ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

22 August 2002


1. Kenya, Tanzania offer maize to hungry Zambians
2. Nature on poverty and GE crops
3. The Averys: Let them eat dust: Mugabe engineers famine by refusing bio-tech food
[for a sane analysis of the same situation, see George Monbiot's 'War on the peasantry',3604,773596,00.html]


1. Kenya, Tanzania offer maize to hungry  Zambians

XINHUA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE August 21, 2002, Wednesday

LUSAKA, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) --The Zambian government said Wednesday Kenya and Tanzania have offered Zambia undisclosed quantities of natural maize to replace the genetically modified ( GM) grain from the United States rejected by Zambia last week. Finance Minister Emmanuel Kasonde told reporters that the two eastern African countries have offered to fill an anticipated short-fall after Zambia has purchased 300,000 tons of maize from South Africa in the coming weeks. Kenya's High Commissioner Esther Thole conveyed Nairobi's offer while business entities in Tanzania have also contacted the Zambian government to indicate their willingness and ability to supply high quantities of good quality natural maize. "I am pleased at the offers because they will give us the opportunity to identify the cost effectiveness, in terms of purchase cost, haulage and delivery from sources of maize in meeting our requirements," Kasonde said. He added that in partnership with the private sector, his government will explore the modalities of getting the maize from Kenya and Tanzania. Last week, the Zambian government announced its rejection of GM maize from the US. It also announced an immediate ban on the importation or distribution of GM grain. The decision has left the US embassy in Zambia with 23,500 tons of GM maize and diplomats there are not sure where to take it. The US government had promised to provide an even bigger consignment of 28,000 tons of grain if the first consignment had been accepted.
2. Nature on poverty and GE crops
                                  PART I
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TITLE:  Poverty and Transgenic Crops
SOURCE: Nature, UK, Vol. 418, p. 569, Editorial
DATE:   Aug 14, 2002

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Poverty and Transgenic Crops

Africa's rejection of genetically modified food aid reflects a chasm of misunderstanding that is only exacerbated by exaggerated claims for the benefits of the technology.

At first glance, the reluctance of some nations in southern Africa to accept international donations of genetically modified (GM) maize will strike some as bizarre and irresponsible. But the drama that is now being played out across the region (see page 571) raises some serious issues to which sceptics should pay heed, before they dismiss the problem as just another example of African governance gone awry.

The first issue is the extent to which aid donors like to enjoy most of the fruits of their own benevolence. In the case of US food aid, including some of the emergency aid currently flowing into southern Africa, grants or loans are normally made available only for the procurement of grain from US farmers. That makes the decision to grant the aid more politically palatable, because it is, in effect, just a few dollars more on top of the billions already being lavished on domestic farm support.

The second issue raised by the impasse is the extent to which transgenic crops are a relevant tool in eradicating poverty and feeding the world. Supporters of transgenic agriculture are engaged in an elaborate campaign to convince the public, particularly in Europe, that this is indeed the case. But the real impact of the technology on global poverty ? now and for the foreseeable future ? is to increase yields in rich countries, adding to a global grain glut that depresses prices and undermines agriculture in the poorest countries.

It is only in the longer term that transgenic technology holds out promise for these countries, and this will be fulfilled only if the countries concerned can introduce the technology on their own terms. The biosafety protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity, for example, acknowledges the need for poor nations to develop the capacity to assess new agricultural technologies for themselves, if they are to use them effectively.

South Africa is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has been able to plan and implement rules for the commercial growing of GM food. Other countries in the region are now being pressed to accept the technology in an emergency, effectively without informed consent. Aid agencies cannot always prevent donated grain from being sold on the black market for planting by wealthier farmers in areas not afflicted by drought, they say, so the transgenic crops will arrive in their farms by default.

Countries in the region are understandably concerned about the trade implications of this. European consumers remain wary of GM food, and tighter labelling requirements for it are in the pipeline (see Nature 418, 114; 2002). Some countries are already targeting niche markets for non-GM food exports, and small African nations ? whose most lucrative potential export markets are in Europe ? need to keep their options open.

