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The African Union's (AU) efforts to bring multinational companies and environmentalists together in a High-Level Panel on Modern Biotechnology is commendable, says an editorial in Nature.

But the AU must formally endorse the panel's report, 'Freedom to Innovate: Biotechnology in Africa's Development', if progress is to be consolidated.

Many people believe agricultural biotechnology could help alleviate the global food crisis through, for example, drought-tolerant plants. The AU panel agreed that Africa needs these new technologies along with the appropriate safeguards.

But some European environmental groups and many African political leaders remain strongly opposed to genetically modified crops in Africa.

Previous attempts to form a consensus on the way forward for African agriculture have failed — the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development agreement, for example, fell apart in January 2008. So the AU panel's consensus is fragile.

The AU must give the panel proper support and use the panel's report as a model for ongoing attempts to resolve the food crisis, says the editorial.

Link to full article in Nature