Brussels, 31 Jan 2003
Professor Louise Fresco, an expert panellist at a conference on sustainable agriculture for developing countries in Brussels, exposed the growing gap between the promise and the reality of the use of biotechnology and life sciences in sustainable agriculture on 30 January.
Professor Fresco, assistant director general in the agriculture department at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, spoke of how 85 per cent of transgenic crops such as maize, canola and cotton, are designed to reduce labour and input costs. However, crops such as chickpea and cassava that would help tackle poverty and hunger are not being cultivated as extensively.
'There is a molecular divide between the rich and the poor,' claimed Professor Fresco.
According to Professor Fresco, this divide is generated by major differences between countries in terms of the applications and the progress of life sciences as well as a lack of funding from the public sector.
The current situation is also a result of a lack of confidence among the public in scientific endeavour. 'Science is currently viewed as a source of danger rather than a partner to social progress,' said Professor Fresco. In order to re-establish confidence in scientific research, Professor Fresco suggested a social contract that would establish open dialogue in society, address the real needs of developing countries and ensure the poor benefit from the progress made in biotechnology and life sciences.
Professor Fresco remarked that such a contract would generate a democratic evaluation of biotechnology and life sciences and in particular research into genetically modified crops.
However, the professor noted that the social contract should not focus only on genetically modified crops, as it could be detrimental to other scientific research. She concluded by making several concrete recommendations to advance biotechnology and life science work in the development of sustainable farming:
- Establish a database to trace genetically modified organisms in the food chains so that scientist and the public can stay better informed;
- Assist developing countries to develop their own biotechnology policies;
- Help developing countries to establish capacities to manage risk assessment;
- Establish a global research network to match the needs and demands of developing countries with the resources available;
- Generate more research funding from the public sector;
- Call upon the private sector to disseminate biotech information to developing countries in a voluntary system.