“As a neutral forum, FAO has been promoting debates, dialogues and exchanges of information in order to enhance our knowledge of a broad portfolio of tools and approaches to eradicate hunger, fight every form of malnutrition and achieve sustainable agriculture.” That is how Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, opened the recent FAO-hosted international symposium, “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition.”
The symposium focused mainly on the broad range of biotechnologies that could result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities, and improved productivity of crops, livestock, fish and trees benefitting family farms. These include many applications such as fermentation processes, bio-fertilizers, artificial insemination, the production of vaccines, disease diagnostics, the development of bio-pesticides and the use of molecular markers in developing new plant varieties.
UN statistics indicate that one out of every nine people in the world is currently unable to eat enough nutrient energy to conduct an active and healthy life. In this context, Graziano da Silva said biotechnologies, knowledge and innovation must be available, accessible and applicable to family farmers and small holders.
Such issues are getting a wide hearing these days, including by the Philippine government Departments of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Environment and Natural Resources, Health, and Interior and Local Government. These agencies this week issued a joint ruling expected to lift a temporary ban on research, field-testing, commercialization and importation of genetically modified crops and biotech products in the country imposed by the country’s Supreme Court last December.
The scientific and academic community, farmer groups, traders, food and feed processors, and livestock producers had all criticized the ban. Dr. Emil Q. Javier, a noted Filipino scientist, academician and chair of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, said the temporary ban helped change public opinion about the science and benefits of genetically modified organisms by drawing attention to the issue and encouraging researchers to raise their voices about such advances in science and technology.
More specific to wheat, leaders from the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) are raising concerns about the economic viability of wheat production in the United States, and promoting the potential role of all new technologies to help.
For example, NAWG is developing a National Wheat Action Plan and a yield contest. In addition, at the recent Commodity Classic event, NAWG’s past president Brett Blankenship said the industry also wants to focus on such improvements in seed technologies as biotechnology and other “new breeding techniques shy of GMO.”
The Washington farmer spoke in favor of advancements in wheat genetics. When asked if he would grow biotech wheat on his own property, Blankenship said that “would be a marketing decision more than an agronomic one.” He pointed to the high volume of Washington wheat exported to markets that are “sensitive” to biotechnology.
For more information about the joint positions of USW and NAWG on agricultural biotechnology, visit here.