then (there were 800 in the first 9 years) are available here. The news and event items on this website are also disseminated through an e-mail newsletter called FAO-BiotechNews that is published in six different versions, one per language i.e. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. To subscribe, send a message to indicating which e-mail addresses are to be subscribed and in which language they wish to receive the newsletter.


One of the reports prepared for the 17th Session of FAO`s Committee on Agriculture, discussed on 3 April 2003, is entitled "Biosecurity in food and agriculture". The term Biosecurity covers the introduction of plant pests, animal pests and diseases, and zoonoses, the introduction and release of GMOs and their products, and the introduction and management of invasive alien species and genotypes. The document is based on the outcome of a broad consultation process on Biosecurity, which included an inter-agency meeting as well as an expert consultation in September 2002, specialised studies and bilateral interaction with interested bodies, and which culminated in an inter-governmental technical consultation in Bangkok in January 2003. See (document COAG/2003/9 - in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish). In addition, the final report of the Bangkok consultation has recently been put on the web (see For more information, contact
The 31st Session of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling took place in Ottawa, Canada from 28 April to 2 May 2003. The Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is an intergovernmental body set up to establish international standards on foods. One of the items on the agenda for the 31st Session was the "Proposed Draft Guidelines for the Labelling of Foods and Food Ingredients Obtained through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification / Genetic Engineering". The report of the meeting (report ALINORM 03/22A), plus the agenda and working documents, are available at or contact for further information.
On the occasion of the third World Water Forum (WWF-3), held on 16-23 March 2003 in Kyoto, Japan, FAO presented a new study entitled "Unlocking the water potential of agriculture". It analyses current trends and prospects in agricultural water management and its relation to food security, poverty alleviation and economic growth. Chapter 3 considers ways of improving water productivity (i.e. ratio of crop output to water input) at the individual plant level, through classical breeding and/or genetic engineering, or at the field and agro-ecological or river-basin level. See a news story on the study ( - in Arabic, English, French and Spanish), an information package on FAO at WWF-3 ( - in English, French and Spanish) or contact for further information or to request a comprehensive CD-ROM specifically prepared by FAO for WWF-3.
The State of the Worlds Forests 2003 was released by FAO on 10 March 2003. This is the fifth edition of the publication which reports every two years on the status of forests, recent major policy and institutional developments and key issues concerning the forest sector. One of its chapters considers the state of science and technology (including biotechnology) in the forest sector, where "resources invested in forest research are alarmingly inadequate and significant imbalances exist between developed and developing countries, government and industry, and different segments of the forest sector". See the publication ( ), a news story about its release ( - in Arabic, English, French and Spanish) or contact FAO for more information.
The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Intersessional Experts Meeting on "Maximising the role of planted forests in sustainable forest management" took place on 25-27 March 2003 in Wellington, New Zealand. This meeting, organised with the technical co-operation of FAO, the Center for International Forestry Research and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, had four central themes relating to the role of planted forests: benefits, challenges, ensuring sustainable management and facilitation. Some of the papers (e.g. numbers 2 and 10) discuss the issue of GMOs. See the conference website or contact for more details.
The proceedings of the International Conference on Timber Plantation Development, held on 7-9 November 2000 in Manila, Philippines, have just been released on the web. The conference was organised jointly by FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organization and the Philippines` Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The conference included 5 sessions, with session 3 devoted to "technological breakthroughs in plantation forestry", including discussion on reproductive technologies. See or contact FAO (Rome) or FAO (Bangkok) for more information.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), whose goals are to maximise the trade, investment and development opportunities of developing countries and assist them in their efforts to integrate into the world economy on an equitable basis, organised a "Policy dialogue on biotechnology applications and trade" on 11 March 2003 in Geneva, Switzerland, in collaboration with the United Nations University`s Institute of Advanced Studies. This meeting was part of the Science and Technology Diplomacy Initiative (STDI) established by UNCTAD in collaboration with Harvard University´s Science, Technology and Innovation Program. The STDI seeks to make trade diplomats and policy makers more aware of the scientific underpinnings of trade issues and to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to negotiate and make informed decisions in international negotiations where science and technology play a role. See the opening statement to the meeting by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, a recent UNCTAD paper (February 2003) giving more information on the STDI ( or contact for more information.
Issue number 12 (March 2003) of OECD Biotechnology Update has just been published. Its purpose is to provide up-to-date information on the diverse activities at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) related to biotechnology. It contains 14 pages with items on news, recent and future events, recent and future publications and provides web and e-mail contacts for the different areas of activity. The previous issue was published in March 2002. See (177 KB) or contact for more information.
