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4.1.3. The Food and Agriculture Organization

1. Give an oral summary of the information on The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) using the plan:

1) FAO: What it is, what it does;

2) Structure and finance;

The Food and Agriculture Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization was founded in October 1945 with a mandate to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, to improve agricultural productivity, and to better the condition of rural populations.

Today, FAO is the largest autonomous agency within the United Nations system with 180 Member Nations plus the EC (Member Organization) and more than 4 300 staff members around the world.

Following recent efforts to decentralize, FAO's staff includes almost 2 300 people at Headquarters and more than 2 000 working at decentralized offices and field projects. The Organization's 1998-1999 biennial budget is set at $650 million and FAO-assisted projects attract more than $300 million per year from donor agencies and governments for investment in agricultural and rural development projects.

Since its inception, FAO has worked to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security - the access of all people at all times to the food they need for an active and healthy life. The Organization offers direct development assistance, collects, analyses and disseminates information, provides policy and planning advice to governments and acts as an international forum for debate on food and agriculture issues.

FAO is active in land and water development, plant and animal production, forestry, fisheries, economic and social policy, investment, nutrition, food standards and commodities and trade. It also plays a major role in dealing with food and agri cultural emergencies.

A specific priority of the Organization is encouraging sustainable agriculture and rural development, a long-term strategy for the conservation and manage-ment of natural resources. It aims to meet the needs of both present and future generations through programmes that do not degrade the environment and are technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.

FAO is governed by the Conference of Member Nations, which meets every two years to review the work carried out by the organization and approve a Programme of Work and Budget for the next biennium.

The Conference elects a Council of 49 Member Nations to act as an interim governing body. Members serve three-year, rotating terms. The Conference also elects a Director-General to head the agency. The current Director-General, Jacques Diouf, began a six-year term in January 1994.

In a restructuring proposal approved at a special session of the Council in June, 1994, FAO was divided into eight departments: Administration and Finance, General Affairs and Information, Economic and Social Policy, Technical Cooperation, Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry and Sustainable Development.

The Organization's work falls into two categories. The Regular Programme covers internal operations, including the maintenance of the highly qualified staff who provide support for field work, advise governments on policy and planning and servi ce a wide range of development needs. It is financed by Member Nations, who contribute according to levels set by the Conference.

The Field Programme implements FAO's development strategies and provides assistance to governments and rural communities. Projects are usually undertaken in cooperation with national governments and other agencies. More than 60 percent of Field Programme finances come from national trust funds and 22 percent is provided by the United Nations Development Programme. FAO contributes about 16 percent - drawn from the Regular Programme budget - through its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP).


2. Precis the following press release:

FAO Stresses Potential of Biotechnology but Calls for Caution

Biotechnology provides powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry and can be of significant help in meeting the food needs of a growing and increasingly urbanized population, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its first statement on biotechnology, published today. In the case of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), however, FAO called for "a cautious case-by-case approach to determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO" and to address the "legitimate concerns for the biosaftey of each product and process prior to its release."

The statement was published on the occasion of the 'Codex Alimentarius Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology', meeting in Chiba/Japan (14-17 March). The objectives of the Task Force are to develop standards,  guidelines or recommendations, as appropriate, for foods derived from biotechnologies or traits introduced into foods by biotechnological methods.

Together with the World Health Organization, FAO provides the secretariat to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is an intergovernmental body with 165 member countries. It protects the health of consumers, ensures fair practices in food trade and promotes the coordination of food standards.

FAO recognized that genetic engineering has the potential to help increase production and productivity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It could lead to higher yields on marginal lands in countries that today cannot grow enough food to feed their people, the agency said.

FAO also pointed out that "there are already examples where genetic engineering is helping to reduce the transmission of human and animal diseases through new vaccines. Rice has been genetically engineered to contain pro-vitamin A (beta carotene) and iron, which could improve the health of many low-income communities."

Other biotechnological methods have led to organisms that improve food quality and consistency, or that clean up oil spills and heavy metals in fragile ecosystems.

Tissue culture has produced plants that are increasing crop yields by providing farmers with healthier planting material. Marker-assisted selection and DNA fingerprinting allow a faster and much more targeted development of improved genotypes for all living species. They also provide new research methods which can assist in the conservation and characterization of biodiversity.

However, FAO said, it is aware of the concern about the potential risks posed by certain aspects of biotechnology that could have effects on human and animal health and the environment. "Caution must be exercised in order to reduce the risks of transferring toxins from one life form to another, of creating new toxins or of transferring allergenic compounds from one species to another, which could result in unexpected allergic reactions. Risks to the environment include the possibility of outcrossing, which could lead, for example, to the development of more aggressive weeds or wild relatives with increased resistance to diseases or environmental stresses, upsetting the ecosystem balance. Biodiversity may also be lost, as a result of the displacement of traditional cultivars by a small number of genetically modified cultivars, for example."

FAO called for a science-based evaluation that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO. "The possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety need to be evaluated, and the extent to which the benefits of the product or process outweigh its risks assessed. The evaluation process should also take into consideration experience gained by national regulatory authorities in clearing such products. Careful monitoring of the post-release effects of these products and processes is also essential to ensure their continued safety to human beings, animals and the environment."

Investment in biotechnological research tends to be concentrated in the private sector and oriented towards agriculture in higher-income countries where there is purchasing power for its products, FAO said. "In view of the potential contribution of biotechnologies for increasing food supply and overcoming food insecurity and vulnerability, efforts should be made to ensure that developing countries, in general, and resource-poor farmers, in particular, benefit more from biotechnological research, while continuing to have access to a diversity of sources of genetic material. FAO proposes that this need be addressed through increased public funding and dialogue between the public and private sectors."

FAO assists its member countries, particularly developing countries, to reap the benefits derived from the application of biotechnologies through, for example, the network on plant biotechnology for Latin America and the Caribbean (REDBIO), which involves 33 countries. The Organization also assists developing countries to participate more effectively and equitably in international commodities and food trade. FAO provides technical information and assistance, as well as socio-economic and environmental analyses, on major global issues related to new technological developments.

The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, a permanent intergovernmental forum, is developing a Code of Conduct on Biotechnology aimed at maximizing the benefits of modern biotechnologies and minimizing the risks. The Code will be based on scientific considerations and will take into account the environmental, socio-economic and ethical implications of biotechnology. FAO is also working towards the establishment of an international expert committee on ethics in food and agriculture.

FAO emphasized, however, that the responsibility for formulating policies towards biotechnologies rests with the member governments themselves.

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