It is certainly to be hoped that the United States is not using the current famine threat to get its GM crops into Africa through the back door to expand the restricted export market for them.

The United States donates almost 60% of the world's food aid and, as long as much of that aid is tied to the procurement of food from US farmers, the region facing famine will probably have to accept GM food. For now, negotiations are taking place to arrange the milling of GM maize before it arrives in Zimbabwe, to prevent the possibility of replanting. Some experts even suggest that the United States could exchange its GM maize with non-GM grain from a country prepared to accept both, such as India or South Africa, so that the latter can be distributed in the famished region. Such an arrangement might sound overelaborate, but it is only a taste of what is to come if Europe and the United States continue their mutual impasse on acceptance of this technology.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Africa Hungry for Conventional Food as Biotech Row Drags On
SOURCE: Nature, UK, Vol. 418, p. 571-572, by Natasha McDowell
DATE:   Aug 14, 2002

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Africa Hungry for Conventional Food as Biotech Row Drags On

Famine-relief efforts in drought-stricken southern Africa are this week trapped in the increasingly bitter and polarized global argument over the acceptability of genetically modified (GM) crops.

Most attention has focused on Zimbabwe's decision earlier this month to accept a shipment of GM maize (corn) sent as a gift by the United States only if it was first milled and therefore could not be planted. Previously, it had refused the shipment altogether. Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique are also to varying degrees resisting the importation of transgenic crops.

But as hundreds of thousands of people face starvation in the coming months, the diverse disputes on food aid reflect a broader impasse between Europe and the United States over the perceived safety of transgenic crops. The aid is usually donated as a gift or in the form of loans or grants to purchase food from the donor country. Some aid officials accuse international, non-governmental aid organizations of stirring up unfounded concerns in Africa about transgenic foods. The aid organizations and African government officials counter with the argument that the United States is using this crisis to force African countries to accept transgenic agriculture when they lack the means to independently assess the risks it may pose to the environment and to health.

Zambia is still in negotiations with the United States about a major loan from Washington tied to the purchase of US-grown GM maize. As is common with much foreign aid, most food aid from the United States comes in the form of loans to buy food from US farmers. Mozambique has an official policy of accepting only GM-free maize, as has Namibia. But Malawi has accepted free US food without raising any concerns, as have Lesotho and Swaziland.

"People here are following the global debate on GM crops and are concerned that not much is known," says Mwananyanda Lewanika, a biotechnologist at the National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research in Lusaka, Zambia. "We can't introduce GM technology without a biosafety regulatory framework in place. Until then we would prefer to buy crops from where we know they are GM-free, even if they are more expensive."

The African nations are also concerned that their future chances of exporting their own crops to Europe could be damaged if the GM grain delivered as food aid were replanted and entered the food cycle. Many European food manufacturers refuse to accept GM food, owing to consumers' dislike of the technology. Even fewer are likely to accept it if new rules come into effect that require the labelling of foodstuffs containing GM ingredients (see Nature 418, 114; 2002).

"African countries now face new export hurdles because of regulatory uncertainty in Europe," says Calestous Juma, a development expert at Harvard University. "The issue is not about whether GM crops are safe or not. It is about the urgent need to agree on a predictable and non-discriminatory trading regime for GM products."

US officials claim that they could not give countries GM-free crops even if they wanted to, as US farmers do not routinely segregate GM and non-GM crops, except for the organic market. Critics of the US aid strategy contend that it exploits the crisis by depriving the African countries of the chance to decide whether or not they want the technology. "Accepting GM technology now could stop these countries getting back on their feet in the long term," says Hannah Crabtree of the UK charity ActionAid.

Some aid officials working in Africa claim that the Zambian government is being encouraged by European aid groups to reject the US loan.

