Agricultural Biotechnologies
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Providing Advice

©FAO/J. Spaull

Drawing on its widespread information networks and the skills and experience of its technical staff, FAO provides independent advice on agricultural policy and planning, and on the administrative and legal structures needed for development. The Organization also advises on national strategies for rural development, food security and the alleviation of poverty. Regarding biotechnology, FAO may provide legal and technical advice to governments on areas such as development of national biotechnology strategies, intellectual property rights and biosafety:

1. National biotechnology strategies
FAO can assist Member countries in establishing priorities for biotechnology within the broad context of their agricultural research needs and policies or in identifying appropriate biotechnologies, taking into account all possible negative impacts, and provide guidance on their use. FAO's assistance in biotechnology policy development has been requested by a number of countries and, as of end 2006, related Technical Cooperation Projects (TCPs) have been completed or are being implemented in several countries, including Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Swaziland, while others are at different stages of formulation. The national biotechnology strategies include elements of biosafety policy. In developing a national biotechnology strategy, FAO encourages countries to use a participatory approach.

2. Intellectual property rights
Intellectual property rights (IPRs) over biotechnological products (e.g. plant varieties) and processes (e.g. techniques used in generating plant varieties or in selecting livestock) can influence the application of biotechnology to food and agriculture, for example by impacting on agricultural research. It is recognized that IPRs are crucial to the growth of the biotechnology industry, as a key incentive for investment, and that lack of IPRs protection in a country can limit access to the results of biotechnology originating elsewhere. On the other hand, the fact that many new technologies are held by the private sector raises concern over the impact of current IPRs regimes in relation to the delivery of public goods in agricultural research. In addition, as the frontiers between discovery and invention become blurred, IPRs protection has become particularly controversial in the use of genetic resources, as well as the fair and equitable benefit sharing derived from such use. FAO provides technical assistance and advice in relation to the existing options on IPRs protection to fulfill the national needs and priorities.

3. Biosafety
Biosafety is a general term used to describe frameworks encompassing policy, regulation and management to control potential risks associated with the release, use and transboundary movement of GMOs. For the food and agriculture sectors, the potential risks to be considered in the biosafety context are risks to human health through the consumption of foods or exposure to agricultural products; the impacts on plant and/or animal life and health; and environmental impacts such as potential adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, including genetic resources for food and agriculture. FAO maintains that biosafety, as a contribution to sustainable agriculture and food production, can be appropriately and effectively addressed through the holistic Biosecurity approach developed by FAO, which enables the analysis and management of biological risks to food safety, plant life and health, animal life and health, as well as the relevant impacts on biological diversity. In this context, FAO encourages a participatory approach, involving all relevant stakeholders throughout the different components of the biosafety framework.

Page Last Updated: May 2007