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In a world that boasts the productive capacity to feed its entire population, the persistence of chronic food insecurity and widespread poverty is an unacceptable reality. The failure to provide basic needs and access to adequate food for 800 million people is perhaps the most urgent human problem today - all the more so because the possible solutions have many ethical dimensions. If we are to succeed in building a food-secure world for both the present and future generations, it is essential to approach the vitally important subjects that fall within FAO's mandate - food security and sustainable management of the earth's pro-ductive resources and ecological systems - with a deeper understanding of their ethical dimension.

A year ago, I established the independent Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture to advise FAO on key ethical issues of relevance to its work as well as to help raise the level of public awareness and understanding of ethical considerations. I am delighted that an eminent and authoritative group of experts, representing all regions of the world and a range of relevant disciplines, has agreed to serve on the Panel. Their contribution to the work of our Organization and to the broader public debate is highly significant at a time when major developments in food and agriculture, including accelerating technological advances, changes in the resource base and evolving economic and market mechanisms, have brought a variety of ethical questions to the top of the international agenda. Today's rapid technological advances are producing very powerful tools, some of which are capable of bringing about changes that could prove irreversible. Science offers us many new technologies; humanity demands serious ethical consideration of why and how they are to be applied, particularly with respect to food security and poverty reduction measures.

Following its first session in September 2000, the Panel of Eminent Experts prepared the present report, which is at once measured and thought-provoking. In it, the Panel addresses the major ethical issues and challenges that the world faces and that concern FAO's fields of expertise, including questions related to genetically modified organisms in food and agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

Our understanding of ethics and human rights in the context of hunger and poverty is in a relatively early stage of development. By providing a neutral forum for the deliberations of the Panel, therefore, FAO has taken a positive step forward. The views expressed - some of which may be controversial - and the conclusions reached in this report are those of its independent members, and are not necessarily shared by the Organization or its member countries. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the points raised will make an important contribution to international discussion and public appreciation of the important global issues involved.

I am determined that FAO's expertise, knowledge and experience, and above all the neutral forum it offers, should continue to stimulate an informed, rational debate that furthers our understanding of relevant ethical questions and facilitates full consideration of their implications by decision-makers at all levels. Furthermore, I trust that serious and objective reflection on the ethical dimension of food and agricultural development will spur immediate and lasting advances in world food security and poverty alleviation.

Jacques Diouf
FAO Director-General

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