COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE
Rome, 31 March-4 April 2003
Report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Biotechnology
1. At its 15th Session in 1999, COAG made five main recommendations in regard to Biotechnology that were subsequently endorsed by Council and by the 30th Session of the FAO Conference. The Secretariat of the Interdepartmental Working Group (IDWG) on Biotechnology provided in 2001 a report to the 16th Session on progress made (COAG/01/Inf 2), focusing largely on the work conducted by individual departments of the Organization. This report describes progress made since then on each recommendation in bringing an interdisciplinary perspective to FAO’s work on biotechnology.
2. Biotechnology Applications in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was identified as a Priority Activity for Inter-disciplinary Action (PAIA) in the Medium Term Plan (MTP) 2002-20071. In this context, the IDWG on Biotechnology coordinated the planning and delivery of a multidisciplinary cross-sectoral programme aimed at improving the cohesion and effectiveness of FAO’s support to Members in developing and implementing policies and practices that promote safe and responsible applications for enhancing food security.
3. This work was pursued both by identifying and encouraging opportunities for cooperation within and between headquarters divisions and departments and the regional and sub-regional offices. It included joint planning and implementation of synergistic activities with members of other IDWGs set up to promote interdisciplinary cooperation on issues impinging directly or indirectly on development and applications of biotechnology in food and agriculture, most notably those on Biosecurity, Biological Diversity, Trade and Ethics.
4. These efforts resulted in the identification of priorities and key outputs for the MTP 2002-2007 that were subsequently refined for the MTP 2004-20092. These include inter alia provision of analytical and technical reports for intergovernmental technical committees and commissions on trends and developments in biotechnology research and products; technical support to negotiations on a Code of Conduct on Biotechnology as it relates to Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture requested by the FAO intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; a multilingual website on biotechnology; decision support tools and training materials to facilitate sound management of biotechnology and related issues in food and agriculture; and policy advice and support to countries in formulating and implementing projects involving biotechnology.
5. The website on biotechnology (http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp) that was launched in 2000 has been systematically updated and widened in coverage and now provides information in five languages on FAO’s work and international developments regarding biotechnology techniques and products, as well as on related policy and regulatory issues surrounding research and deployment of biotechnology in the agricultural, fisheries and forestry sectors. It is visited by over 15 000 people per month. The site has received positive reviews in terms of coverage and objectivity by a number of sources, including the journals Science and New Scientist. News and events items are also disseminated periodically through FAO-BiotechNews, an e-mail newsletter with over 2 600 subscribers.
6. Some of the activities and outputs achieved through the auspices of the IDWG on Biotechnology include:
7. Dialogue and cooperation with partners have been widened and strengthened. Many of the International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs), National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and NGOs contributed to one or more of the electronic conferences hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum. A number, most notably the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) contributed to consultations on intellectual property rights and biosafety.
8. Dialogue, coordination and cooperation have been substantially enhanced with: the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Secretariat for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in relation to biosafety; the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in relation to intellectual property rights; the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Food Programme (WFP) in relation to food aid, including a joint UN statement in August 2002 on the use of GM foods as food aid in Southern Africa; and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) on general aspects of biotechnology as Task Manager for Chapter 16 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), including the planning of a Global Forum on Biotechnology to be held in Chile in 2003.
9. Strengthening of National Biosafety Systems is being addressed through Technical Cooperation Projects currently under implementation; others are in the pipeline.
10. Asian Bio-Net, a regional network financed by Japan and coordinated by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, is operational in nine countries. It contributes to strengthening capacities in legislation, regulations, policies and programmes for biosafety; establishing national biosafety systems and improving public awareness; and promoting research and technology development for generation and safe use of GM crops.
11. FAO participated in meetings, workshops and conferences organized by UNEP, GEF and CBD at international and regional levels to foster harmonisation of biosafety legislation and promote international collaboration.
12. Harmonising biosafety regulations within the framework of existing international protocols, conventions, and agreements is one of the objectives of Asian Bio-Net (para 10 above).
1 CL 119/17
2 CL 123/7