The 15 member countries of the European Union (EU) plus the European Community today signed the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture – a move which was immediately hailed by United Nations officials.
“The signature by the 15 EU member States and the European Community, and their announcement that they intend ratifying it as soon as possible, is a major breakthrough,” said Louise Fresco of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). “It comes only a few months after the adoption of the agreement and shows the importance countries are giving to genetic resources for food and agriculture on which global food security depends.”
The treaty, which was approved last November at an FAO conference, covers the conservation and sustainable use of the world’s agricultural plant genetic material, as well as the fair and equitable sharing of its benefits.
With the new signatures, the number of countries that have signed the pact increased to 26, plus the European Community. Eritrea, Egypt, Jordan and Guinea have already ratified the treaty, which will enter into force after ratification by 40 countries.
Ms. Fresco said Europe’s action should spur further momentum. “I hope that this will send a strong signal to other countries to follow suit.” FAO said it expects more countries to sign the treaty during the meeting, “World Food Summit: five years later,” which opens in Rome on 10 June.
Genetic resources for food and agriculture are critical, according to FAO. An estimated 10,000 species have been used for human food and agriculture, but only about 150 plant species make up the diets of the majority of the world’s population. Of these, just 12 species provide over 70 per cent of food, while four – rice, maize, wheat and potatoes – make up over 50 per cent of the world's energy intake.
“In spite of their vital importance for human survival, genetic resources are being lost at an alarming rate,” said José Esquinas-Alcazar, Secretary of the FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. “The treaty will provide incentives to continue conserving and developing them.”