Biodiversity Treaty Triggered

European countries sign off on treaty on plant genetic diversity, which gives the measure enough force to become law on June 29. Compiled by staff

Published on: Mar 31, 2004

A dozen European countries and the European Community have started the countdown clock on a new biodiversity treaty, which means it becomes law on June 29. The Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture has been ratified by the necessary 48 countries to bring the measure forward, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The treaty aims to assure that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture are conserved and "sustainably" and that "benefits from their use are equitably and fairly distributed," FAO reports. "This is a legally binding treaty that will be crucial to the sustainability of agriculture," says Jacques Diouf, FAO director-general. "The treaty is an important contribution to the achievement of the World Food Summit's major objective of halving the number of hungry people by 2015."

The treaty sets up a multilateral system of "facilitated access" and "benefits-sharing" for crops and forages. The aim is to protect genetic biodiversity, and the treaty will require that private firms that utilize genetic resources from a region pay a fair price for the material. The aim is to protect areas including tropical and sub tropical zones that have the highest genetic diversity, but also often have some of the world's poorest farmers.

The FAO notes that the world now depends on 150 crops and that 12 crops provide 80% of the world's food energy. The top crops - wheat, rice, corn and potatoes - provide 60% of world food energy. There are worries that this limited diversity approach to food could be trouble in the future. The treaty aims to head off that problem.

The United States signed the treaty in 2002, but has not ratified it.