ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

14 November 2002


The World Food Programme's attack on Jean Ziegler, the U.N. food rights investigator critical of GM crops, (see item 3) is  entirely to be expected. This is a US dominated agency that stands accused of making no serious provision for non-GM supplies for Zambia for at least 4 months in order to tighten the screw on the government and try and force a climb down to suit the US.

The WFP are now claiming this happened because, "The government's final decision [on GM] was on 29 October, so there was not enough time [to source] alternative stocks's"

In reality, the Zambian government made its position formally known back in June. The later announcement was merely a confirmation of that position. To do nothing in the intervening months, knowing that there must be a very real chance that the Zambians would proceed with their declared policy, is verging on the criminal.

And note the WFP's dismissal of Jean Zeigler's comments on the basis that: "That is his personal opinion, which we don't share. He is not a scientist, he is not qualified to make such statements". Given the US's attemtpts to rein in, for instance, the Vatican to help arm-twist the Zambians, can we now expect the WFP to denounce the Vatican's intervention on this topic?

And what, in any case, is the WFP doing spend time now on supporting the US's propaganda drive on GMOs when it needs to be concentrating all its attention on resolving the Zambian crisis by (a) getting hold of the non-GM grain needed and (b) pressing the US to untie its aid - both Canada and the EU have made big cash donations this week so that aid can be bought appropriately to meet the crisis without damaging the regions markets and while respecting the wishes of the donor.

"..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
 The USAID website candidly states: "The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States. Close to 80% of the USAID contracts and grants go directly to American firms. Foreign assistance programs have helped create major markets for agricultural goods, created new markets for American industrial exports and meant hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans."
Download the Greenpeace report on USAID and GM food aid

Resisting the GM or Die Ultimatum:
FORCE FEEDING THE WORLD - a primer on the food aid crisis

1. European Commission gives Zambia 15 million pounds for food aid
2. Famine and the GM debate
3. WFP joins US attack on U.N. human rights investigator
4. 3 letters in response to pro-GM article in C of E newspaper


1. European Commission gives Zambia 15 million pounds for food aid

Agence France Presse, November 13, 2002

LUSAKA, Nov 13 BODY: The European Commission has given Zambia 15 million pounds to purchase about 33,000 tonnes of non-genetically modified (GM) food to help avert the hunger situation, state-owned Times of Zambia reported Wednesday. According to the newpaper, the EC head of delegation in Zambia Ambjorn Berglund said the money would be used to purchase non-GM food because the EC respected Zambian government's decision to reject transgenic foods. About two million Zambians are faced with severe starvation after their crops were wiped out by the unrelenting drought or floods in some areas of the country. - Sapa-AFP


2. Famine and the GM debate

Thursday, 14 November, 2002

Amid the efforts to cope with a famine threatening 30 million Africans, a row is raging over genetically modified (GM) food aid.

Zambia is refusing to accept any assistance that includes it, and its neighbours have agreed to accept GM grain only if it is milled before distribution.  These countries are concerned that letting in food aid containing genetically modified material will lead to the planting of seeds and the contamination of domestic crops. None of the countries has developed a clear policy on the long-term effects or value of GM technology.

Most of the aid containing GM foods comes from the US.

The US Agency for International Development (US Aid) says that non-GM maize (corn) was unavailable and that it is "despicable" if opponents of GM foods are risking lives.

Aid agencies and relief charities are split over whether famine-stricken countries should accept GM foods.

Disagreements focus on whether emergency needs should take precedence over long-term considerations about the value of GM crops for Africa.

Food for the hungry

As famine took hold in southern Africa, many countries were opposed to GM food supplies.

Zimbabwe and Mozambique resisted them and Mozambicans were concerned about them being transported across their territory in case seeds contaminated its crops.

Zambia then joined the countries opposing GM.

