Sixteenth Session

Rome, 26-30 March 2001, Red Room



1. In 1999, the 15th Session of COAG made five main recommendations in regard to Biotechnology:

    1. FAO to develop a strategic approach to biotechnology and give high priority to a coordinated cross-sectoral program;
    2. FAO to undertake activities in the various areas of its mandate including information exchange, capacity building and policy advice to Members;
    3. FAO to develop partnerships with the international agricultural research centres, the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and other international organizations;
    4. FAO to help countries to draft Biosafety legislation and set up regulatory bodies, drawing on all available resources, in collaboration with partner institutions; and
    5. FAO to help harmonise Biosafety regulations at the regional and sub-regional levels. It was mentioned that expanded risk-analysis harmonisation may build on the existing programmes in Codex Alimentarius and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), within recognised frameworks and in cooperation with the Biosafety Protocol.

2. In response, FAO established an Interdepartmental Working Group on Biotechnology (IDWG) with the objective of fostering the development of a coordinated FAO programme in biotechnology. The IDWG has members from all FAO technical departments and has undertaken the following actions:

    1. Survey of actual and planned Biotechnology activities in FAO. All technical departments have developed specific actions on Biotechnology.
    2. Development of a position statement for FAO on Biotechnology.
    3. Development of a Medium Term Plan (MTP), concentrating on providing a forum for FAO Members and developing an FAO web-site on Biotechnology. Specific aspects of biotechnology have been incorporated in the MTPs of the technical divisions so that the IDWG deals only with the coordination of the priority areas identified for interdisciplinary action mentioned above.
    4. Coordination of FAO participation in external conferences and preparation of FAO inputs to FAO Regional Conferences as well as to other UN Agencies/programmes (the paper for the 25th Regional Conference for Asia and Pacific Region: "Implementation and Development of Biotechnology in Asia and Pacific" and the paper presented at CSD-8: "Biotechnology, Biosafety and Biodiversity for Sustainable Agriculture").

3. In addition to the IDWG activities, FAO technical divisions have contributed to the follow-up of the recommendations of the 15th Session of COAG in various ways:

An electronic forum on Biotechnology was established by the Research Extension and Training Division (SDR), with the cooperation of all technical departments of FAO. Four email conferences were conducted for crops, forestry, animals and fisheries. More than 1200 persons enrolled for the Forum.

    1. An electronic forum on Biotechnology was established by the Research Extension and Training Division (SDR), with the cooperation of all technical departments of FAO. Four email conferences were conducted for crops, forestry, animals and fisheries. More than 1200 persons enrolled for the Forum.
    2. SDR provided a consultant and training to officers of the government of Paraguay to establish a monitoring system for transgenic soybeans.
    3. The IPPC Secretariat of the Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP) held a Working Group meeting on the Phytosanitary Aspects of Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMOs), Biosafety and Invasive Species.
    4. The Codex Alimentarius Commission of the Food and Nutrition Division (ESN) established a new Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology. The Task Force held its first meeting in Japan in March 2000. FAO and WHO initiated a series of joint expert consultations on the safety assessment of foods derived from biotechnology. The first one was held in Geneva in May-June 2000 and addressed methodologies and procedures for carrying out risk assessment of Genetically Modified (GM) foods; the second will be held in Rome in January 2001 and will be devoted to allergenicity of GM foods.
    5. The Commodities and Trade Division (ESC) continued its work related to assessing the possible impact of biotechnology developments on the competitiveness of agricultural commodity markets and international trade patterns by preparing a document on "Biotechnology Developments and their Potential Impact on Trade in Cereals" which was presented at a symposium organized during the joint Session of the Intergovernmental Groups on Grains and Rice in September, 1999.
    6. FAO staff participated in various conferences and presented papers on biotechnology. These included: the Global Forum for Agricultural Research, May 2000; the Third International Crop Science Congress, August 2000; and several Workshops such as the Biosafety Workshop run by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology; a series of Biosafety workshops organized by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Environment Facility (UNEP/GEF) project and the World Health Organization; and other conferences organized by several external agencies (e.g. World Sugar Research Association, Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute in Egypt, etc).
    7. AGP provided technical assistance for micro-propagation for date palm production in Namibia.
    8. A review of issues related to the applications of modern biotechnology to forest trees was carried out by a visiting scientist in the Forest Resources Division (FOR).
    9. The Eighth Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture requested a status report on the FAO Code of Conduct on Biotechnology as it Relates to Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture for its 2001 Session. Comments on the draft Code have been requested from Member Nations and stakeholders.
    10. The Joint FAO/IAEA Division (AGE) was involved in various activities:
    11. AGP organized a Technical Meeting on Benefits and Risks of Transgenic Herbicide Resistant Crops (HRCs). The report of the meeting presents summaries and papers on the benefits and risks of HRCs use; and on regulations necessary for the introduction of HRCs. As a follow up, AGP promoted a discussion of the Guidelines for Assessment of Environmental Risk of Herbicide and Insect Resistant Crops.
    12. The Agricultural Support Systems Division (AGS) organized a Symposium on Small Scale Fermentation Industries in collaboration with the USA Institute of Food Technology and published the proceedings in the International Journal of Food Microbiology.
    13. A number of partnerships and networks have been organized or developed with several Consultative Groups on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Centres and other institutions: