"Biotechnology & Sustainable Development: An International

An international conference on will be held in Alexandria, Egypt from 15-17 October 2001 on "Biotechnology and Sustainable Development."

The conference will be held in the beautiful new Bibliotheca Alexandria. All aspects of biotechnology will be addressed in concurrent panel sessions to include biotechnology in health, in agriculture, in food production, in environmental protection and in industrial processes. The conference is co-sponsored by the Egyptian Government, FAO, UNESCO, World Bank, OECD, CGIAR, ICARDA, AGERI, AAS&T, NAS and TWAS. Thanks to the generosity of the donors, conference registration fees will be waived for all participants. For more information call: phone 203-4876024 or 4876028 or internet:

Why this Conference?

Biotechnology And Sustainable Development: Voices Of The South And The North An International Conference Egypt: 15-17 October, 2001

Too long, the debate on biotechnology has been seen as a debate between the US and Europe or between the NGOs and the private sector largely in the industrialized countries. The developing countries have a vital stake in the pattern of development that the new technology will take. For it is in the developing countries that 80% of humanity resides and it is in the developing countries that all of the additional two billion persons that will be added to the world's population will come. It is in the developing countries that we will have to double food production in less than two generations with largely the same amount of land and water. It is from the developing countries that the bulk of the biological diversity has been obtained, and it is to the people of the developing countries, in their poverty and lack of health, that the new technology could bring significant and even dramatic improvements in their way of life.

Thus the voice of the developing countries needs to be heard much more forcefully than has been the case so far. Not by just having an occasional representative in a meeting held in a western capital, but by being the hosts of the international meetings, and engaging their decision makers in this debate. Such events would allow these decision makers to benefit from the multiplicity of views of the most informed and knowledgeable persons in the world, to form their own views and then hopefully to articulate their official positions in various international forums in response to this engagement.

To that end, Egypt is inviting leaders from the developing and the industrialized world: leaders in science, government, NGOs, the media, farmers groups, philanthropy, academia, the private sector and the civil society to meet in Egypt on October 15-17 2001. The event should cover the multi-faceted dimensions of the biotechnology debate: the scientific, ethical, and safety issues as well as the regulatory, IPR and trade and economic issues. Too frequently in the past these issues have been discussed in separate and uncoordinated forums, where the government representation comes from different ministries and looks at only one part of the issue. Thus we must bring representation from the ministries of agriculture, environment, health, education, scientific research, foreign affairs and international economy and trade who ultimately represent their countries at so many different venues: the WTO, FAO, WHO, UN, CSD, UNEP, CBD, WIPO, UPOV, and so many more.

For this event to be truly effective, we must have the very best scientists meet and interact with each other as well as with the highest levels of the political, governmental, non-governmental, private sector, media and philanthropic sectors. To make progress on this multifaceted debate we must make a firm commitment to the best science, and the most rigorous analysis of risks and promises, of legal and moral obligations, insisting on firm evidence rather than hearsay.

The following is a brief outline of the eight topics to be covered.

1. Where are we going: The state of cutting edge science. The promise of likely new discoveries.

2. Ethical issues: Not everything that is technically feasible is ethically desirable. What are the ethical issues involved in dealing with life forms? Modifying life forms in a way that conventional breeding could not achieve? Cloning? How much say do citizens have in deciding what is allowed?

3. Safety issues: Safety issues should not be underestimated, but what is the best way to deal with safety concerns? What do we know about the likely risks? How do we apply the precautionary principle responsibly in a context of uncertainty and risk? How do we improve risk analysis using comparative approaches? Also the different aspects of safety must be looked at: 3-a) Human safety: medical aspects, as well as food safety. 3-b) Environmental issues: bio-safety arguments.

4. Economic concentration: The role of multi-nationals in the seed business in the pharmaceutical business. The role of national private sector and governments. The concerns with economic concentration. The arguments about trade.

5. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Who owns the genes? What constitutes adequate patents? The role of the farmers rights, breeders' rights and IPR. Different regimes: UPOV, TRIPS/WTO, the multilateral undertaking (FAO), the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, and national legislation.

6. Regulatory regimes: To address all these issues what do we need in terms of international, regional, national and local (institutional) regulations? The role of the governments? Of professional associations? The scientists themselves? Asilomar
revisited? the harmonization of regulations. Liability? Who is responsible for what? Independent bodies for food safety? for environmental safety? For what?

7. Towards a better future: different role: What should governments do? How and where should the private sector invest? The role of the media, the role of the civil society. The role of international bodies. Partnerships, with whom?

8. Brokering partnerships for action: Can the conference provide a platform for new alliances of the caring? South/South collaboration, North/South collaboration international-regional-national-local alliances? Government, NGOs, farmers' groups, research labs and the private sector? public/private partnerships? How? Where?