ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

29 August 2002


"The United States will also provide Zambia data collected by its own scientists, he said. Natsios [of US AID] made the offer at a meeting with Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, during a two-day visit to Zambia." from item 3 [US AID is advised by CS Prakash]

1. US presses Africa to take GM foods
2. Activists Say Plans Are Afoot to Promote GM Food to Poor
3. U.S. offers Zambia assistance to assess safety of genetically modified corn


1. US presses Africa to take GM foods

Six countries beset by starvation reject offer of altered crops
John Vidal in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Friday August 30, 2002,12264,783096,00.html

The US was accused yesterday of putting intense pressure on United Nations organisations, the European Union and individual countries to support the export of GM food aid to six African countries facing severe hunger in the coming months.

Three countries were insisting that the food be milled to prevent the seeds being planted by farmers who may unwittingly pre-empt national legislation.

Zambia's chief scientific adviser said that if his country accepted unprocessed food aid a precedent would be set undermining its legal and democratic systems.

Together with Mozambique and Zimbabwe, which also initially refused to accept GM food aid, Zambia insists that the food must be milled before being handed out, because environmental risk assessments are impossible with its lilited resources.

At least a million tonnes of food are expected to be needed in the next six months to feed up to 12 million people in the six stricken countries. The US has offered more than 200,000 tonnes. The EU, the US Agency for International Development (USAid), the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation have all been urged by the US government to publicly endorse the safety of the food, which is eaten in more than 35 countries. The EU has refused.

"We have been pushed around by the way the Americans have put pressure on this issue," the EU development commissioner, Poul Nielson, told Reuters.

But the three countries who have put conditions on the food - and are preparing to mill it themselves - are angry at the pressure tactics used by the US, which has refused to offer conventional food or to mill the seeds.

"We cannot be so irresponsible so as to risk the lives of innocent people," Mundia Sikatana, Zambia's agriculture minister, said. "We don't need to engage in biotechnology at this stage. If we engage in GM our exports will be thrown overboard and that will cost thousands of jobs"

Non-government groups at the Johannesburg conference joined the row yesterday.

Robert Vint, of Genetic Food Alert, said: "It is only because the US can prevent the World Food Programme from purchasing available non-GM food from southern nations that it is able to tell countries that they must buy GM maize, that they must buy it from the US and that it must be unmilled."

Friends of the Earth said the jury was still out on GM foods and African countries should not be forced to accept the supplies. "Africans should choose what they eat, not have someone else decide for them," its spokesman, Nnimo Bassey, said.

But Andrew Natsios, the administrator of USAid, told reporters: "It's frightening people into thinking there is something wrong with the food ... and the consequence of it is that the relief effort is slowing down. It is very disturbing to me that some of the groups that are opposed to "genetically modified food" have chosen a famine to make their political points."

Yesterday the World Bank announced that it was to set up a comprehensive study yet of the risks and opportunities of using GM and other farming systems in poor countries. It is expected to last three years.

It is to be co-chaired by Dr Robert Watson, the bank's chief scientist, who was ousted as chairman of the UN's inter-governmental panel on climate change in May by the US government and the Exxon oil company, because of his remarks about the potential severity of global warming.

The study was broadly welcomed by environmental groups, who urged the bank to take into account social factors and called on governments to put a moratorium on commercialising GM crops until the bank had reported back.

Meanwhile, small-scale farmers were pushed yesterday into the forefront of the debate about the future of GM crops in Africa by the companies and non-governmental groups which are lobbying in force.

"I was given some GM maize seeds by Monsanto and they have done very well. I am very   pleased. They save time and money," said George Phanto, a farm leader from KwaZulu Natal province.

But Samuel Togo, a Tanzanian farmer who came to Johannesburg with an African grassroots organisation, was more cautious. "I have heard of GM seeds. I do not understand them, but I do not think they are good. I want to farm organically because it is better for the soil".

More than 150 people from the biotech industry are in Johannesburg. Monsanto yesterday said it had been lobbying ministers, African MPs and and government delegations. NGOs, with little access to the ministers and delegations, are trying to build alliances to oppose the planting of GM crops.

GM food in Africa has been slow to take off, but hi-tech maize and cotton is now grown commercially in South Africa, with GM soya likely to be approved next week. GM cotton should be approved in Kenya and Uganda by the next growing season and Zimbabwe has conducted trials, according to Monsanto, which has been buying up large seed companies in Africa as a way to promote its GM seeds.


2. Activists Say Plans Are Afoot to Promote GM Food to Poor

Tamar Kahn, Johannesburg
Business Day (Johannesburg), August 29, 2002

ENVIRONMENTAL activists said yesterday that the public-private partnerships being promoted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development would be used by the US to promote genetically modified (GM) food.

"There is a strong possibility major US firms will forge links to ship GM food to southern Africa," said Bobby Peek, director of environmental group Groundwork.

The controversy over the safety of GM food was heightened after Zambia rejected US food aid, because it consisted of GM maize.

Friends of the Earth International also pointed to a publicprivate partnership, which they said would promote GM crops as sustainable agriculture. Croplife, a plant-based science industry organisation, which includes Monsanto and Sygenta will run an e-mail education system for agriculture professionals, who will pass on the results to small farmers around the world.

One of the outcomes of the summit will be a series of what are termed type II, or voluntary, partnerships between governments, civil society, and the private sector. Critics, including many of the environmental NGOs, say that these partnerships might offer governments a convenient way out of commitments made at the summit, and dismiss such partnerships as mere window dressing. They also say these initiatives are often an ill-disguised attempt to privatise government functions.

But NGOs do not view all partnerships as evil, and yesterday outlined their criteria for assessing partnerships which will be unveiled in the days ahead.

Michael Dorsey, a director of the Sierra Club, the largest environmental organisation in the US, said it was essential for corporations to be held accountable at the international level.

He said until the recent series of financial scandals that rocked the US, the biggest corporate crimes in the US were environmental. He said repeated corporate offences should result in a corporate "death sentence", saying punishment should be levelled at the corporate entity, not only the culpable individuals.


3. U.S. offers Zambia assistance to assess safety of genetically modified corn


LUSAKA, Zambia, Aug. 28 - The United States offered Wednesday to help Zambia assess the safety of genetically modified grain, after the Southern African nation rejected donations despite an impending food crisis.

Almost 2.5 million Zambians are reportedly in danger of starvation if they don't get help quickly, but the government is worried the food may be a health risk.

Washington has offered to help Zambia set up its own biotechnology plant so scientists can research genetically modified foods, said Andrew Natsios, the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The United States will also provide Zambia data collected by its own scientists, he said. Natsios made the offer at a meeting with Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, during a two-day visit to Zambia.

Natsios told reporters shortly before his departure that the United States had also offered to help Zambian scientists travel to the United States to review the safety of the corn produced there.

He maintained that genetically modified food is safe, saying Americans eat it every day. The United Nations estimates that 12.8 million people in Zambia and five other Southern African countries - Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland - urgently need help to avoid mass starvation caused by erratic weather and exacerbated by government mismanagement.

Zambia also fears that farmers may try to plant the biotech grains, contaminating the country's crops and possibly threatening exports to countries with restrictions on genetically modified crops.

To date, Washington had delivered 490,000 tons of aid to hunger-stricken southern African countries through the U.N. World Food Program, Natsios said.

© 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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