ROME, 28 October 2002 -- Genetic
resources and intellectual property rights were top of the
agenda during a recent meeting at the UN Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome where experts also
discussed genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their impact
on business, human health and the environment.
The ninth session of the Commission on Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), held in mid-October
also tackled issues such as biodiversity and biotechnology.
The Commission was warned that
inappropriate granting of intellectual property rights could
jeopardise public confidence in an international network of
plant collections containing more than half a million samples.
Country members cited the example of a US patent on the
"Enola bean." Although the "Enola
Bean" material did not originate in the international
network of plant collections, the Commission nonetheless
expressed support for the efforts of the International Centre
for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) who have requested that the
bean's patent be revoked.
collections, designed to preserve and maintain genetic
diversity, are held in-trust by the International Agricultural
Research Centres (IARC) of the Consultative Group of
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The Commission
threw its weight behind the Global Conservation Trust, an
international initiative launched during the Johannesburg Summit
on Sustainable Development to maintain the world's plant
collections, a task estimated to require finance support
equivalent to the annual earnings from an endowment of 260
million dollars or more.
recognized the challenges and opportunities posed by the rapid
pace of development in biotechnology and the need to maximize
the positive effects of biotechnology and minimize any potential
negative risks. Some members considered that the best way to
address the challenges and opportunities was through the
revision and updating of the preliminary draft FAO Code of
Conduct on Biotechnology.
decided to undertake an in-depth analysis of animal genetic
resources. The result of this study, a report entitled The State
of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, will be published
in the next three years. Some members raised the possibility of
creating an international treaty on animal genetic resources
similar to the recently approved Treaty on Plant Genetic
Resources for Food and Agriculture but the Commission concluded
that the issue should be left for consideration in future
The Commission also discussed a
rapid alert and information system for emergencies linked to
plant genetic resources, an information network to promote the
interchange of technology and resources and the publication of
the second report on The State of the World's Plant
The International Treaty for
Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture's Interim
Committee also held its first meeting recently in Rome. The
meeting, which centred on the development of agreements
governing the transfer of genetic material, represented the
first step towards the treaty coming into effect.
The treaty's aim is to guarantee the future
availability of the diversity of plant genetic resources and
promote the fair and equitable sharing of all benefits. The
agreement, approved in November 2001, will become legally
binding when it has been ratified by at least 40 countries. To
date, 65 countries have signed the accord and it has been
ratified, accepted or approved by eight.