ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network
31 October 2002


This article, if correct, contains some truly scandalous revelations as to how US dominated UN agencies have been used to blackmail Zambia in an effort to force a climb down over GM food aid. Although there is no shortage of non-GM grain, the aim has been to cut off Zambia's options.

Zambia, it will be remembered, formally announced that it would not accept GM food aid in July [see: 'Eat GM or starve, America tells Africa' (Reuters)], having made clear its concerns over the issue for several months prior to that. However, according to the article below, only now has replacement food been ordered for the US GM contaminated grain. The reason for the dangerous delay?

"The decision not to order non-GM food aid until now has been observed as direct pressure against the Zambian government."


Continued pressure against Zambia on GM food

By: Afrol News
Date: 2002-10-30

UN agencies backed by US industries continue their heavy pressure against the Zambian government to accept genetically modified (GM) relief food during the ongoing food crisis. Environmental groups have denounced the UN rhetoric as "a vigorous propaganda war".

The World Food Programme (WFP), a UN agency, complains that its work to assist the millions of hunger-affected Zambians has become "more difficult" due to the continued ban of GM food in the country. The Zambian government today announced it would not change its decision to ban the import of GM food, not even for hunger relief.

- The Zambia pipeline is expected to be fragile for the coming months, the WFP assesses its possibilities to assist hungry Zambians. This was due to the "final government policy decision on the acceptance of GM foods and due to the lag time required for new purchases to arrive in country."

Also the UN agency IRIN, reporting on humanitarian crises, today reports that Zambia's "GM ban will complicate relief efforts." According to the agency, about 15,000 metric tonnes of GM maize has been in storage in Zambia ever since the August government announcement that the country would not change its legislation to allow distribution of this type of food aid during the current crisis.

Only now, further supplies of food aid had been ordered, "expected to arrive in Zambia in December." UN agencies had been expecting a change in government mind until the last moment. The decision not to order non-GM food aid until now has been observed as direct pressure against the Zambian government.

The official argumentation of the WFP and FAO, another UN agency, is that firstly, GM food is not dangerous for human consumption, as documented by its widespread consumption on the US and Canadian market. Secondly, the US being the by distance biggest food aid donor, finding non-GM food aid would be very difficult and time-consuming. The US will not mark whether its food aid is genetically modified or not.

Environmental groups however totally back the Zambian government's decision and claim the UN arguments are false propaganda. "Eat this or die," Greenpeace titles its critique against the pressure on Zambia to change its GM food legislation.

- We say that as long as supplies of non-genetically engineered grain exist, nobody should be forced to eat genetically engineered (GE) grain against their will, a Greenpeace statement says. "If the choice really was between GE grain and starvation then clearly any food is the preferable option - but that's a false and cynical picture of the choice in this situation," the environmental group adds.

The group holds that the Bush administration has joined up with industry to propagate the need for GM food. "But is the US government acting out of concern for the starving of Africa, or acting on behalf of a multinational industry with a sales and image problem?" Greenpeace asks.

It answers that GM food was being "forced on Africa because the US can't sell them abroad, has an economic interest in reducing its grain surplus, chooses to deny the existence of non-GE grain supplies, and is developing a deep imperial disdain for the opinions and laws of other countries which contradict their own interests."

The worldwide rejection of American GM crops has saddled the US government with increasing surpluses of corn and soy. Since 1996, the US has been subsidising exports by dumping these genetically engineered surpluses into the WFP, thus becoming the agency's principal donor and powerful when it comes to influence the UN agency's policies.

- Disgracefully, hunger and desperation have become the Genetic Engineering industry's best tools to penetrate the developing world's food supply, Greenpeace concludes. "They bet that starvation will overcome many developing countries' resistance to genetically engineered food." Only during the current hunger crisis in Southern Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and Swaziland have accepted GM grain to be distributed by the WFP.

The heated debate following Zambia's decision not to change its GM food legislation has however left many wondering about the stubbornness of Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa and environmental groups not to allow GM foods as millions are left hungry. American consumers are shocked and write opinion letters to non-American media complaining against what they perceive as "anti-US propaganda". The outrage is understandable, given that US consumers eat GM food on a daily basis "and have taken no harm of it".

Also the WFP, FAO and the World Health Organisation (WHO) were to be taken seriously when they issued a joint statement earlier this year "expressing confidence" that GM food was safe. Experiences from the US and the Canadian markets had not indicated anything else.

The main reason for not accepting GM food aid however is the concern that GM grains, although illegally, may also been used as seeds, thus damaging local plant varieties. This has already been experienced in Mexico, which forbids the planting but not the consume of GM grains. In Mexico, genes from genetically engineered maize have now crossed over to conventional plants, contaminating Mexico's globally important centre of diversity for maize.

Africans fear genetic contamination because they can trade on the GE-free value of their grain and organically-raised livestock. Profitable EU markets could evaporate if the slightest GE contamination rears its head.

Nonetheless, most Southern African countries have already given into the demands of the UN and accept GM food aid. There are however attempts to prevent the contamination of local breeds by only allowing the distribution of milled GM grains. Experiences from Malawi have however shown that these special transports and milling operations almost are as costly as importing food at regular world market prices.

Peter Masunu, spokesman for the Zambian Department of Agriculture, explained his government's decision to UN media: "The Zambian government does not have the capacity to detect whether food is genetically modified, we have not yet ratified the Catagena agreement [which cover the transport and use of modified organisms] and we have no legislation in place on biotechnology and biosafety," he said.

The Zambian government was "taking this precautionary measure to protect the local crop varieties and also feels there is a risk of losing its export market if it grows GM crops," Masunu continued. "So, as a precautionary measure, the Zambian government will not accept GM food," the spokesman said, bringing the heated argumentation down to earth.
"..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

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