ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

22 October 2002


This week the US dominated World Food Programme’s Executive Board meets to discuss, amongst other matters, the current food aid crisis in Southern Africa.

The following overview on the crisis is taken from a new page on the NGIN website intended as an introduction to the issues, telling much of the story through quotations with multiple links to articles and other sources.

See also:
feeding the world? ARTICLES, LINKS, AUDIO and BOOKS

more quotes on feeding the world


Force feeding the hungry

The countries of Southern Africa are in the midst of a devastating crisis in which as many as 14 million people in the region are at risk of starvation.

The U.S. has the ability to supply non-GM food but has declined to do so even though several African governments, including Zambia, have made repeated requests. USAID has dismissed their concerns as "ideological" while an unnamed US state department official recently said, "beggars can't be choosers."

But eating GM or starving is a false dilemma. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of non-GM grain are available, both in America and elsewhere, and it should be sent to where it's needed most. 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.


"[UK Prime Minister] Blair's chief scientific adviser denounced the United States' attempts to force the technology into Africa as a 'massive human experiment'. In a scathing attack on President Bush's administration, Professor David King also questioned the morality of the US's desire to flood genetically modified foods into African countries, where people are already facing starvation in the coming months." The Observer, UK, Sep 1, 2002
 "Two leading international environment and development groups accused the US yesterday of manipulating the southern African food crisis to benefit their GM food interests and of using the UN to distribute domestic food surpluses which could not otherwise find a market... Greenpeace and Actionaid also accused the US government's overseas aid body [USAID] of offering only GM food when conventional foods were available."
US 'dumping unsold GM food on Africa', The Guardian, October 7, 2002,2763,805825,00.html

"Whilst getting food to hungry people is paramount, the threat of starvation should not be used as a bargaining chip for the introduction of GM technology. African governments and civil society organisations have raised legitimate concerns about GM. They worry about its safety for health and the environment, how it is controlled and by whom and about the impact of GM on the future livelihoods of their citizens. These concerns should be addressed, not ridden over roughshod." Donald Mavunduse, ActionAid's Emergencies Programme Adviser ACTIONAID SPEAKS OUT ON GM FOOD AID

"Zambian Vice President Enock Kavindele told Reuters in Lusaka that his country had declined a $50 million (31 million pounds) line of credit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture because of provisions that it would have to purchase GMO commodities."
Eat GM or starve, America tells Africa, Reuters

"This looks like morbid folly, like a dangerous game played with the lives of starving people for political gain. This is precisely true. The US government has been playing this game for well over a decade; the famine in Southern Africa provides merely the latest installment." Dr Raj Patel, author of Another Poisoned Chalice in Africa

"..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

"I'm against the theory of the multinational corporations who say if you are against hunger you must be for GMO. That's wrong, there is plenty of natural, normal good food in the world to nourish the double of humanity. There is absolutely no justification to produce genetically modified food except the profit motive and the domination of the multinational corporations." U.N. human rights envoy and special investigator on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, commenting on the food aid crisis U.N. food envoy questions safety of gene crops (Reuters, 15 Oct 2002)

"The US says it cannot provide guaranteed GM-free maize [to governments requesting it in southern Africa] because there is no requirement in place to separate GM and non-GM grains in the US. Strange that a 2001 American Corn Growers Association survey showed that more than 50% of US elevators can and do segregate GM and non-GM grains.  The US position is one of choice, not necessity." "BETTER DEAD THAN GM FED?" by GRAIN (ŒSeedling‚, October 2002)

"Our leaders could take that conventional corn and donate it to African people facing hunger. And just in case some genetically modified characteristics slipped in, our government should mill the corn. That would fairly well avoid any possibility of destroying the Africans' export markets the way ours were destroyed by trying to force biotech corn onto countries that don't want it." Robert Schubert, CropChoice editor, "Offer African countries the non-biotech corn"

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


How the US violates the Food Aid Convention

The US is a signatory of the 1999 Food Aid Convention, which recognises that food aid should be bought from the most cost effective source, be culturally acceptable and if possible purchased locally so that regional markets do not suffer. Despite this...

-The US is refusing southern African governments loans that are not tied to the purchase of GM contaminated grain from the US.

