ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

20 September 2002


Norfolk Genetic Information Network (ngin),
*Genetic Food Alert comment
*UN is slipping modified food into aid - New Scientist
*Patrick Mulvany comment
*Biotech food can save millions of African lives - International Herald Tribune article
From: Genetic Food Alert

W.F.P. Director stands by 'G.M. or death' policy as 7 years of G.M. dumping is exposed

As African and international outrage grows over the use of food aid as a GM marketing tool by the US-controlled World Food Programme, the New Scientist reveals an incredible seven years history of unauthorised GM dumping.  The now exposed Director of the World Food Programme, James Morris, is hitting back with a ludicrous propaganda campaign for the biotech industry, claiming that 'Biotech food can save millions of African lives'. Its easy to make such claims when you have the power to deny people access to non-GM food.

Why is is that such claims about feeding the world with GM crops are made only by the world's main producers of GM crops and not by the recipients of food aid? Why is it that the World Food Programme has had to hide the dumping of GM crops from the recipients of 'aid' for so long ? Why is it that the World Food Programme has consistently bought unwanted GM crops from the USA in preference to non-GM surplusses from poor nations near famine regions?

In 1998 the food and agriculture representatives for Africa jointly stated that they "strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us". Four years later these corporations, through the World Food Programme, are giving Africa their ultimatum: "GM or Death".

1. U.N. is slipping modified food into aid. (New Scientist, 19 Sept 02)

2. Biotech food can save millions of African lives. (James Morris, International Herald Tribune, 19 Sept 02)

For the full story of America's international campaign to force GM food and crops on the world see:
Force-Feeding the World
Africa Resists US Biotech Onslaught at Earth Summit


UN is slipping modified food into aid

Fred Pearce,
New Scientist, 19 Sept 2002

THE UN has been delivering genetically modified food as emergency aid for the past seven years, New Scientist has learned. And it has done so without telling the countries concerned. Its admission makes a mockery of African governments' recent efforts to reject GM food aid.

Countries getting GM food aid in the past two years - often in breach of national regulations - include the Philippines, India, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Ecuador, as well as many African countries.

The UN World Food Programme told New Scientist this week that its staff are under no obligation to alert authorities and have made no attempt to distinguish between GM and conventional cereals since 1996, when GM crops first became part of US grain stocks destined for aid. Half of world food aid comes from the US, and a quarter of the nation's maize is genetically modified. "We do business with 83 countries in the world," WFP director James Morris said last week.

The news comes amid allegations that the US is exploiting southern Africa's drought to drum up markets for its large unsold stocks of GM maize and soya. Saliem Fakir, director of the South African branch of the IUCN (World Conservation Union), calls the offer of GM food aid to the region a moral trap. "Africa is just a pawn in the US's attempt to break the European Union's position on GM foods," he says.

The UN estimates that 14 million people in southern Africa will need food aid in the coming months. Zambian president levy Mwanawasa angrily rejected GM food aid as "poison" earlier this month, but has been forced to admit that his citizens have been eating GM aid on and off since the mid-1990s. Zambia's neighbours Zimbabwe and Malawi have now accepted GM maize on condition that it is milled to prevent farmers planting it in their fields.

The WFP, the world's largest supplier. of food aid, uses mostly North American grain. "We think the starving would rather eat GM grain than dirt," said spokesman Trevor Rowe this week. But African governments argue there is plenty of GM-free maize available on world markets that could be supplied as aid.

Independent aid groups are being caught up in the row. Most turn A blind eye to GM cereals in their food aid, says anti-GM campaigner Patrick Mulvany of the Intermediate Technology Development Group in Britain. A recent study found that none has formal policies banning GM cereals.

The WFP says it sees no need to warn about GM material in food aid. It says, "We are just the middle man. If the food meets the national standards of the donors, we accept it."

But Mulvany says that since 1996, most poor countries have made clear in negotiations on international rules for GM trade that they want to be told in advance about GM imports, and many have announced outright bans. "The WFP would have been aware of this. If it was not informing recipient countries after that, it should be severely criticised."

Though health scares grab local headlines, southern African countries have a real fear that once GM grain is planted it will contaminate domestic grain fed to livestock destined for European markets. "African livestock commands a high price because it is organically raised," says Andrew Clegg of the ELI-funded Namibia Human Resources Development Programme. "This market strength will vanish if there is even the slightest suspicion that products can no longer be guaranteed GM-free."

Recent research in Mexico found that GM maize imported from the US to make tortillas has been planted and is now contaminating fields far and wide. So far as New Scientist has been able to establish, no similar tests have been done on maize growing in countries that have received food aid.