"I think it is absolutely irresponsible unless they put their money where their mouth is and come up with non-GM food," says one aid official, who asked not to be named. "I don't have the nerve, heart or soul to deny, as a precautionary principle, food to people who are hungry right here, right now. It is a debate that only America and Europe can afford because they have food."

The World Food Programme, the United Nations agency responsible for coordinating food aid, has so far received only a quarter of the US$507 million of food aid that it has requested for the region.


3. Let them eat dust; Mugabe engineers famine by refusing bio-tech food

By Dennis Avery and Alex Avery
The Washington Times August 21, 2002, Wednesday, Final


Are European officials and prestigious science journals truly  applauding one of the world's bloodiest dictators for rejecting food  aid for his starving people just because some of the corn  may be genetically modified? We're talking about Robert  Mugabe, the so-called president of Zimbabwe, who used mobs  to strong-arm his way to recent re-election and who has  virtually destroyed his nation's economy with graft and  violence. Mr. Mugabe was recently invited to bask in  anti-biotech virtue, as though he were protecting his people from real danger, by refusing donated U.S. corn in the  middle of a desperate southern African drought. Millions of  Zimbabweans are at risk of starvation from a combination of  drought and Mr. Mugabe's policies. The drought has dried up  the traditional farmers' staple corn crop, as it  periodically does. Zimbabwe cannot afford to buy imported  corn, as it usually does, because Mr. Mugabe turned loose  mobs of "guerrilla veterans" to oust the white farmers from  Zimbabwe's commercial farms. The high-yield commercial  farms [and their tens of thousands of black employees] used  to produce the high-quality tobacco that earned most of the  country's foreign exchange. This year, Zimbabwe can neither  grow corn nor buy it. The U.S. corn being offered as food  aid is the same corn that Americans themselves have been  eating in their corn flakes and tortilla chips with no ill  effects. The United States has no other corn to offer,  because America does not segregate biotech commodities from  conventional ones. [Three U.S. government agencies must be  satisfied with the crops' safety before the seeds can even  be planted.]

 America donates about two-thirds of the food aid offered  in the world, and is offering corn to Zimbabwe. It has also  offered free grain to Zambia, which is being urged to  reject it by European activist groups. Malawi, Lesotho and  Swaziland accept U.S. corn with no apparent concern. Europe  has surplus grain, and allows its consumers to believe the  mostly American biotech commodities should be feared, even  though no health or environmental threat has ever been  documented. Europe is not offering its non- biotech wheat  as food aid, nor has it offered to buy conventional corn to  save Africa from the supposed ravages of genetically  engineered seeds. "I think is it absolutely irresponsible,  unless they put their money where their mouth is and come  up with non-GM food," said one aid official who asked not  to be named. "I don't have the nerve, heart or soul to  deny, as a precautionary principle, food to people who are  hungry right here, right now."

 When African people are starving, here and now, can the  journal Nature truly be claiming that America is betraying  them by offering the same food we eat? Are the activists  truly willing to work in favor of mass starvation for  others over the "precautionary principle" that says we  should never permit any new technology henceforth, because  no scientist can ever prove that any technology is so safe  it won't cause even a skin rash? Why should we expect  anti-science activists to develop qualms of conscience now,  just because a few million women and children are starving  before their eyes? After all, millions of Africans and  Asians have been dying of malaria for decades, while many  of the same activists blocked the safe and cost-effective  indoor use of DDT to repel and kill the mosquitoes. The  activists tried to block biotech Golden Rice, developed to  save millions of Third World kids from death or blindness  due to Vitamin A deficiency. Animal rights campaigners  continue to destroy medical research facilities and  researchers' lives, endangering tens of millions of people  in the long term to "protect' a few white rats who are alive solely for research use. [No labs, no white rats get fed.]

 Zimbabwe proves again that the activists don't care about  real people losing real lives to real food shortages. They  cannot be entrusted with a real world.

Dennis Avery is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis and a former senior agricultural analyst for the State  Department. Alex Avery is research director of Hudson's Center for Global Food Issues.

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