In an editorial in the journal Science (7 March 2003), Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, presented "A challenge to the world`s scientists". He wrote that science continues to offer powerful tools for solving the many challenges facing humanity (including food security, human diseases, pollution and proliferation of weapons) and that recent advances in information technology, genetics and biotechnology offer extraordinary prospects for humankind as a whole. He noted, however, that there is a scientific divide between developing and developed countries where, for example, "ninety-five percent of the new science in the world is created in the countries comprising only one-fifth of the worlds population. And much of that science- in the realm of health, for example- neglects the problems that afflict most of the worlds people". He argued that commitment from scientists and scientific institutions throughout the world will be needed to change this imbalance and to bring the benefits of science to all. Contact for more information.
FAO has just released "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030 - An FAO perspective". This comprehensive 444-page report is FAO`s latest assessment of the long-term outlook for the world`s food supplies, nutrition and agriculture. It assesses the prospects, worldwide, for food and agriculture, including fisheries and forestry, over the years to 2015 and 2030. It presents the global long-term prospects for trade and sustainable development and discusses the issues at stake in these areas over the next 30 years. It updates and extends the previous FAO global study "World agriculture: towards 2010" issued in 1995. One of the 13 chapters considers "selected issues in agricultural technology" and here, section 11.4 (pages 314-327) focuses on the potential, risks and likely benefits of agricultural biotechnology. See the full report (in English) or a summary report (in English, French or Spanish) at or contact for more information.
Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General, FAO Agriculture Department, gave a presentation entitled "Which road do we take?: Harnessing genetic resources and making use of life sciences, a new contract for sustainable agriculture" at a Conference entitled "Towards sustainable agriculture for developing countries: Options from life sciences and biotechnology" organized by the European Commission on 30-31 January 2003 in Brussels, Belgium. She indicated that in biotechnology we are currently witnessing a "molecular divide", where "the gap is widening between developed and developing countries, between rich and poor farmers, between research priorities and needs, and above all between technology development and actual technology transfer". She concluded that "biotechnology must be redirected to address the pressing needs of the poor and the new requirements for food quality and quantity and new agricultural products, by complementing existing techniques and holistic agronomic approaches to sustain production and manage risks. Our three principles (promote an open dialogue, redirect research [to respond to key challenges], ensure fair access and benefit-sharing) should form the basis of a new, broad-ranging social contract, between North and South, between public and private research, between scientists and citizens - to bridge the molecular divide". See the full 8-page text (in English) at, a news story about the presentation (in English, French or Spanish) at or contact FAO to request a copy by e-mail.
The 4th Session of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology took place in Yokohama, Japan on 11-14 March 2003. The Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is an intergovernmental body set up to establish international standards on foods. The agenda and working documents are available at (in English, French and Spanish) or contact for further information.
FAO`s Committee on Commodity Problems held its 64th Session at FAO Headquarters, Rome on 18-21 March 2003. One of the reports prepared for the meeting was entitled "Major developments and issues in agricultural commodity markets" which reviews some of the major factors that have influenced international agricultural markets during the past few years, including the development of genetically modified crops. See (document CCP 03/7 - in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish) or contact FAO for more information.
At its first meeting in December 2000, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety recommended the development of a pilot phase of a Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH). This was launched in April 2001. Version 2.0 of the pilot phase of the BCH has now been launched (1 February 2003). New developments include, inter alia, improved search facilities and faster download times, expansion of the capacity-building databases, additional help functions and access to more databases. See or contact for more information.
This 376-page book entitled "Making global trade work for people" presents an independent reassessment of the current system of global trade and looks at ways that it can be improved to contribute more effectively to human development. Chapter 11 includes discussions of the links of TRIPS (the World Trade Organization`s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) with human development, with a focus on issues such as technology (including biotechnology), food security, biological resources and traditional knowledge. The book is the product of the Trade and Sustainable Human Development Project commissioned in mid-2000 by the United Nations Development Programme, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation (the Ford Foundation, Heinrich Böll Foundation and Wallace Global Fund joined the effort subsequently). See or contact for more information.
A discussion paper entitled "Trade in genetically modified food: A survey of empirical studies" by C. Pohl Nielsen, S. Robinson and K. Thierfelder has just been published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the 16 research centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The paper surveys analyses of the current and potential economic impact of GM technology, under different scenarios concerning how the world trading system and national markets handle GM commodities. This is number 106 of the TMD (Trade and Macroeconomics Division) Discussion Papers, which contain preliminary material and research results, and are circulated prior to a full peer review in order to stimulate discussion and critical comment. It is expected that most Discussion Papers will eventually be published in some other form, and that their content may also be revised. See or contact for more information.

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Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10) Conference