Treaty enacted to preserve crop biodiversity

On June 29, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture went into effect to protect crop biodiversity. Its goal: to foster conservation and sustainable use of plants that may possess genes for disease resistance or other traits important for crops. So far, 55 nations have ratified the treaty, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, Greece, Italy, India, Egypt, Spain, and Sweden.

Terms of the new protocol—to be administered under the auspices of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome—will be coordinated with those of the 10-year-old Convention on Biological Diversity (SN: 10/30/93, p. 287). In addition to fostering conservation of wild relatives of crop plants to preserve potentially important genes, the new treaty calls for globally surveying plant genetic resources and threats to them, promoting collection of seeds and other vegetative material that can be banked for research or to replenish seed stocks that have become unavailable, and broadening the genetic base of crops available to farmers, for example, by developing plants more resistant to blights or harsh conditions.

Finally, the treaty calls for a broad sharing of plant resources in times of crisis, such as when the Afghan seed bank was looted 2 years ago (see Science News Online, Food for Thought, 9/14/02: Afghanistan’s Seed Banks Destroyed).

Although the United States signed onto the treaty almost 2 years ago and may well abide by its provisions, the State Department issued a statement noting that it was postponing any consideration of formal ratification.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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