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.


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Environmental Health and Safety Division published on 20 August 2002 a "Consensus document on compositional considerations for new varieties of maize (Zea Mays): Key food and feed nutrients, anti-nutrients and secondary plant metabolites". It is number 6 in the series on the Safety of Novel Foods and Feeds. The consensus documents contain information for use during the regulatory assessment of a particular food/feed product. This consensus document addresses compositional considerations for new varieties of maize (derived through modern biotechnology) by identifying the key food and feed nutrients, anti-nutrients and secondary plant metabolites. See (available in PDF (208 KB) or Word (361 KB) formats) or contact
ISNAR Briefing Paper 54, entitled "Biotechnology and sustainable livelihoods - findings and recommendations of an international consultation" and co-authored by J. Falck-Zepeda, J. Cohen, R. Meinzen-Dick and J. Komen, is now available. The document summarises the findings and recommendations of a meeting entitled "Biotechnology and rural livelihood - enhancing the benefits" that was held on 25-28 June 2001 in The Hague, Netherlands and organised by the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR)s Biotechnology Service. See (in HTML or PDF (94 KB)) or contact .
An FAO press release of 30 August 2002 reports that Dr. Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of FAO, addressed a press conference at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, saying that "Countries in Southern Africa whose populations are facing a devastating drought should carefully consider current scientific knowledge before rejecting food aid containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs)". The press release is available at (in English, French and Spanish) or contact for more information.
The Summary Report of the FAO study "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030" has been released. It presents the latest FAO assessment of long-term developments in world food, nutrition and agriculture, including the forestry and fisheries sectors. FAO issued similar studies on global agriculture in 1995, 1988, 1981 and 1970. The projections cover about 140 countries and 32 crop and livestock commodities. Among the topics covered is the "role of technology". For biotechnology, the main findings are that: "Modern biotechnology offers promise as a means to improving food security. If the environmental threats from biotechnology are addressed, and if the technology is affordable by and geared towards the needs of the poor and undernourished, genetically modified crop varieties could help to sustain farming in marginal areas and to restore degraded lands to production. To address the concerns of consumers FAO called for improved testing and safety protocols for genetically modified organisms". See (document in English) or contact for more information. The report is also available in French and Spanish. This Summary Report is a shorter version of the results of the technical FAO study "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030" which should be available by the end of 2002.
The Summary Document of the FAO e-mail conference on "Gene flow from GM to non-GM populations in the crop, forestry, animal and fishery sectors" has been finalised and put on the web. Nearly 400 people subscribed for the conference, which ran from 31 May to 5 July 2002, and 118 messages were posted. The 15-page document aims to provide an easy-readable synopsis of the main arguments and concerns discussed during the conference. It is available at or can be requested from
For the 9th Regular Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, held on 14-18 October 2002 at FAO Headquarters, Rome, FAO prepared a report on its priority areas for inter-disciplinary action (PAIAs). FAO has recently selected 16 PAIAs as part of an overall effort to, inter alia, strengthen the capacity for inter-disciplinary planning within FAO. This report provides a brief overview of the main activities undertaken by the 6 PAIAs that are most relevant to the Commission`s work, including the PAIAs on Biotechnology and Biosecurity. See document 9/02/14.3 (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish) at or contact for more information.
The September 2002 edition of the Information Systems for Biotechnology (ISB) News Report includes an item by John Ruane from FAO`s Working Group on Biotechnology, describing the three major roles that FAO carries out to assist its members (currently there are 183 FAO member countries plus one member organisation, the European Community) and their institutions in making decisions on biotechnology and related issues. See or send a blank e-mail to to receive the ISB News Report by e-mail (26 KB).
The UN Secretary-Generals special envoy for the humanitarian crisis in Southern Africa, Mr. James Morris released this joint statement, concerning donations of foods for use in Southern Africa, some of which contain genetically modified organisms, on behalf of the Directors-General of FAO, Dr. Jacques Diouf, and the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland and the World Food Programme at which he serves as Executive Director. The statement concludes: "The United Nations agencies involved will seek to establish a long-term policy for food aid involving GM foods or foods derived from biotechnology. The ultimate responsibility and decision regarding the acceptance and distribution of food aid containing GMOs rests with the governments concerned, considering all the factors outlined above. The United Nations believes that in the current crisis governments in southern Africa must consider carefully the severe and immediate consequences of limiting the food aid available for millions so desperately in need". See (in English, French and Spanish) or contact for more information.
