30 October 2002
US CRITICISED BY OECD OVER FORCING AID RECIPIENTS TO BUY AMERICAN EXPORTS
"the UN confirms there is enough non-GM food in southern Africa and
on world markets... The US should [untie its aid] and stop putting a GM
gun to the head of hungry Zambians." Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid
"The increase in US aid to the poorest countries must be accompanied by a cut in bureaucracy and a decision to end the system of forcing aid recipients to buy American exports, according to an intergovernmental review.
"The OECD said that US aid was still overwhelmingly "tied" to the purchase of American exports, or delivered directly in food aid - both of which have repeatedly been criticised by development experts." (item 1 below)
1. OECD urges US to improve delivery of aid
2. Zambia slams door shut on GM relief food
OECD urges US to improve delivery of aid
Alan Beattie in Washington
Financial Times, 23 October 2002 (shortened)
The increase in US aid to the poorest countries must be accompanied by a cut in bureaucracy and a decision to end the system of forcing aid recipients to buy American exports, according to an intergovernmental review.
The three-yearly review of the US's aid effort by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ˆ the draft conclusions of which were released yesterday - welcomed the $5bn-a-year "millennium challenge account" (MCA) announced this year by President George W. Bush. But it said aid delivery was inefficient.
"The responsibility for overseas development assistance is being handled by about 50 US government entities," the OECD's development assistance committee said. "There is a need for greater coherence between development and broader government policies (eg, trade and agriculture)."
The OECD said that US aid was still overwhelmingly "tied" to the purchase of American exports, or delivered directly in food aid - both of which have repeatedly been criticised by development experts.
Zambia slams door shut on GM relief food
Rory Carroll, Africa correspondent
Wednesday October 30, 2002
Zambia set a controversial precedent for developing countries yesterday by confirming that it would not accept genetically modified relief food despite the threat of famine.
The government said that concerns about the impact on health and the environment made the food too risky to be distributed to an estimated 3 million hungry people.
Leading environmental and development groups said Zambia deserved credit for asserting its sovereignty against pressure from US aid agencies and biotechnology companies to accept GM maize.
Critics condemned the decision as irresponsible grandstanding that would deny urgently needed nutrition to isolated, enfeebled families.
President Levy Mwanawasa said in August that Zambia would not accept relief food he deemed "poison" but agreed to send a scientific delegation to South Africa, Europe and the US to study GM food and report back to the government.
The report has not been published but one of its authors, Dr Mwananyanda Lewanika, told the Guardian that the delegation had been most impressed by Norway, which is hostile to GM, rather than South Africa, which has recently adopted the technology for commercial purposes.
He said the delegation ordered GM food in a US restaurant and was astonished to be told that such distinctions were not made in America, confirming the scientists' fears that once admitted into the food chain the technology was irreversible.
Yesterday's decision followed a cabinet meeting where the president gave the report to his ministers. Mundia Sikatana, the agriculture minister, said the scientific uncertainty surrounding the technology meant more tests were needed before it could be deemed safe.
"The country should thus refrain from actions that might adversely affect human and animal health as well as harm the environment," he said.
The president's hostility to GM food has been echoed by state media which has played down the risk of famine. Several warehouses storing GM maize have been looted but ministers favouring its distri bution have stayed silent, apparently intimidated after the president threatened to arrest an opposition deputy who said constituents had starved. Refusing GM food was popular with the urban elite which saw the issue as a test of national strength, while the hungry villages which wanted it lacked political muscle, one diplomat said.
Four other southern African countries facing food shortages - Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Lesotho - have accepted GM maize only if the seeds are milled into flour. Planted seeds could cross- pollinate other crops, thus endangering biodiversity and agricultural exports to Europe.
Zambia has gone further by banning even milled seeds, arguing that eating GM maize could harm the health of Zambians for whom it was a staple, unlike Europeans and Americans who may have been eating it for seven years but only in small amounts.
"This decision is a triumph of national sovereignty. The US has been putting pressure on countries to accept the GM surpluses produced by its farmers," said Charlie Kronick, a Greenpeace spokesman. Jane Moyo, of ActionAid, said Zambia's decision should be respected - as long as it did not mean people would starve - and that the US should follow the UK by donating money rather than food which was a covert subsidy to farmers.
About 15,000 tonnes of GM maize which the UN's World Food Programme stored in Zambia will probably be given to neighbouring countries.
A WFP spokeswoman said every government had the right to accept or refuse food aid, "but such a decision will complicate the work of WFP, which may not be able to respond to all those in need of food". Only half of those targeted were reached last month.
Guy Scott, a former Zambian agriculture minister, said the government had painted itself into a corner with "overly paranoid denunciations".
"What we will see now is how many people die as a result of the disruption of the relief programme - and how the various international NGOs that have spoken approvingly of the government's action will square the body count with their various consciences."
"..there is no shortage of non-GMO foods which could be offered to Zambia
by public and private donors. To a large extent, this 'crisis' has been
manufactured (might I say, 'engineered') by those looking for a new source
of traction in the evolving global debate over agricultural biotechnology.
To use the needs of Zambians to score 'political points' on behalf of biotechnology
strikes many as unethical and indeed shameless. " Dr Chuck Benbrook,
a leading US agronomist and former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture
for the US National Academy of Sciences
FORCE FEEDING THE WORLD - a primer on the food aid crisis
Eating GM or starving is a false dilemma. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of non-GM grain are available and it should be sent to where it's needed most. But instead the Bush Administration is exploiting famine in Africa in an effort to support America's biotech industry. It's just the latest twist in a long and cynical marketing campaign.
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