Debate about the potential risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to the environment or human health spurred attention to biosafety. Biosafety is associated with the safe use of GMOs and, more generally, with the introduction of non-indigenous species into natural or managed ecosystems. Biosafety regulation--the policies and procedures adopted to ensure the environmentally safe application of modern biotechnology--has been extensively discussed at various national and international forums. Much of the discussion has focused on developing guidelines, appropriate legal frameworks and, at the international level, a legally binding international biosafety protocol--the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Protocol is one among various international instruments and treaties that regulate specific aspects relevant to agricultural biotechnology. The present article presents the main international instruments relevant to biosafety regulation, and their key provisions. While international agreements and standards provide important guidance, they leave significant room for interpretation, and flexibility for countries implementing them. Implementation of biosafety at the national level has proven to be a major challenge, particularly in developing countries, and consequently the actual functioning of the international regulatory framework for biotechnology is still in a state of flux.
Diversification of agriculture was one of the strengthened aims of the greening payment of European Agricultural Policy (CAP) as diversification provides numerous ecosystems services compared to cereal-intensive crop rotations. This study focuses on current minor crops in Finland that have potential for expanded production and considers changes in their cropping areas, yield trends, breeding gains, roles in crop rotations and potential for improving resilience. Long-term datasets of Natural Resources Institute Finland and farmers' land use data from the Agency of Rural Affairs were used to analyze the above-mentioned trends and changes. The role of minor crops in rotations declined when early and late CAP periods were compared and that of cereal monocultures strengthened. Genetic yield potentials of minor crops have increased as also genetic improvements in quality traits, although some typical trade-offs with improved yields have also appeared. However, the gap between potential and attained yields has expanded, depending on the minor crop, as national yield trends have either stagnated or declined. When comparing genetic improvements of minor crops to those of the emerging major crop, spring wheat, breeding achievements in minor crops were lower. It was evident that the current agricultural policies in the prevailing market and the price environment have not encouraged cultivation of minor crops but further strengthened the role of cereal monocultures. We suggest optimization of agricultural land use, which is a core element of sustainable intensification, as a future means to couple long-term environmental sustainability with better success in economic profitability and social acceptability. This calls for development of effective policy instruments to support farmer's diversification actions.
Crop diversity underpins food security and adaptation to climate change. Concerted conservation efforts are needed to maintain and make this diversity available to plant scientists, breeders and farmers. Here we present the story of the rescue and reconstitution of the unique seed collection held in the international genebank of International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Syria. Being among the first depositors to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, ICARDA managed to safety duplicate more than 80% of its collection before the last staff had to leave the genebank in 2014 because of the war. Based on the safety duplicates, ICARDA since 2015 have rebuilt their collections and resumed distribution of seeds to users internationally from their new premises in Morocco and Lebanon. We describe the multifaceted and layered structure of the global system for the conservation and use of crop diversity that enabled this successful outcome. Genebanks do not work alone but in an increasingly strengthened and experienced multilateral system of governance, science, financial support and collaboration. This system underpins efforts to build sustainable and socially equitable agri-food systems.