ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

29 October 2002


1. World Food Body Fails to Take Stand on GM Food Aid
2. Special feature: GM Food Aid


1. World Food Body Fails to Take Stand on GM Food Aid

Dickson Jere, OneWorld Africa
From: OneWorld News on Yahoo, 28 October 2002
The five-day meeting of WFP's 36 executive board members resisted pressure from Barcelona-based Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) to consider adopting a policy against the supply of genetically modified (GM) foods to areas of the world, particularly Southern Africa, suffering from deep levels of hunger.

"The position of WFP on biotech foods remains the same as for other donated foods," WFP senior public affairs officer, Francis Mwanza, told OneWorld on Friday, adding that "the meeting was not meant to take any position on biotech foods."
WFP policy covers the brokerage of food aid shipments but does not extend to decisions on safety standards, which remain subject to international guidelines on the trade in food products and regulations applied by governments sending and receiving food relief.

In a paper entitled "No to GM food aid," published ahead of the WFP meeting, GRAIN urged board members, including representatives from Swaziland and Madagascar, to "ensure that countries do not receive GM food aid and that food aid is sourced locally as much as possible within the region where it is needed."

According to GRAIN, seeds from artificially-produced crops delivered as aid may enter the pool for local varieties and could affect overall yields, destabilizing the basis of food security for the large populations of subsistence farmers in the region.

The issue provoked an international furor earlier this year when the Southern African countries of Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe rejected GM food aid from the United States on the grounds that there was no evidence to show that the supplies were safe either for human consumption or the environment.

The countries are among six in the region suffering from a severe food crisis caused by several years of drought. Some 14 million people are currently affected by the crisis.
After heated discussion around the issue, the governments of Zimbabwe and Malawi decided that they would allow milled GM grain to be delivered because of the reduced chances of cross-pollination.

Although Zambia is now the only country in the region that has completely rejected the aid--pending scientific research on the safety of GM food consumption -- opinion on the issue among local farmers remains unclear, according to research conducted by <>Panos Southern Africa, a Lusaka-based development institute, in conjunction with the Zambia National Farmers' Union.

While most small-scale farmers wanted more information on the subject, commercial farmers were opposed to GM, citing as their main reason the possibility of losing European Union markets, which account for 53 percent of Zambian exports and operate under strict guidelines on GM food.

GRAIN is asking donor countries to instead consider providing relief in the form of cash funds to allow governments in the region to buy locally-produced food, and thus help boost the livelihoods of farmers and the economies on which they depend.

"The issue is not whether a few sacks of GM maize are going to make people in Southern Africa keel over and die," said GRAIN, "but whether the international community is really bent on helping African farmers support their families, their communities and their integrity."

"The threat and impact of contamination of local maize varieties would be far more serious than the UN recognizes," the group warned. "Food aid to Africa and elsewhere must be GM-free or we run the risk that our generation will ensure that food aid will be needed forever."


2. Eldis feature: GM Food Aid

Richard Lee 2002 (more links and resources at url below)

As the food crisis deepens in Southern Africa attention has increasingly focused on diplomatic wrangling over whether the recipients of aid should accept unsegregrated genetically modified grain.

Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique have accepted the GM food but Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe are reluctant to take seed which, if planted, may affect both their environment and future food exports. Milling the seed would remove these risks, if not the possible health impacts, but takes time and costs money.

Amid growing rhetoric and an increasingly polarised debate the US, the largest food aid donor in the region, stands accused of taking advantage of the crisis to dump unwanted GM food on Africa. Meanwhile the World Food Programme has had to admit that it has been shipping unsegregated GM 'contaminated' food aid to the region for years.

The key issues...

1. Does Southern Africa need GM food aid?

A number of governments and organisations from USAID to the WHO have been putting pressure on Southern African governments to accept GM food aid saying the choice is either take the food or watch your people starve. But others are questioning this emotive stance arguing either that sufficient non GM food aid could be sourced locally in time or that non GM grain is available from the US.

2. Can GM food be bad for starving people?
Whilst there is some debate over whether the health impacts of novel foods are the same for the well fed as for the undernourished, the key to this issue is not just the health risks to the hungry in Africa but also the real fear in southern Africa that if GM grain is planted it will contaminate domestic varieties of maize. Firstly this could have serious long term environmental and food security implications in the region. Secondly it could affect export products which might then fall foul of European consumer opinions on GM foods and therefore damage future trade.

3. Isn't the distribution of biotech products regulated?

Different regulatory instruments exist at both national and international level. Internationally the Cartegena (Biosafety) Protocol enshrines the sovereign right of countries to be informed of, and to take precautionary decisions on, imports of GMOs. But there are problems with this. Firstly their is a potential conflict here with WTO trade rules. Secondly there are questions over the capacity of these countries to effectively develop and implement biosafety regulation at all levels. Finally precautionary decisions require a lengthy process of scientific risk assessment and testing which is incompatible with emergency situations.
4. What are the broader policy implications of biotechnology for developing countries?

The whole controversy over GM food aid is just one aspect of a wider policy debate over the implications of biotechnology for agriculture and food security in developing countries. This debate has focused around developing countries capacity to regulate biotechnology effectively, the role of the private sector in biotech research and development and the impacts on existing agricultural systems.

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.
See also:
feeding the world? ARTICLES, LINKS, AUDIO and BOOKS
more quotes on feeding the world

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