They were worried that if genetically modified grain was allowed into their countries, seeds might be planted before the governments had carried out any research or formulated policies on the GM issue.
Most of the countries were won over by deals between donors, aid agencies and recipients under which GM maize was milled before distribution so that seeds could not be planted.

This satisfied Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.

Angola, Lesotho and Swaziland have not adopted positions on GM but have not refused aid containing genetically modified food.

The head of the World Food Programme (WFP), James Morris, said that the decision by Zimbabwe would enable his agency to do its job and supply food to the hungry.

Poison or panacea?

Zambia held out against GM foods and has stopped the WFP distributing GM maize in a refugee camp.

Before this decision, the government sent a scientific team to the US, South Africa, Britain and Belgium to examine the issue of genetically modified crops.

Its report led the government to maintain the ban, with President Levy Mwanawasa calling GM food "poison".

There are serious long-term issues here: the position to be adopted by countries towards the growing of GM crops and relations between those countries and the multinational companies which supply GM foods or seeds.

The Panos Institute in London, which provides an information service specialising in issues for developing countries, says that most of the countries concerned, including Zambia, have not developed clear policies on GM crops.

Panos says that debate on the issue is proving "heated and difficult" with the anti-GM voices tending to drown out the voices in favour.

Aid agencies are in a difficult position

There are major disagreements between international organisations over whether GM foods are right for Africa.

A UN investigator into food policy, Jean Ziegler, told the London-based Independent newspaper that he was "against the theory of the multinational corporations who say if you are against hunger you must be for genetically modified organisms".

"There is plenty of natural, normal, good food in the world to nourish the double of humanity," he says.

For and against

Charities like Oxfam and Action Aid oppose the introduction of GM crops into Africa saying that food shortages result not from a lack of food but from the inability of poor countries to buy it.

Action Aid says that if GM seeds are supplied to Africa, "farmers will be caught in a vicious circle, increasingly dependent on a small number of giant multinationals".

But many Western governments, including Britain, believe that the introduction of GM crops would boost yields in Africa.

A consortium called African Biotechnology has been established by GM proponents to encourage the use of GM crops.

Its director, Dr John Wafula, says that as an African, "my crusade is to ensure that my people are not dying of starvation".

He says he wants to see food production grow to keep pace with the growing population.

African countries clearly still have to look at the GM option as part of broader agricultural strategies and the debate will continue.

But in the short term, most countries have accepted that GM food can stave off hunger even if its arrival is greeted with suspicion by their governments.


3. WFP joins US attack on U.N. human rights investigator
SWITZERLAND: November 14, 2002

GENEVA - The World Food Programme (WFP) sharply criticised a U.N. human rights investigator this week who has repeatedly questioned the safety of genetically modified (GM) food donated to starving Africans.

Jean Ziegler, a left-wing former member of the Swiss parliament who is U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, has said multinational corporations have more to gain from use of GM food than the drought-hit countries.

In a statement issued by the United Nations this week, Ziegler reaffirmed GM foods "could present a danger in the middle and long term to the human body and therefore to public health".

But a spokeswoman for the U.N. food agency, which said that 14 million people face starvation in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland, said Ziegler was not qualified to make such statements.

"That is his personal opinion, which we don't share. He is not a scientist, he is not qualified to make such statements," WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume told Reuters.

Both the World Health Organisation and the European Union have said that no GM products currently on the market pose a health hazard, Berthiaume told a briefing.

On Monday, the WFP said it had fed milled U.S. maize, which could include GM supplies, to refugees in Zambia last week, despite a Zambian government ban on GM food aid. A WFP spokesman said the one-off move had been done in consultation with authorities.

Milling stops farmers planting whole cobs and averts the risk of contaminating local GM-free crop strains.

The Lusaka government decided to ban gene-altered food aid after Zambian scientists concluded that insufficient evidence was available to demonstrate its safety.