-The US says it is impossible for it to provide anything other than GM contaminated grain in spite of the fact that 50% of US elevators can and do segregate GM and non-GM grains

-The US refuses to mill the GM grain even though African countries facing famine have requested this

-The US boasts that "The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States"

-The US introduced Public Law 480 to ensure that food aid never interfered with "domestic production or marketing"

-USAID also states one of its roles is to "integrate GM into local food systems."

Find out more - read the article:"BETTER DEAD THAN GM FED?"


"It is important to get prior consent from a country rather than imposing GE contaminated food grain on a nation." Dr Lewanika, a scientific advisor to the Zambian government

"Asked if people were going 'too far' by saying that gene-altered humanitarian exports were part of a strategy to spread the crops around the world, [Neil E. Harl, a professor of economics at Iowa State University] said: 'I'm not sure that is going too far.' "

"The hope of the industry is that over time the market is so flooded [with GMOs] that there's nothing you can do about it. You just sort of surrender." Don Westfall, biotech industry consultant and vice-president of Promar
International, Toronto Star, January 9 2001

"If the US insists on imposing this genetically modified maize on our people, we will be justified in questioning their motive." Editorial, Dignity in hunger, The Post, Zambia, July 30, 2002

"It is unconscionable that the U.S. administration would use the threat of mass starvation as means to promote products that potentially carry a wide range of health and environmental risks... Yet all some folks in the U.S. government and business communities can think of is how to make even more money off their suffering," James Clancy, president of Canada's National Union of Public and General Employees
"NUPGE condemns famine exploitation to sell GM foods", NUPGE, October 9

"The USA wants to see its corporations control life's most basic resources, including seeds, food crops and water. Unfortunately for southern Africa, the drought plays right into this unprincipled strategy." Dr. Lawrence J. Goodwin of The Africa Faith & Justice Network, a USA-based NGO comprised of Catholic religious and social justice groups, quoted in AFJN DENOUNCES IMPOSING GM FOOD AID ON AFRICA,


Oxfam calls for food aid to be GM-free

The New Scientist has revealed that food aid has been GM contaminated for years - a fact kept quiet from recipient nations.

In addition, test results in a series of countries have shown that not only have GM foods unapproved in recipient countries been turning up in food aid, but so too have GMOs that have not been approved even in donor countries like the US.

Oxfam is among the aid agencies that have called for food aid to be kept GM free

"Oxfam stresses the need to guarantee human health and biodiversity, and respect the social and cultural context of food aid recipient countries, and urges governments and FAO to develop and implement food aid standards that prevent the distribution of GMOs in food aid.

Oxfam supports the concerns expressed by a number of its partners who demand a moratorium on GMOs and the improved enforcement of monitoring systems to stop GMOs from entering vulnerable populations through food aid."

Oxfam International has also noted:

- Food aid programmes have historically been used inappropriately with industrialised countries using them to dispose of surpluses and create food dependencies. Such abuse continues today.

- Genetically modified food aid may have negative effects for human health and livelihoods, and therefore it is counterproductive to its declared objectives.

- Introducing GMO‚s through food aid may have adverse effects on biodiversity, since part of it is used as seeds, contaminating local species.

- As such, food aid containing GMOs is in contradiction with the precautionary principle, secured in the Carthagena Biosafety Protocol .
Oxfam concludes:

"Oxfam stresses the need to guarantee human health and biodiversity, and respect the social and cultural context of food aid recipient countries, and urges governments and FAO to develop and implement food aid standards that prevent the distribution of GMO‚s in food aid."

See: Oxfam condemns the distribution of food aid contaminated with GMOs


The latest twist in a long and cynical marketing campaign...

