International Organisations

Examples of international organisations relevant to biotechnology include:

  • World Trade Organisation (WTO)

  • Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

  • World Health Organisation (WHO)

  • World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE)

World Trade Organisation

Building on GATT (1947), the WTO was established on 1 January 1995 by the Uruguay Round negotiations (1986-94). WTO’s main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.

Becoming a member means agreeing to the general WTO Agreements, which define the rules of international trade. There is a ‘panel’ process for dispute settlement.

The general WTO Agreements are:
GATT: General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in goods

  • GATS: General Agreement on Trade in Services.

  • TRIPS: Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

Additional agreements and annexes deal with specific sectors or issues, such as:

  • The Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).
    These are WTO rules preventing product requirements from becoming unnecessary obstacles to trade.

  • The Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS)
    These are WTO rules preventing, inter alia, food/feedstuff safety measures and measures to control the spread of pests, from becoming unnecessary obstacles to trade.

The SPS Agreement Sets out the rules by which countries establish their regulatory frameworks for food safety and animal and plant health:

  • Science based

  • Applied only to the extent necessary for protection

  • Cannot be arbitrary or discriminatory

  • No undue delay

Important in this context is that SPS applies also to products of modern biotechnology, and that SPS acknowledges international standard setting bodies (see next section) such as the Codex Alimentarius.

The Food and Agriculture Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was created in 1945 to lead international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. FAO also assists developing countries and countries in transition modernize and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices and ensure good nutrition for all. Since its founding, FAO has focused special attention on developing rural areas, home to 70 percent of the world's poor and hungry people. FAO's overall 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.

The Committee on Agriculture (COAG) in 1999 recommended FAO to develop a strategic approach in biotechnology and biosafety. The resulting FAO Statement on Biotechnology, which was published in March 2000, includes, among others, the following points:

  • 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. Genetic engineering could lead to higher yields on marginal lands in countries that today cannot grow enough food to feed their people.

  • FAO is also aware of the concern about the potential risks posed by certain aspects of biotechnology. FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual LMO. 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.

  • FAO considers that 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.

These notions in the FAO Statement on biotechnology of 2002, are further elaborated and built upon in a number of subsequent documents and statements, such as:

World Organisation for Animal Health

See 'International Standard Setting Bodies'!