Twelve European countries and the European Community have ratified the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, triggering the 90-day countdown to the Treaty's entry into force, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has announced.

The latest ratifications bring to 48 the number of countries worldwide that have ratified the agreement, which will therefore enter into force on June 29, 2004.

The Treaty will ensure that plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, which are vital for human survival, are conserved and sustainably used and that benefits from their use are equitably and fairly distributed.

“This is a legally binding treaty that will be crucial for the sustainability of agriculture,” said FAO Director-General Dr Jacques Diouf. “The treaty is an important contribution to the achievement of the World Food Summit's major objective of halving the number of hungry people by 2015”.

“Years of multilateral negotiations have finally been successful,” said JosÈ Esquinas-Alc·zar, secretary of the commission.