4. 3 letters in response to Paul Richardson's article in last week's Church of England's Newspaper:

Hunger the role of GM foods by Robert Mann M.Sc. Ph.D, Auckland, New Zealand

Paul Richardson's article asks whether GM-food is the way to relieve world  hunger.  More answers are already known to this good question than the  article mentions.  See, for example:
and < .   but the main issue is  theological.  We humans are the most important ecosystem managers, and  have been causing major changes to ecosystems for millennia; but what  would be going too far in disturbing the natural order?  The question,  going back to Genesis 3, must be reviewed from time to time as new  techniques are created for unprecedented disturbance of nature.  An  alliance may indeed, as Bishop Richardson sugests, be emerging between  neo-pagan reverence for a semi-sacred natural order and such Christian  theologians as may have noticed this main issue of today in  conservation.  Having been involved in applied ecology for three decades,  I view GM as a grave threat to the biosphere, comparable to nuclear  weapons.  The worst hazard is of course novel pathogens that can  breed.  Some have already been created - and destroyed before leaving the  lab e.g. the GM-mousepox of Dr. Seamark (Adelaide).  As a biochemist  concerned about GM since it was invented 3 decades ago, and as an Anglican  involved in the science/faith nexus, I regret that Bishop Richardson has  underestimated the hazards and overestimated the benefits of GM food.
Right Concern by Marian McCain, Hartland, Devon

Paul Richardson's article is rightly concerned for Africa's starving  millions but naivete permeates his recent article.  No, the 'biotech  revolution' won't fix the problem any more than the 'Green Revolution'  before it - for the same reason.  People starve not because there is  insufficient food but because it is unfairly distributed.  Even in the  USA, which overflows with food, many go hungry.  In the midst of famine,  African countries continue exporting luxury cash crops to the 'developed'  world in efforts to repay impossible debts.  Even if transgenic crops were  a boon, their raison d'etre is profit, not philanthropy.  so to say lamely  that the prospect of further impoverishment of farmers forced to pay for  seed is "a political problem that could be solved by political means" is  meaningless. What political means?  Governments are powerless against the  WTO, which controls world trade and favours the multinationals.  No, the  true and lasting solutions to world hunger are release from debt,  resurgence of local economies, replacement of monocultural cash crops by  local, subsistence agriculture and biodiversity.  Finally, I was puzzled  by "On the Christian view, nature is not perfect, it is fallen".  My  Christian upbringing didn't include that.  (Whatever happened to "consider  the lilies ...?").  The only bit of Nature that has fallen around here  lately is the autumn leaves.  Maybe PR would prefer some genetically  altered ones that stay stuck on their trees?

Zambian fears by A Wills, Ruislip, Middx

Your article "Is this the way to relieve world hunger?" by Paul Richardson  (Nov 7) reported that Zambia has refused food aid from the USA because it  is genetically engineered.  Zambia is afraid of their own crops being  contaminated by this imported food.  On BBC Radio 4's Today programme on  April 28, 2001, we heard farmers in Pakistan pleading to stop hybrid GM  crops and return to normal farming.  Many of their farmers have been  ruined by non-reproducing genetically modified (GM) seeds, which need more  water, herbicide and other chemicals.  These GM seeds cannot be saved and  re-planted next season, as third world farmers normally do.  Those  farmers' livelihoods are now under threat.  Radio 4 stated that bio-tech  companies approached Pakistan farmers direct, with promises that GM crops  would make them rich.  The reverse has been true.  BBC 2's Correspondent  programme on June 10, 2001, reported that South and Central America now  successfully grow crops in harsh conditions by using organic soil  management.  They grow Macuna Beans which put natural nitrogen into the  soil and the leaves make nourishing compost.  They grow enough food, the  soil is now good quality with earthworms, and it has reduced soil  erosion.  Many farmers have been able to stop using chemicals.  These  natural methods are sustainable and far better than GM with its sterile  non-reproducing seeds.  GM crops normally depend on chemicals from just  one company, which is a risky situation.

ngin bulletin archive