Fred Pearce, New Scientist, 19 Sept 2002

Comment on International Herald Tribune article 'Biotech food can save millions of African lives' from Patrick Mulvany Food, Security Policy Adviser ITDG, (Intermediate Technology Development Group):

"James Morris (WFP Director) admits that WFP has been shipping GM foods in food aid for the past 7 years. This story surfaced as a result of tip-offs from within WFP during the Johannesburg summit. After a period of denial, pressed by a New Scientist journalist, the WFP has decided to come out. The WFP now admits unashamedly that it has been shipping the stuff since it was first commercialised in 1995/6. (See Int Herald Tribune article below).


Biotech food can save millions of African lives

James Morris International Herald Tribune
Thursday, September 19, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune |

Lift a tragic blockade on aid

JOHANNESBURG Who has not now seen images in the media of the bone-thin children, the withered fields, and the empty store shelves in Southern Africa? The lines of desperate people waiting for food aid stretch longer each day. In rural villages there is a growing sense of panic. The regions' food crisis, spawned by natural disasters, the impact of AIDS and failed economic policies, is deepening with the approach of the long hot summer in sub-Saharan Africa. The next harvest is at least four months away. We will soon enter what humanitarian agencies call the "lean season," and without decisive action millions of lives are threatened.

It is therefore all the more tragic that the World Food Program's campaign to feed 12.8 million people in Southern Africa at risk of starvation has been subverted by an emotional and often uninformed debate about genetically modified food. At the very time that the suffering of the people is rising to monumental proportions, the criticism of biotech food products reached fever pitch. Genetically modified became virtually overnight a touchstone for misinformation and rhetorical fury out of touch with modern science.

Why has this happened? The World Food Program has been distributing food with some biotech content in Africa and around the world for seven years. In doing so, we observe the food safety guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius, the principle UN body dealing with food safety. All our food aid is certified as fit for human consumption in the donor country - so the food our beneficiaries eat in Africa is the very same food eaten daily in cities like New York and Toronto.

Amid the uproar over the past few weeks, the World Food Program has worked with many governments to try to overcome their food shortages. External food aid simply must be part of the solution because stocks in southern Africa are very low and heavy buying would drive up food prices, bringing added misery to the lives of the poor people throughout the region.

Three-quarters of the food aid already on hand in the region has come from the United States and is likely to have some genetically modified content. Biotech foods are readily accepted in a growing number of countries. They are produced and eaten in the United States, Canada, China, Argentina, Australia, the European Union and, increasingly, in South Africa itself. Recently published estimates are that two-thirds of processed food products in Canada have some genetically modified content. Yet some needy countries are still reluctant to accept biotech food.

What are their concerns? Some center on the environment and trade. Accidental cross-pollination of biotech maize with varieties now grown has been raised as an issue.

But if governments are concerned they can always opt to mill the maize. The Food and Agriculture Organization believes there is less of a biodiversity issue for southern Africa, as existing maize varieties are not native but introduced.

Another concern is possible European Union restrictions on African exports of livestock fed with genetically modified maize, but EU representatives say the real problem is the prevalence of foot and mouth disease.

In fact, genetically modified commodities are routinely fed to livestock within the EU itself.

If the World Food Program cannot give biotech food to countries in southern Africa, it will have substantially less to offer in the weeks ahead and we are running out of time to appeal for more funds from donors.

The added demand for cash donations will mean the related emergency operations of our colleagues at the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the FAO will all be shortchanged as donors divert more cash for urgent food needs.

The anti-biotech food advocates are free to argue that people should starve while the scientific jury is out (as hundreds of millions of people in other parts of the world are contentedly eating genetically modified foods). But is the jury really still out when it comes to the safety of biotech foods? Naturally, all genetically modified food products need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. But all scientific risk assessments thus far show that the biotech foods now on the market are every bit as safe to eat as their conventional counterparts. In an effort to calm the increasingly irrational debate, the EU Commission recently cited 81 separate studies that support this view.

Never, in nearly 40 years of operations, has the World Food Program confronted a blockade of its food aid in peace. We will try our best to save lives, working with recipient country governments, a wide spectrum of donors and our partner nongovernmental organizations. But we urge the political leaders in Southern Africa to weigh the scientific facts. The fate of millions of hungry people lies in their hands.

The writer, executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, has just completed a fact-finding mission in Southern Africa as the special envoy of the UN secretary-general. He contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.

Copyright © 2002 The International Herald Tribune

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