'Aid is the last unregulated export market open to US farmers as worried European and Asian consumers shun GM grain and introduce strict import and labelling rules' 'America finds ready market for GM food - the hungry', by Declan Walsh
(The Independent, 30 March 2000)

"Countries in the grip of a crisis... should not be faced with a dilemma between allowing a million people to starve to death and allowing their genetic pool to be polluted". Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher of Ethiopia, quoted in 'America finds ready market for GM food - the hungry', by Declan Walsh (The Independent, 30 March 2000)

'If these crops get in, then farmers basically lose their rights to their own agricultural resources.' Carole Collins, senior policy analyst for the Washington-based Africa Faith and Justice Network, a USA-based NGO comprised of Catholic religious and social justice groups

"It is highly unethical not to just cover the costs for milling. Tell me how much it costs to drop one bomb on Afghanistan. Who is starving whom here?" Carol Thompson, a political economist at Northern Arizona University

"...[African] government subsidies on maize production have been discontinued under pressure from the World Trade Organization [but] it now seems that it's OK for the starving here to eat subsidised maize, just as long as it is GM and grown in America." Andrew Clegg, Windhoek, Namibia in a letter to New Scientist

"The IMF told our government to sell off all of our grain reserves to help make loan payments... Hasn't anyone ever heard the story in the Bible of Joseph saving up grain for the coming famine in Egypt? Now our people are facing real hunger. I have come to South Africa to find work. And that work is now, ironically, to unload GE food relief from ships from America. Malawi will have no choice but to accept GE foods now. When people are desperate, they will accept anything - a dictator, food, sterilization - you name it." Siswe Nbele, a Malawian dockworker, quoted in 'Frankenfoods create furor on Dark Continent' WorldNetDaily, US, October 10, 2002

"Beggars can't be choosers."
A State Department official, commenting on southern African nations' resistance to accepting shipments of US food aid containing genetically engineered ingredients (Washington Post, August 2 2002)

"A delegate from Nigeria congratulated Zambia for taking a courageous stand, criticised the CGIAR for [GE] research that harms Africa, and called for African unity. The delegate from Ethiopia, Million Belay* condemned the World Food Programme for "selling the interest of only one country", the United States." ŒAfrica Unites Against GM‚, ISIS


How the GM lobby is exploiting suffering

"all some folks in the U.S. government and business communities can think of is how to make even more money off [Africa's] suffering," - James Clancy, president of Canada's National Union of Public and General Employees

For some the situation in southern Africa is not just a tragedy, it's an opportunity - an opportunity to dump otherwise unmarketable GM crop surpluses, an opportunity to create future food dependencies, and above all an opportunity to introduce GMOs to countries that would otherwise be resistant to them and which are ill prepared to deal with the consequences.

The resistance to such opportunism has in turn provided the biotech industry and its supporters, in the US administration and beyond, with an additional opportunity - the opportunity to pressurise international bodies - from the European Union to the Vatican - to endorse GMOs and join the arm-twisting of reluctant nations.

"We have been pushed around by the way the Americans have put pressure on this issue." EU development commissioner, Poul Nielson on the US food aid strategy

Another target has been the industry's critics, both in Africa and elsewhere, who have been portrayed as the merchants of death for having raised concerns over GM food.

"[Bernd Halling, of the biotech industry's umbrella group EuropaBio] says that the green lobby has 'built up this GMO issue to the point that it is illogical. [The famine in Africa] is the first issue that has the ability to destroy their credibility... I want to know if they are going to accept responsibility for the people that will die as a result of the refusal of GM aid', said Halling."
'Of Famine and Food Aid: GM Food Internationally', Agbiotechbuzz

Even though there is more than enough non-GM grain available to meet the needs of the hungry, the GM lobby has been working overtime to blame the food aid crisis and its consequences on the industry's critics.

One of the GM lobby groups in the forefront of the attacks has been the AgBioWorld Foundation headed by Prof CS Prakash of Tuskegee University, USA. The AgBioWorld campaign has worked flat out to label the biotech industry's critics as killers of the hungry without ever mentioning that as well as being a GM lobbyist, Prakash is also an advisor to USAID with whom his university has multi-million dollar contracts.

Prakash has also been shown to work hand in glove with Monsanto's PR operatives who have used his listserv to launch covert attacks on the company's critics.

AgBioWorld's co-founder is Gregory Conko who's described as "Policy Analyst and Director of Food Safety Policy, Competitive Enterprise Institute". The Competitive Enterprise Institute is described by PR Watch as "a well funded corporate front". GM firm Dow Chemicals is amongst its corporate donors, as is the tobacco giant Philip Morris. The CEI, needless to say, opposes restrictions on smoking just as vociferously as it does those on GM foods.

