Chief of UN agency replies to concerns on food gene transfers

Executive Director Jacques Diouf was responding to an open letter from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) charging that FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture report for this year omitted to mention that “five companies make up virtually 100 per cent of the transgenic seed market,” a situation for which, they said, FAO should propose alternatives. Since expanding arable land was increasingly not feasible, Mr. Diouf said, “we will have to use the scientific tools of molecular biology, in particular the identification of molecular markers, genetic mapping and gene transfer for more effective plant enhancement, going beyond the phenotype-based methods.” “Decisions on the rules and utilization of these techniques must, however, be taken at the international level by competent bodies, such as the Codex Alimentarius.” The Codex Alimentarius Commission was created in 1963 by FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop food standards, protect the health of consumers, ensure fair food trade practices and promote the coordination of all food standards work undertaken by international and governmental agencies and NGOs. Developing countries should take part in the decision-making, develop their scientific capacity and master the necessary expertise and techniques “so that they can understand the implications and make independent choices in order to reach an international consensus on issues that concern all of humanity,” Mr. Diouf said. In accordance with its mandate, FAO would promote an international dialogue based on sound scientific principles and allowing the analysis of socio-economic, sanitary and environmental issues, he said.

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