The Holy See
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Monday, 26 March 2001


Mr President,

1. First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your election and thank you for permitting me to speak at the opening session of the meeting of this Committee.

Of course, the approach of the Holy See's Delegation is distinctive; it is not that of a specialist, for, as you know, "the Church does not have technical solutions to offer" (Sollicitudo rei socialis, n. 41). Therefore, we would like to suggest to experts in this field that "indispensable and ideal orientation" (Centesimus Annus, n. 43), focused on the fundamental needs for the development of the human person, which may help to shed light on the concrete decisions that this committee is called to adopt.

2. It should first be noted that the data of the FAO's activity in developing the "Long-term Programme:  agricultural production", indicate a constant and active involvement that responds better to the needs of the member States, especially those in the process of development. As we all know, these expectations are certainly connected with natural cycles, but also with man's interventions, by an activity that takes as its goal personal or group interest, not the common good.

At the same time, in the "perspective" of a future commitment of the FAO, we can see that "new" situations have appeared that affect the agricultural sector. They demand new efforts of the Organization and its member States. Among them, we affirm that the central place of agriculture within the broader context of lasting development has to come first. This concept is complicated because of the many factors that come into play in defining the objectives it pursues. The central place of agriculture is the pivot around which the elaboration of strategic designs has to revolve.

Actions, programmes and political guidelines - often they are designed to favour a particular sector rather than to maintain a correct vision of lasting development as a global objective - have to foster this central place. In many cases we can detect the obvious effects of a vision of the partial importance of the agricultural sector, especially in the regions most affected by poverty, under-development and malnutrition, as well as environmental degradation. This is why our Delegation is firmly convinced that the future commitments of the international community (we are thinking in particular of the Rio + 10 meeting, to be addressed during the work of this committee) can only stress the central role of agriculture in processes destined to promote lasting development.

3. Today, two kinds of issues affect the world of agriculture, both of which need to be "governed" by norms and controls. For a greater guarantee of their efficacy and globalization of norms and controls, they should be formulated at the international level and then accepted by each country.

Following the order of the agenda, I refer to the issue of how to protect important agricultural ecosystems, conditioned by climatic changes as well as by flooding which affects underprivileged regions and populations. These are phenomena whose causes we know and whose solutions we can foresee, but the rush to more immediate goals often means that the solutions, such as the work of recovery, that are possible and urgent are postponed. The same is true of strategies and technologies for future development. An ethic of responsibility for an action that aims at the stability and growth of international relations would require an effort of involvement, and would start by putting into practice the interventions accepted at the intergovernmental forums. The World Food Summit's objectives, which we would like to see confirmed with conviction and coherence, must be vigorously upheld by FAO with an activity that is as concrete as possible.

4. A second type of "new situation" that regards agriculture and requires constructive reflection during the meeting of our committee, concerns the important role of biotechnologies, both in the phase of production and in the phase of the use and commercialization of foodstuffs. However, a proper prevention of the risks to people and ecosystems must be planned at different levels, starting with the phase of experimentation. Indeed, a type of research that strives to increase agricultural production, and thus to satisfy the demand for food which will take into account the aims of food security in this area. It cannot overlook what is at the root of reliable nourishment (thus also of the consumers' health), and of lasting development, that is, environmental protection. The necessary strategies in the area must include and reinforce the gradual development of existing norms and of specific policies at the national as well as international levels. A first possible step for this committee could be the proposal to include in the future Work programme, a greater consideration of the possibility for FAO to intervene on issues linked to biosecurity, giving top priority to prevention.

This would allow the Organization to continue helping member States to put in place procedures for control in the phase of food production and in the forms of intervention for dealing with emergencies. Thus one would be able to apply effectively to the agricultural sector what is known as the "principle of precaution", a principle that must govern the sector of biotechnology and research, but whose content and objectives must be carefully explained and interpreted in order to be included in each country's legislation and policies.

Mr President,

5. The attention paid to the commitments that the FAO is called to honour at the present time and in the near future (made explicit in the Middle-term plan), requires a growing effort in the context of the work of our committee, so that we may attend to the problems and needs of those who are left out, in our case, all who depend on agricultural work for food, employment and a minimal income.

Attention at the same time must be paid to sharing with determination the decision that will enable the Organization - as its Constitution prescribes - to be the "centre" for the collection of information, studies and the publication of data on agriculture, as well as production technology and regulations. This goal, together with the States' contribution, requires civil society to be firmly committed to participation - through its associations and institutions - and requires that it not only be informed but also formed.

For its part, the Holy See would like to affirm again the willingness of the Catholic Church, her structures and her organizations, to contribute to this effort to provide every individual with his "daily bread", as, moreover, the FAO's motto recalls:  "Fiat Panis"!

Thank you.

*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in Englishn.35 p.5, 8.