At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, a new international consultative process on the risks and opportunities of using agricultural science to reduce hunger and improve rural livelihoods in the developing world was launched. The initiative is expected to last until mid-2003 and is being undertaken by the World Bank and its partners. The five co-chairs of the consultative process are Robert Watson (World Bank, former head of the UN`s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Louise Fresco (Assistant Director General, Agriculture Department of FAO), Seyfu Ketema (Executive Secretary of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA)), Rita Sharma (Ministry of Agriculture, India) and Claudia Martinez Zuleta (former Deputy Minister of Environment, Colombia). It will look at the risks and opportunities of a broad range of issues, including biotechnology. See or contact for more information.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) released a policy research report entitled Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development to coincide with the World Summit on Sustainable Development. The key messages of this 167-page document are that "If effectively harnessed, new and emerging technologies can help catalyze Africas transition to sustainable development by lowering the incidence of disease, reducing food insecurity, and decreasing vulnerability to environmental damage by allowing more flexible crop management systems. However, the expected benefits of both medical (red) and agricultural (green) biotechnology can only be realized if a number of key challenges are addressed, including the extent to which the technologies are relevant to Africa, are pro-poor and mitigate biosafety and related risks. Biotechnology should be viewed as one part of a comprehensive, sustainable poverty reduction strategy, and not as a technological quick fix for Africas hunger and poverty problems". See or contact for more information.
A press release from the WHO Regional Office for Africa reports that the WHO Director General, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, said that "currently available evidence showed that genetically modified (GM) foods are "not likely to present human health risk", and that therefore "these foods may be eaten" " and that "Southern African countries should consider accepting GM food aid in the face of the humanitarian crisis facing the region". She was speaking on 27 August at a three-day meeting of health ministers from ten southern African countries in Harare. See or contact for more information.
The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), in collaboration with the University of Concepción, Chile, is launching the first academically accredited Diploma in Biosafety by distance learning. The course, consisting of a faculty of international scientists, starts on 23 September 2002 with two weeks of on-campus lectures. Lectures will be conducted in English. It will make use of the latest distance learning techniques and electronic multimedia developed by UNIDO. For more information see or contact or
Joel Cohen, from the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), and Per Pinstrup-Andersen, from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), published an Opinion Article on 27 AUgust 2002 in SciDev.Net entitled "Biotechnology and the public good" which, among other things, emphasises the need for "strong publicly-funded agricultural research focused on solving the problems facing poor farmers and consumers". See or contact to request a copy.
An expert workshop on "Policy Planning and Decision Support: the Case of Biosafety" took place at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy on 14-16 May 2002. The workshop was organised by the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR - one of the 16 Future Harvest centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) and FAO, and discussion centred on a web-based decision-support system, developed jointly by ISNAR and FAO, that is being designed to assist national policy-makers and research directors to formulate policy and regulatory frameworks to respond to safety issues regarding applications of modern biotechnology in food and agriculture. This workshop, dealing with biosafety, is the first in a series focusing on specific issues and aiming to help FAO member countries meet international and regional obligations concerning agricultural biotechnology. About 40 participants, including representatives from the United Nations Environmental Programme, the Global Environmental Facility and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation as well as national experts, attended the workshop. See for a brief summary of the workshop or contact or isnar-biotech@cgiar.orgfor more information.
A report on "Biosafety policy options and capacity building related to genetically modified organisms in the food processing industry of ASEAN" by Sakarindr Bhumiratana, dated June 2002, is now available on the web. This report is the result of a project initiated under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Committee on Science and Technology and was prepared with support from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. See the UNIDO website (PDF, 412 KB, 45 pages) or contact for more information.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), one of the 16 Future Harvest centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, has recently published the IFPRI 2001-2002 Annual Report. It highlights IFPRI`s research in 2001, covering a range of topics including biofortification - breeding plants for vitamin A and other micronutrients (on pages 42-44). See or contact for more information.

Search the News items

Free Text