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 Press release - Biotechnology In Developing Countries: Benefits And Potential Risks (WB)

 Press release date: 19.10.1999

wbimage20Oct99.gif (2142 bytes) C G I A R Consultative Group
on International
Agricultural Research
News Release No. 2000/073/S

Contacts: David H. Kinley 202-473-8933
Kristyn Ebro 202-458-2736


International conference examines the question, Can Biotechnology Help?

WASHINGTON, October 20, 1999The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), are convening a conference, Ensuring Food Security, Protecting the Environment, and Reducing Poverty in Developing Countries: Can Biotechnology Help?, October 21-22, at the World Bank in Washington.

Keynote speakers include Ismail Serageldin, CGIAR Chairman and World Bank Vice President; M.S. Swaminathan, a Green Revolution pioneer and winner of the World Food Prize; Alex McCalla, Director of the World Banks Rural Development Department, and Marc van Montagu of the Laboratory of Genetics at the University of Ghent, Belgium.

The conference will provide the first international public forum for developing countries to voice their opinions and concerns on this subject.

Can Biotechnology Help? brings together senior policy makers, scientists, business representatives, non-governmental organizations, and leaders of national agricultural research systems from developing and industrialized countries to discuss key aspects of applying biotechnology in farming. The key objectives of the conference are to:

  • Broaden awareness of developing countries views on issues associated with biotechnology, their experiences with its use, and their needs and priorities; and
  • Contribute to a science-based understanding of the issues and public concerns related to biotechnology and how these might be addressed.

With the worlds population now at 6 billion people, and expected to exceed 8 billion by 2025, an increasing number of scientists around the world are recognizing that agribiotechnology, with adequate ethical and safety standards, offers important new tools in boosting food output and feeding the burgeoning population.

The revolution in the biological sciences holds both promise and problems. In terms of promise, recent advances in molecular genetics, informatics, and genomics research have created many new possibilities for applying biotechnology in agriculture. The promise of biotechnology as an instrument of development lies in its capacity to improve the quantity and quality of plants quickly and effectively. The time required to identify and combine favorable traits through traditional crop breeding is greatly reduced. Increased precision in plant breeding has meant improved predictability of the resulting products in desirable areas, such as performance and survival.

The application of biotechnology holds great potential for creating plants that are more drought resistant, more tolerant to acidic and saline soils, and more resistant to pests without pesticides. Plant characteristics can be genetically altered for earlier maturity, increased transportability, reduced post-harvest losses, and improved nutritional quality. Vaccines against diseases afflicting livestock are already important products of biotechnological research.

Meanwhile, in terms of the problems, biotechnology presents profound ethical and safety issues, complicated by the issues of proprietary science. The strong position of the private sector in the industrial world, where the bulk of developments in agribiotechnology have so far taken place, raises fears of increased dependency in the developing world. Others have raised concerns about creation of uncontrollable super weeds or super viruses. Protests have been staged by farmers and citizens groups in several countries on ethical and ecological grounds.

The two-day conference will examine numerous issues and public concerns related to biotechnology, particularly the risks to the environment and to human health, the risks and impact on social and economic order, the ethical challenges, and the roles of public and private sectors in biotechnology research for developing country agriculture.

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