U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

From SourceWatch
Jump to navigation Jump to search

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

FAO's mandate is:

"Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO's efforts - to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
"FAO's mandate is to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy."[1]


FAO Statement on Biotechnology

In March 2000, the FAO published a statement on biotechnology.[2] It begins:

"Biotechnology provides powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, as well as the food industry. When appropriately integrated with other technologies for the production of food, agricultural products and services, biotechnology can be of significant assistance in meeting the needs of an expanding and increasingly urbanized population in the next millennium."

However, what the above refers to is made immediately unclear by the following section, which defines biotechnology as "any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use."[2] It goes on to say:

"Interpreted in this broad sense, the definition of biotechnology covers many of the tools and techniques that are commonplace in agriculture and food production. Interpreted in a narrow sense, which considers only the new DNA techniques, molecular biology and reproductive technological applications, the definition covers a range of different technologies such as gene manipulation and gene transfer, DNA typing and cloning of plants and animals.
"While there is little controversy about many aspects of biotechnology and its application, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become the target of a very intensive and, at times, emotionally charged debate."

From there, the statement specifically discusses GMOs, saying: "FAO recognizes 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. 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."[2]

The last sentence refers to golden rice which is not yet available to the people it will supposedly help as of 2011, and was much further away from completion in 2000 when the FAO made this statement. Unless significant changes and improvements are made in the amount of beta carotene in golden rice, a person would have to eat some 20 lbs of rice per day to get enough beta carotene from the rice.

The statement continues, describing other applications of modern biotechnology, and then transitions to a statement about potential risks of biotechnology:

"However, FAO is also aware of the concern about the potential risks posed by certain aspects of biotechnology. These risks fall into two basic categories: the effects on human and animal health and the environmental consequences. 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 supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product or process prior to its release. 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."[2]

The use of the term "science-based" is telling. This term is favored by the United States, which is very favorable toward biotechnology compared to other nations. In practice, the U.S. has used the term "science-based" to mean that policies and regulations should ignore cultural and socio-economic factors when making decisions about biotechnology.[3]

The FAO statement continues, detailing several ways in which the FAO is promoting the development, legalization, and use of GMOs and other biotechnologies in developing countries, in particular, for "resource-poor farmers."[2]


Animal Production and Health Division

"FAO’s Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) is frequently involved in emergency responses triggered either by the incursion of severe animal diseases, which have the ability to rapidly spread over large geographical areas (‘transboundary animal diseases’, TADs) into previously unaffected countries or regions, or by natural and man-made disasters such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, civil strife etc. Both types of emergency have in common that they can severely affect livestock-related livelihoods."[4]
"AGA already has a close relationship with the private sector including the:

Nutrition and Consumer Protection

"The Nutrition and Consumer Protection Division aims to:
  • create sustainable improvements in nutrition, especially among nutritionally vulnerable households and population groups
  • provide information, assessments and analysis to combat hunger and reduce all forms of malnutrition
  • assist countries in identifying people who are food insecure and vulnerable to nutritional problems
  • promote food safety and quality, and prevent food-borne diseases
  • focus on consumer protection and fair practices in food trade"[6]

Plant Production and Protection

"FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division (AGP) promotes Sustainable Intensification of Crop Production. This approach requires the integration and harmonization of all appropriate crop production policies and practices aimed at increasing crop productivity in a sustainable manner, thereby meeting key millennium development goals aimed at reducing hunger and preserving the natural resources and environment for future use. The focus of our activities are to develop and strengthen
  • effective and strategic decisions that increase crop production using an ecosystem approach
  • national capacities to monitor and to respond effectively to transboundary and other important outbreak pests
  • policies and technologies appropriate to needs of a country and/or region to reduce negative impact of pesticides
  • conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources with strong linkages between conservation, plant breeding and seed sector development."[7]

For more information, see the article on FAO Plant Production and Protection Division

Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries

Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries "advocates and supports the development of entrepreneurship in agricultural support services."[8]

"FAO members are assisted with appropriate policies, strategies and methodologies for strengthening agricultural support systems and the delivery of services as well as technologies for production and post-production activities. The Division aims to assist farms and agribusinesses in developing managerial and technical skills for supporting production, post-harvest, infrastructural, marketing and financial operations related to developing and improving efficiency, effectiveness, competitiveness, and profitability of agricultural and food enterprises."[9]

For more information, see the article on FAO Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division.


Director-General: Jacques Diouf of Senegal, Director-General since 1994[10]

The FAO is led by both a Conference and a Council. The Conference consists of 191 member nations, which typically meet once every two years.[11] The Council consists of 49 members and it meets at least five times every two years.[12]

Programme Committee

The Programme Committee consists of 12 member nations and a chairperson. Its purpose is "To assist the Council in carrying out its duties regarding the development and implementation of the Organization's programme activities."[13]


Finance Committee

The Finance Committee's role is "To assist the Council in exercising control over the financial administration of the Organization." [14]


Committee on Constitutional and Legal Matters

Committee on Commodity Problems

Committee on Fisheries

Committee on Forestry

Committee on Agriculture

Committee on World Food Security

The Committee on World Food Security is advised by the High Level Panel of Experts.[15] For more information, see the article on the High Level Panel of Experts.

Regional Conferences

The Regional Conferences include:[16]

  • Regional Conference for Africa (ARC)
  • Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC)
  • Regional Conference for Europe (ERC)
  • Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean (LARC)
  • Regional Conference for the Near East (NERC)

Contact Information

  • FAO Headquarters
  • Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
  • 00153 Rome, Italy
  • Ph: (+39) 06 57051
  • Fax: (+39) 06 570 53152
  • Email: FAO-HQ@fao.org
  • Web: http://www.fao.org/

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. About FAO, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 FAO Statement on Biotechnology, Accessed October 29, 2011.
  3. U.S. Embassy Manila, "Grp Adopts Conflicted Biosafety Framework," U.S. State Department Cable, via Wikileaks, April 28, 2006, Accessed October 14, 2011.
  4. Animal Production and Health Division, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  5. Collaboration with the Private Sector, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  6. Nutrition and Consumer Protection, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  7. Plant Production and Protection, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  8. Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries, Accessed October 28, 2011.
  9. Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries, Accessed October 28, 2011.
  10. Director-General, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  11. Conference, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  12. Council, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  13. Programme Committee, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  14. Finance Committee, October 27, 2011.
  15. High Level Panel of Experts, Accessed October 27, 2011.
  16. Regional Conferences, Accessed October 27, 2011.

External Resources

External Articles