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COAG/01/Inf
.2

November 2000


For reasons of economy, this document is produced in a limited number of copies. Delegates and observers are kindly requested

to
bring it to the meetings and to refrain from asking for additional copies, unless strictly indispensable.

W0000


E


COMMITTEE ON AGRICULTURE

Sixteenth Session

Rome, 26
-
30 March 2001, Red Room

REPORT OF THE INTERDEPARTMENTAL WORKING GROUP
ON BIOTECHNOLOGY


1
.

In 1999, the 15
th

Session of COAG made five main recommendations in regard to

Biotechnology:

a)

FAO to develop a strategic approach to biotechnology and give high priority to a
coordinated cross
-
sectoral program;

b)

FAO to undertake activities in the various areas of its mandate including
information exchange, capacity building and pol
icy advice to Members;

c)

FAO to develop partnerships with the international agricultural research centres,
the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and other international
organizations;

d)

FAO to help countries to draft Biosafety legislation and set
up regulatory bodies,
drawing on all available resources, in collaboration with partner institutions; and

e)

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 establishe
d 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:

a)

Survey of actual and planned Biotechnology activities in FAO. All technical
departments have developed specific actions on Biotechnology.

b)

Development of a position statement for FAO on Biotechnology.

c)

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
COAG/01/Inf.2

2

divisions so that the IDWG deals only with the coordination of the priority areas
identified for interdisciplinary action mentioned above.

d)

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 Confer
ence 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 a
ddition to the IDWG activities, FAO technical divisions have contributed to the
follow
-
up of the recommendations of the 15
th

Session of COAG in various ways:

An electronic forum on Biotechnology was established by the Research Extension and Training
Divis
ion (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.

a)

An electronic forum on Biotechnology was established by th
e 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.

b)

SDR provided a cons
ultant and training to officers of the government of Paraguay
to establish a monitoring system for transgenic soybeans.

c)

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.

d)

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 Ja
pan 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 ris
k 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.

e)

The Commodities and Trade Division (ESC) continued its work related to assessing
the possible impact of biot
echnology 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 organ
ized during the joint Session of
the Intergovernmental Groups on Grains and Rice in September, 1999.

f)

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 Env
ironment 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 Ins
titute in Egypt, etc).

g)

AGP provided technical assistance for micro
-
propagation for date palm production
in Namibia.

h)

A review of issues related to the applications of modern biotechnology to forest
trees was carried out by a visiting scientist in the Fores
t Resources Division (FOR).

i)

The Eighth Session of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and
Agriculture requested a status report on the FAO Code of Conduct on
COAG/01/Inf.2

3

Biotechnology as it Relates to Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture for its
2001 Se
ssion. Comments on the draft Code have been requested from Member
Nations and stakeholders.

j)

The Joint FAO/IAEA Division (AGE) was involved in various activities:



supporting the transfer and use of
in vitro

and molecular characterisation
methods for crop

improvement, micropropagation and virus indexing to 23
Member Nations;



organizing a workshop for the Latin America and Caribbean region with the
University of Costa Rica on mutation and
in vitro

culture techniques for the
improvement of vegetatively propa
gated tropical food crops;



coordinating an international network on banana improvement through
in vitro

screening for disease and nematode resistance, somatic cell suspension and
multi
-
apexing system for
in vitro

mutagenesis, genetic transformation
technol
ogy and use of molecular markers;



transferring baculovirus expression systems to veterinary centres in Africa for
producing rinderpest antigen for use in diagnostic kits;



coordinating networks in the Regional Office for Latin America and the
Caribbean (RLC
) and the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) for
transfer and use of monoclonal antibody
-
based tests to diagnose foot and mouth
disease and separate vaccinated from naturally
-
infected animals.

k)

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.

l)

The Agricultural Support Systems Division (AGS) organized a Symposium on
Small Scale Fermentation Industries in collaboration with the USA Institute of
Food Technol
ogy and published the proceedings in the International Journal of
Food Microbiology.

m)

A number of partnerships and networks have been organized or developed with
several Consultative Groups on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
Centres and other in
stitutions:



SDR organized a workshop together with the International Centre for
Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to foster the development
and the harmonisation of Biosafety regulations for ten countries in the West
Asia/North Africa (WANA)

region;



AGP collaborated with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and
NARS in hybrid rice production. Support to another culture of hybrid rice in
Vietnam has resulted in somaclonals with significantly higher yield than the
original hybrids;



in partnerships with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA),
International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Natural Resources Institute,
International Cooperation Centre on Agrarian Research for Development,
International Development R
esearch Centre and International Fund for
Agricultural Development (IFAD), FAO (under the leadership of AGP)
participated in the preparation of the Global Cassava Development Strategy and
co
-
organized with IFAD the validation forum in April 2000. Molecula
r
approaches will be used to solve some of the production constraints;



AGE implemented a regional project in Asia and the Pacific on mutational
enhancement of genetic diversity in rice with participation of 12 countries and
IRRI which included the use of
biotechnology tools such as double haploids and
molecular markers;

COAG/01/Inf.2

4



AGE organized a regional workshop for Africa on drought screening techniques
in collaboration with IITA and the International Crops Research Institute for the
Semi
-
arid Tropics (ICRISAT);



AGE organized a regional seminar for the Asia and Pacific region on mutation
techniques and molecular genetics for tropical and subtropical plant
improvement with active participation of IRRI, the International Maize and
Wheat Improvement Centre and ICRISA
T;



AGE, supported by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI)
and through 5 networks, coordinated research on the use of
in vitro

mutation
and molecular marker techniques for the improvement of neglected and under
-
utilised crops in Afric
a, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean
and Europe;



AGE coordinated two networks in Africa to validate Polymerase Chain
Reaction technology for the diagnosis and molecular epidemiology of
rinderpest, Contagious Bovine Pleuro Pneumonia and
Trypanosomiasis; the
latter in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute;



AGP has provided support to the apomixis network and to the Technical
Cooperation Network on Plant Biotechnology, a network of Plant
Biotechnology for Latin
America and the Caribbean with more than 500
members from 27 countries
(see:
www.rlc.fao.org/redes/redbio/html/Home.htm
).