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Press Release 01/85 C9

US SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: "THE WORLD MUST UNITE TO FIGHT HUNGER AND POVERTY; SUCCESS WILL REQUIRE AN INTERNATIONAL COALITION"


Rome, 5 November 2001 -- US Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman opened her remarks at today's FAO plenary session by thanking countries around the world for "kind words and prayers," after the terrorist attacks of September 11.

"Despite the new prioritites we face in battling the ugly face of terrorism, we must not forget the other important challenges our world confronts, including those that bring us together in Rome today -- ending poverty and hunger in the world," she added.

Veneman said that the US was taking an active role regarding the hunger of the people of Afghanistan, providing humanitarian relief "to the many people fleeing the suppression and impoverished economy of the Taliban regime."

"President Bush has made it extremely clear that the United States is not at war with the people of Afghanistan. We are one of the largest providers of food aid to that region. We are at war with those who harbor and support terrorism. And we must continue to provide strong leadership to these regions and provide humanitarian assistance to those people who are suffering," she said.

"We need to wage a war to eliminate the world of poverty and hunger," Veneman said, adding: "As with the war on terrorism, success will require an international coalition united for collective action."

The world can successfully fight hunger and poverty, Veneman said, with technological innovation, that "has played an important role in meeting human food needs since the dawn of agriculture. As we look forward to the new century, the benefits of the technological innovations of the last century -- mechanization, hybridization, chemical fertilizers and pesticides -- are beginning to wane," she said.

"However, the technologies of the new century -- biotechnology and information technology - will reinvigorate productivity growth in food and agriculture production and to make agriculture more environmentally sustainable.

"Agricultural biotechnology, in particular, also promises much more, such as drought resistant crop varieties for Africa. It offers the opportunity of economic self-sufficiency for subsistence farmers in developing countries, as demonstrated by the farmers growing genetically enhanced cotton in the Makhatini Flats of South Africa."

Biotechnology promises nutrition and health benefits for the developing world, said Veneman, citing examples such as the golden rice project, which would significantly reduce blindness related to Vitamin A deficiency and vaccines against cholera that could be administered through dietary staples such as bananas or rice.

However, Veneman warned that if developing countries want to take advantage of the potential benefits of biotechnology, they must establish biosafety laws and regulations. "Effective, science-based laws and regulations are still needed in many countries so field trials of products of particular interest to developing countries -- such as cassava and sweet potatoes -- can begin."

Veneman highlighted the importance of fair trade in aiding food security. "Developed countries have an obligation to establish science-based regulations that are not disguised trade barriers to products produced through biotechnology," she said.

"Trade liberalization assures all countries of equal access to world food supplies," Veneman said. "FAO plays a crucial role in trade liberalization through the work of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the International Plant Protection Convention, which ensure the integrity of science-based decision-making on health and safety issues," said Veneman.

Veneman reiterated the commitment of the US to help achieve the goal of reducing by half the number of hungry people by 2015.

To support this goal, the United States has initiated a Global Food for Education pilot program, a school feeding program that will encourage children to attend school and provide them with much needed nutrition. "Children will learn much better if they are not hungry. A better education will give them greater opportunities to succeed in life," she said.

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For more information, contact Ms Anna Shen, FAO Media Relations, (06) 5705 5149 e-mail: anna.shen@fao.org


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