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3-Food: Ecuador asks US food aid contain no biotech crops



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TITLE:  Ecuador asks US food aid contain no biotech crops
SOURCE: Reuters, by Randy Fabi
DATE:   May 17, 2001

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Ecuador asks US food aid contain no biotech crops

WASHINGTON - Ecuador has asked a United Nations organization to destroy 
U.S. food aid containing genetically engineered crops after some donations 
were suspected of containing biotech soybeans, but the matter has been 
sorted out and the aid is continuing, officials said on Tuesday. Foreign 
governments and consumer groups have recently raised concerns over 
genetically modified foods since an unapproved bioengineered corn variety 
was found in hundreds of taco shells, chips and other food products sold in 
the United States and Japan.

Friends of the Earth, a green group and critic of biotech foods, said it 
sent samples of U.S. food aid in Ecuador and other Latin American countries 
to be tested for transgenic ingredients. The group said tests results 
indicated high levels of transgenic crops in the food donations. After the 
findings, Ecuador's Social Welfare Ministry sent a March 30 letter asking 
the UN's World Food Program to stop distribution of genetically modified 
crops in U.S. food aid, the green group said.

A spokeswoman for the UN's World Food Program said it received the letter 
and held discussions about the issue with Ecuador officials. "Upon review 
of the letter, Ecuador's government gave us full support to continue our 
food aid program and asked for no interruption in its distribution," said 
Abigail Spring, spokeswoman for the World Food Program. The World Food 
Program in partnership with the U.S. Agriculture Department and Ecuador's 
government currently feed some 1.5 million people in the Latin American 
country.


APPROVED FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION

U.S. Agriculture Department officials said genetically modified crop 
varieties contained in U.S. food aid shipments have all been approved for 
human consumption by the U.S. government. But Gerber Products Co, the 
biggest U.S. baby food maker, and other U.S. food companies, have avoided 
transgenic ingredients in their products to ease consumer fears.

"In Europe and the U.S., many baby food companies don't use engineered 
ingredients in their products, but the U.S. has sent it to our children," 
said Elizabeth Bravo, spokeswoman for the environmental group's office in 
Ecuador. "Alternatives to engineered ingredients exist and should be used 
in food aid programs," Bravo said in a statement.

Last month, about 100 consumer and green groups around the world urged the 
Bush administration to halt exports of U.S. corn and food aid that may be 
contaminated with StarLink biotech corn. More than 300 U.S. snack foods, 
taco shells, and other products containing corn flour were recalled last 
October because of StarLink contamination.

StarLink, a variety engineered to repel destructive pests, was approved by 
the Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 for use only as animal feed. 
EPA scientists have expressed lingering concerns that the corn variety 
might trigger allergic reactions such as rashes, diarrhea or breathing 
problems in a small number of consumers.

The USDA has forecast fiscal 2001 U.S. food aid donations at 5.70 million 
tonnes of commodities to 72 countries. More than 60 percent of U.S. 
soybeans and 20 percent of corn are genetically modified, according to USDA 
estimates.



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