Despite this the AgBioWorld campaign likes to present itself as that of a group of disinterested scientists. As part of an attack on a Zambian Catholic group with concerns about GM food aid, it issued a report authored by what it said was "a group of scholars". Amongst others the "scholars" included Prakash and Conko, as well as the editor of a biotech industry newsletter, Andrew Apel, who had previously called on the US to bomb Zambia with its GM grain if it continued to reject it. Apel has written about the food aid crisis, "I can almost picture the darkies laying down their lives for the vacuous ideals...their death throes, how picturesque, among the baobab trees and the lions!"

In another instance, an AgBioWorld press release warned biotech industry critics, "Do Not Repeat the Mistakes of Orissa". Another press release implied that thousands had died in the Indian state of Orissa due to previous opposition to US food aid. It challenged "activist organizations to formally endorse food aid shipments and to not repeat the mistakes of Orissa." However, as Indian food and trade policy analyst, Devinder Sharma has pointed out, such claims are a total fabrication. The only deaths in Orissa were those caused by the super cyclone. There were no deaths related to the food aid controversy.

For more on AgBioWorld's PR work during the food aid crisis:

While the GM lobbyists seek political advantage out of the food aid crisis, their spin and lies distract attention from the urgent need to resolve the problems and get some of the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of non-GM grain available to where it's most needed.

"The tragedy is that while these well monied types [the GM lobbyists] try to filibuster the democratic process in Zambia, people are starving. And there's safe food in the region which USAID will not buy, because it doesn't support U.S. business, and doesn't involve loans from the World Bank" Dr. Raj Patel, author of Another Poisoned Chalice in Africa

"To date, there is not a single human-subject study that demonstrates the safety of GM food, and the Mexican experience in which local varieties of maize were contaminated speaks to the need for caution. This whole affair isn't about science, though. The GM lobby know better than most that control over the food system is all about politics." Dr Peter Rosset of Food First

"There are 800 million hungry people in the world; 34,000 children starve to death every day. There are those who consider this a tragedy, and then there are the biotech companies and their countless PR firms, who seem to consider it a flawless hook for product branding... the companies who make [GE foods], and the flacks who hawk their falsehoods, offer us a new definition of depravity, a new standard to plunge for in our race to care least, want more, and divest ourselves of all shame." Michael Manville - Welcome to the Spin Machine


a long and cynical campaign...

"I have heard . . . that people may become dependent on us for food. I know that was not supposed to be good news. To me that was good news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific." Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, in naming US Public Law 480 which ensures that food aid never interferes with "domestic production or marketing" (Wall Street Journal, May 7, 1982)

"At the height of the 1974 famine in the newly born Bangladesh, the US had withheld 2.2 million tonnes of food aid to 'ensure that it abandoned plans to try Pakistani war criminals'. And a year later, when Bangladesh was faced with severe monsoons and imminent floods, the then US Ambassador to Bangladesh made it abundantly clear that the US probably could not commit food aid because of Bangladesh's policy of exporting jute to Cuba. And by the time Bangladesh succumbed to the American pressure, and stopped jute exports to Cuba, the food aid in transit was 'too late for famine victims'. Food was then a political weapon. Food aid has now in addition become a commercial enterprise." Devinder Sharma, Famine as commerce: Africa's tragedy

"Food aid programmes have historically been used inappropriately with industrialised countries using them to dispose of surpluses and create food dependencies. Such abuse continues today." Oxfam, Oxfam condemns the distribution of food aid contaminated with GMOs



The problems go wider than food aid...

"Dodgy industries selling dubious wares have long headed for the Third World when their activities have been questioned in the West. The biotech industry has been following this well-trodden path ever since consumers in Europe turned against GM food and crops. And these wares have had unprecedented backing from the US government, which has relentlessly bullied reluctant governments in developing countries to accept them." Independent on Sunday, Leading Article: ŒGM by the back door‚

"Biotechnology and GM crops are taking us down a dangerous road, creating the classic conditions for hunger, poverty and even famine. Ownership and control concentrated in too few hands and a food supply based on too few varieties of crops planted widely are the worst option for food security." Christian Aid report: "Biotechnology and GMOs"

more quotes on GMOs and the Third World

feeding the world? ARTICLES, LINKS, AUDIO and BOOKS
support the work of ActionAid:

ngin bulletin archive