DECLARATIONS AND OPEN LETTERS
Technical Cooperation Network on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO/FAO) International REDBIO Foundation Government of the Dominican Republic
Significant challenges faced by humanity over the last one hundred years still persist in Latin America and the Caribbean. These limit attainment of the degree of development and social equity that we all desire in this new century for our peoples.
Poverty and food insecurity, epidemics, deforestation, air, soil, and water pollution, climatic changes, new crop pests and diseases and, recently, bioterrorism, all shape our possibilities. The persistence of these problems, despite our countries' efforts, calls for a paradigm shift towards an active and concrete agenda for the future to propel regional development. A new paradigm must, inexorably, advocate for human welfare above any other political or economic cause.
Undoubtedly, a development model to achieve collective prosperity and equity can be boosted by the development and sustainable use of biotechnology. Biotechnology, considered by many as humanity’s most influential scientific and technological endeavor in the last five hundred years, can greatly contribute to the generation of prosperity aiming at improved standards of living for the world population.
Biotechnology may be used to augment both the quantity and quality of foods and make them available to people across time and space. We are experiencing a two-fold trend: on the one hand, we are forced to rely on less water and cultivable land as well as on soils with reduced water retention capacity; on the other, we are faced with a higher incidence of pests, diseases and abiotic stresses affecting crop and animal yields. In this context, varieties and animal breeds with improved genetic characteristics that can help us face these challenges are necessary. To sustain the food security of 8 billion people in the year 2030, we need healthier and more vigorous seeds, crop varieties with genomes that confer biotic and abiotic tolerance, and greater yields of biomass per square meter and per unit of strategic input (water, nitrogen, energy, among others).
Recent applications of biotechnology not only facilitate increased productivity in agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors, but also allow for increased production and diversification of inputs that are essential to life, through the use of renewable raw materials. Among these inputs are nutritional elements for human and animal diets, medicinal metabolites, fuels and textiles.In addition, with advances in several areas of biotechnology such as bioprocessing, bioprospecting and diagnostics, value is also added to raw materials, maximizing the benefits of bio-products.For example, biotechnology is becoming an important tool for environmental services in response to the need for appropriate waste and ecosystem management, which is critical to the sustainability of production systems.
It is in the above context, and in the face of the advance of new illnesses and unfavorable abiotic situations, that scientific progress in genomics and medicine prognosticate extraordinary new capabilities allowing us to rise to these challenges. With a firm conviction and spirit of political collaboration, the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which hold 50% of the world’s cultivable genetic resources, must decipher native animal and plant genomes as a way of linking and integrating bioprospecting and genetic improvement.
The deciphering of animal and plant genomes is key to dismantling age-old mysteries in the fields of animal and plant health. We should all form a part of this historic era, not by our presence alone, but by our active participation, so that we may all live better, longer.
In Latin America and the Caribbean we must also be sensitive to the problem of desertification and the progressive depletion of natural resources, both of which become more acute over time.While plant biotechnology can be used to address these problems, efforts to this effect have been minimal. For instance, it is critical that we obtain forest species with high tolerance to drought, high temperatures and high levels of salinity. This point is of paramount importance in contributing to the ecological balance and harmony of the various elements of our ecosystems.
Biotechnological applications for the restoration of soils and industrial and agricultural waste management have only been implemented minimally in the region. Microbiological filters exist which are of great use in the removal of heavy metals from soil and waste water. Bioprocesses have also been developed that can convert municipal and industrial waste into energy, biofertilizer and purified water. It is therefore necessary to promote research and development programs resulting in biotechnological applications to help preserve fragile natural resources, while at the same time contributing to environmental cleanup and biosafety.
While we recognize that a great range of biotechnological applications are available to our countries, it is no less true that the majority of our countries do not possess established regulatory frameworks to exploit them. It is extremely important to have a legal platform in place in our countries to create an environment able to guarantee biosecurity, food safety, intellectual property laws, traceability, and to observe clear norms for biodiversity management and use. In consequence, the countries of the region must, without fail, dedicate themselves to the implementation of regulatory frameworks as a requirement in order to take full advantage of biotechnology applications. These bio-regulatory structures should be harmonious among countries in order to serve as a platform, not only for the exploitation of biotechnology, but also to encourage competitiveness and make regional commerce more viable.
Besides biotechnology's contribution through the generation of wealth –which in turn is transformed into prosperity for the population under harmonious regional regulatory frameworks, it is also evident that biotechnology can have a positive influence on the competitiveness of our countries. Countries can more quickly compete in global markets when they generate traceable, innocuous products, two characteristics essential to exportation.
The safe application of biotechnology is a key factor in development. As such, compliance with international trade agreements, environmental management, safe use of pesticides and conservation and use of phylogenetic resources are an important part of our countries' agendas. The phenomenon of bioterrorism, a new element requiring the attention of national bio-regulatory systems, demands precise bio-diagnostic tools that should be incorporated into biotechnology and biodiversity regulation mechanisms.
A significant topic in any biotechnology agenda is that of public perception and where it is necessary to raise awareness regarding biotechnology’s compatibility and ability to coexist with other production systems such as organic agriculture and ecological agriculture. Biotechnology can allow a much more sustainable and profitable organic agriculture by providing resistant varieties, biopesticides, bioregulators and biofertilizers. Similarly, soil and water management through bioremediation practices contributes to obtaining foods with high levels of innocuousness. Still further, genetically modified crops that have been tested through national biosafety commissions and which express tolerance to pests and diseases are ideal to produce food without the application of exogenous, artificial inputs.
It is also clear that to raise awareness of the benefits of biotechnology it is necessary to strengthen the aspect of communication beyond those efforts made by well-intentioned scientists and researchers. Education, communication, a shared vision and openness are needed to give way to the participation of the entire spectrum of society. Producers should be included in the development agenda, as should consumers, politicians, journalists and educators. Positive and informed public perception must be a joint effort.
Those scientists, researchers, regulators and participants, members of the REDBIO/FAO network, the Dominican host institutions for REDBIO 2004 (IDIAF, CEDAF, CONIAF), members of the International REDBIO Foundation, the Argentinean REDBIO Foundation, the Chilean REDBIO Foundation, and the Dominican REDBIO Foundation, present in Boca Chica, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in the course of the activities of the Technical Cooperation Network on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO/FAO) inform and declare to society, governments, institutions and decision-makers the following:
We declare that we recognize the transcendence of biotechnology applications as tools to improve the standard of living of people, understanding that these vary from the most practical of applications, such as production of healthy and vigorous plant material, to the most fundamental science, as seen in the field of plant and animal genomics. We also declare that it is paramount that these applications be carried out within a regulated framework, using a great sense of responsibility and professional ethics.
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