ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
3 January 2003


1.India rejects food aid over GM content
2.Traditional Foods in Abundance to Feed 3m Starving People


1.India rejects food aid over GM content

By Edward Luce in New Delhi
Financial Times, January 2 2003

India has rejected a large shipment of food aid from the United States because it contained genetically modified food, the Financial Times has learned.

The shipment of maize and soya - part of the US government's annual $100m in food aid to parts of India that suffer from chronic malnutrition - is thought to have contained bio-engineered content, say Indian officials.

The US, which is appealing against the ruling in New Delhi, says it cannot guarantee that any shipment of maize will be free of GM content, since GM foods are regularly mixed with non-GM foods in the US.

If the US appeal is rejected, it could have negative implications for the commercial development of GM crops in India.

Last year Zambia attracted strong criticism when it rejected international food aid because it had GM content.

"We are not against GM foods per se," said A M Gokhale, chairman of the Indian committee that rejected the consignment last year. "But if there is reason to believe that there may be damage to human health, we have the right to reject any import."  New Delhi's rejection of the food aid has deepened confusion about India's stance on genetic modification. Last year New Delhi gave the green light for the introduction of BT cotton in India - its first approval of a GM crop.

However, since then the committee that determines India's GM policy has regularly held up or postponed approval of other such crops, including mustard.

Officials say there is strong political opposition to GM crops, which many non-governmental organisations depict as a tool of multinational companies to undermine India's farmers. In addition, there are fears some GM grains cause allergies, such as skin rashes.

But Kameswara Rao, head of the Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness in Bangalore, said the Indian government was more concerned about protecting its own nascent GM sector than about fears over public health. "There is no public health issue here - that is a red herring," said Mr Rao. "India is developing its own GM variants and there are people on the government committee who are funding the research."

The appeal over the US maize, which will be heard later this month, is likely to provide a clear signal on whether India will in future accept trade or aid imports that include GM content. It could also signal New Delhi's willingness to take on political forces opposed to GM foods in general.

Indian economists say the country badly needs another "green revolution", in which new hybrids developed by scientists helped to boost rice and wheat yields in the 1970s and 1980s and to make the country self-sufficient in food.

Although India now has more than 60m tonnes in food stocks - about a quarter of the global total - its population growth is outstripping agricultural yield growth for the first time in a generation.

Many government scientists believe GM crops are the answer to the country's long-term food security. But senior officials say it will be difficult for India to accept further food imports unless there is clear indication of whether GM components are included.

"We have the right to look at each GM issue on a case-by-case basis," said M.M. Verma, a senior official at India's department of environment. Roughly a third of US corn output and three-quarters of its soyabean output is bio-engineered.


Traditional Foods in Abundance to Feed 3m Starving People

Zarina Geloo

LUSAKA, Jan 2 (IPS) - ''We have traditional foods in abundance. I do not know why there is this maize mania when some of our provinces do not even grow maize, traditionally,'' says Mundia Sikaatana, Zambia's minister of agriculture.

Sikatana says there is an unhealthy focus on maize as the only ''food'' in Zambia, which causes consumers to believe they will starve when it is in short supply.

But, a World Food Programme (WFP) official, who declined to be named, says the people of southern Africa ask donors to give them maize, their staple diet. ''It is a common feature in sub-Saharan Africa and we have not been told, otherwise,'' he says.

Giving Africans other cereals like wheat would mean ''teaching'' the consumers how to use it -- a time consuming exercise that involves mobilisation and advocacy, he says.

But Charles Banda, an agricultural scientist in Lusaka, says the reason donors insist on maize is simple economics. It is the grain the Western farmers grow in surplus, for stock feed.

''WFP give us maize because that is what the farmers in the north grow and they have to keep them in business by buying up their stocks," he says.

Banda argues that maize is not the traditional food of Zambians or even a native of the Southern African soil, it is an import from South America.

A voracious critic of Genetically Modified (GM) food, he says, ''look at us now, we are panicking because we do not have maize, but our traditional foods are millet, cassava and sorghum. Let us not only return to our traditional staple foods but also farm the cereals best suited to our soil. Maize is an import that is why it is problematic to grow in Southern Africa.''

But WFP insists, ''we give people what they know to eat''.

Another bone of contention between government and WFP is the procurement of food. While the WFP insists on distributing maize for relief food, government says there is more than enough traditional grains to feed the hungry.

Sikatana, quoting statistics from the National Association of Peasants and Small Scale Farmers in Zambia, says there is a surplus of over 300,000 metric tonnes of cassava, or manioc, in the northern and northwestern parts of Zambia ''crying out'' for a market.

He says Zambia has a long history of using cassava as a key crop for food security. Thirty percent of the country's population depends on cassava, a drought-resistant crop, as its main source of energy.

''If we can buy cassava then we have won the war on this hunger and farmers will become solvent to produce more food for the next season,'' says Sikatana.

WFP resident representative in Zambia, Richard Ragan told a donor meeting in Lusaka recently that ''the government has been asking us to use the funds mobilised to buy food locally but we are constrained by our regulations''.

Sikatana says government will encourage the UN agency to change its mind. - We have managed to convince some of our friendly donors to stipulate as a condition, that their funds are for local procurement so we are moving slowly,'' he says.

This has brought hard feelings, says a source in the ministry of agriculture. WFP is the main agency in mobilising and channelling food relief in Southern Africa.

''As a ministry we are uneasy. We cannot help but believe in the age-old trick of giving with the right hand and taking with the left. The money given for food by the West goes back to it via the purchase of maize from its farmers,'' says the source in the ministry of agriculture.

According to the latest emergency report, Zambia needs 224,000 Metric Tonnes (MT) of grain to feed its hungry population up to Mar 2003. The World Food Programme has pledged to provide 82,000 MT, leaving a deficit of 120,000 MT.  Civil society has picked up the slack in the fast losing battle to resolve the food crises. Working with Sikatana, the group comprising churches and non-governmental organisation (NGOs), has formed an alliance to raise funds to buy cassava from areas of surplus and distribute it to the food-deficit areas.

In a petition signed by about 90 organisations, Co-ordinator of the project, Bernadette Lubozhya requests Zambians and local organisations to raise about 59 million U.S. dollars to buy and distribute the cassava, while government resolves issues with World Food Programme.

''We rejected the GM food that was given to us on our own, we cannot look to the same donor community and foreigners to do things for us, we have to take the initiative,'' she says.

Richard Lee, WFP spokesperson in South Africa, had warned, when Zambia rejected GM maize, that it would not only be difficult to source non-GM food but it would also be hard to get it in time to avert hunger.

Concurring, Lubozhya presses her point home about buying food already available in the southern African country.

When Sikatana ordered WFP to get rid of the 12,000 tonnes of GM maize in the country late last year, only a few countries like the U.S. government had pledged 30,000 MT of wheat and Sorghum, and Italy had donated white (non-GM) maize worth one million U.S. dollars.

The World Bank has given Zambia 50 million U.S. dollars in grants and loans for drought relief, but this money has already been committed to other areas and it is unlikely any of it will be channelled to local procurement.

Zambia, along with Zimbabwe and Malawi, is the hardest hit by a food shortage due to two successive droughts and poor agricultural and economic policies.


"..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

"It's wicked, when there is such an excess of non-GM food aid available, for GM to be forced on countries for reasons of GM politics... if there is an area where anger needs to be harnessed it is here."  UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, speaking at a briefing of British parliamentarians, November 27, 2002

more on the food aid crisis:

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