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The rapid progress of modern biotechnology has given rise to new legislative needs, in order to safeguard human health and the environment while at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities offered by biotechnology. Recent years have seen important new legislation being adopted, and older law amended in order to respond to the new challenges.

Considerable public debate has taken place over some of these technologies, in particular genetic engineering. While direct risks and benefits have been the main focus of that debate, other issues, social and ethical, have also been part of it. Therefore, it seemed opportune not only to study the way in which new legislation handles risk assessment and licensing for new technologies or products derived therefrom, but also the way in which other considerations are taken into account, and how the general public is given an opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.

The important ethical dimension of modern biotechnology has been considered by FAO in its Ethics Series publication “Genetically modified organisms, consumers, food safety and the environment”, and by the Panel of Eminent Experts on Ethics in Food and Agriculture. The Panel requested FAO to review the status of regulations in different countries concerning the application of biotechnology and GMOs. FAO then commissioned a paper by Mr Lyle Glowka of Biodiversity Strategy International, which was used as background material for the Second Session of the Panel in March 2002. Following the Panel Session, the study was expanded by Ms Antonella Ingrassia (Legal Consultant, FAO).

The study has benefited at various stages from the comments and contributions of a number of people, including: Don Anton (Canberra, Australia), Mark Christensen (Christchurch, New Zealand), Worku Damena (Montreal, Canada), Laurent Granier (Paris, France), Erningsih Haryadi (Jakarta, Indonesia), Porter Hoagland (Woods Hole, USA), Peter Jenkins (Washington DC, USA), Julian Kinderlerer (Sheffield, United Kingdom), Anni Lukacs (Bonn, Germany), Kent Nnadozie (Lagos, Nigeria), Cyrie Sendashonga (Montreal, Canada), Birgitta Simon (Bonn, Germany), Stephen Stec (Budapest, Hungary), Robyn Stein (Johannesburg, South Africa), Xueman Wang (Montreal, Canada) and Tomme Young (Bonn, Germany). Colleagues at FAO who contributed to the preparation of the study include David Byron, José T. Esquinas-Alcázar, Daniele Manzella, Ali Mekouar, Marta Pardo-Leal, Alan Randell and Margret Vidar.

Lawrence Christy
Chief, Development Law Service
Legal Office

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