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3-Food: Food aid and the genetically modified organisms



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TITLE:  Food aid and the genetically modified organisms
SOURCE: GE Free Latin America, by Elizabeth Bravo, ebravo@hoy.net
DATE:   November 2001

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FOOD AID AND THE GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS


BACKGROUND

Every human being has the right to food and access to healthy and 
nutritional food. Along the same lines, every country and society has the 
right to keep their food sovereignty, which is the right to decide how to 
eat, according to their cultural standards and establishing control in the 
production process.

Unfortunately, people are promoting a culture of insecurity that benefits 
the biotechnological industry, becoming the biggest threat the food derived 
from genetic engineering and transgenic produce.

The biotechnological corporations have launched campaigns by means of mass 
media, government, and academic institutions trying to impose transgenic 
food. They have a big investment to care for. By achieving global 
acceptance, they would be able to control the food chain.

In a global scenario, the main grain importers are on one side, countries 
such as the European Union, Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In 
these countries, transgenic food is being rejected by the consumers, due to 
its potential risks. This has generated a great surplus of transgenic food 
and considerable losses to farmers throughout the USA (the number one 
producers of transgenic produce).

On the other side is the Third World that is being increasingly attacked by 
disasters. It is within these poverty-stricken regions of the globe, that 
the large biotechnological corporations have set their sights, and they are 
about to become a backyard where all the rejected transgenic food will 
accumulate.

One of the strategies being used is the food aid.


POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF FOOD AID

Developed countries must allocate 0.7% of their budget to official 
development aid and each country has its policies on how to handle this aid.

One component of political development assistance that the United States 
applies is the food aid. Food Aid constitutes a mechanism to place the 
agricultural surplus, promote the aperture of new markets for their 
products, and influence on other country politics.

We can use the PL 480 Program as an example. This is the biggest food aid 
program in that country. The PL 480 constitutes an important instrument to 
market expansion, and has helped to position agricultural produce that 
couldn't have been otherwise.

Through this program they sell produce to Third World countries with long 
term credits via the Commodity Credit Corporation. The funds are managed by 
the same organization (concession credit) and the fate of these funds 
varies upon the mediation of the resources.

Although we are talking about sold produce, these products have effects on 
local producers, because they are sold at a lower, subsidized price, while 
the market prices are much higher. These programs are handled by the USAID. 
The USAID operates through intermediaries, who constitute expensive 
international bureaucracies. A large percentage of this help is allocated 
to them.

The requirements that the US establishes for their Aid include the 
following:
- Restriction to imports of similar agricultural produce (avoiding 
competition with others)
- The food must be transported using USA's companies, regardless of their 
fees being higher to those established by the international market. This 
results in better businesses for their merchant marine.

Food aid constitutes an additional subsidy to the American agricultural 
produce. We, on the other hand, become dependent of that aid, as is the 
case with wheat. In the 1970's, several Andean countries became dependent 
on wheat food aid provided by the US. These countries switched from being 
self-sufficient to importing 97% of their wheat.

Food aid puts us in a position of severe disadvantage against US producers, 
since local farmers must compete with highly subsidized produce.

The northern countries have refused to accept the changes in their 
agricultural policies imposed by the worldwide Commerce Organization, such 
as the removal of subsidy to exports and to tariffs. In Third World 
countries, these policies have begun to be implemented, taking away from 
local agriculture.

Let's continue talking about the wheat subsidy example. We can see that the 
US subsidizes wheat exports. In opposition to this, other countries have 
subsidies to wheat imports, because they assume that imported wheat is of 
better quality. This is a direct threat against food sovereign of 
countries. Meanwhile the US takes all possible measures to avoid 
competition for their produce around the world, via imposing tax-free 
policies that could instead be related to salaries or environmental issues.

People frequently argue that food aid benefits the commercial balance of 
the benefited countries, short and long term, because it stops importing. 
However, the donated food is guiding the production structure towards a new 
structure of consumption based on imported raw materials. This generates a 
smaller investment in the production industry and forces in new and 
different food parameters.

On the other hand, food aid conditions our political freedom. The aid 
during these years has forced countries to accept reforms to the 
International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with impacts that are being 
felt in various areas of the world.

Food Aid has always been used to achieve political goals for the USA. As an 
example, we can mention a situation that took place in the 1970's during 
the war in Indochina: 70% of the help went to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. 
During the 1980's, it was directed to Salvador, because of their civil war, 
and to Egypt, USA's doorway to the Middle East. If we look at the 1990's, 
we'll see that the support leaned towards Eastern European countries to 
sustain their transition into a market economy.

Since the 1980's, help has been given to those countries that benefit free 
market economies.


FOOD AID AND NATURAL DISASTERS

Due to global issues such as weather variations, natural disasters are more 
frequent and the magnitude of their damages is greater.

In situations of natural disasters, it is the state's duty to tend for the 
interests and survival of its population. It is common for governments 
then, to get external help through food aid.

It is important to highlight the role that the media has played in 
circumstances such as these. They use these crises to promote US food aid 
programs. They seem to forget to mention the causes of those disasters, 
such as environmental deterioration and the conditions of social exclusion 
that many Third World regions live in.

Once the crisis ends, frequently the food aid increases, instead of 
decreasing, becoming a systematic action and creating dependency to 
imported food for the receiving country.

To summarize, the aid empowers the USA to:
- allocate their agricultural surplus
- limit international market competition
- generate income for their companies, such as freight companies
- get involved in political issues concerning the receiving countries 
promote their international policies

The impacts for the receiving countries are as follows:
- displacement of local produce
- agreement to USA policies
- loss of capacity for local production
- reduce employment sources resulting in poverty
- become dependent to imported food and change their eating habits


FOOD AID AND TRANSGENIC FOOD 

Ever since transgenic food was introduced into the market, the rejection 
that consumers in industrialized countries have presented has been noted, 
especially in Europe and Japan. This has a direct effect in Third World 
countries; we have become a dumping place of transgenic supply. We receive 
the food at low cost or through food aid.

Food aid, is the last non-regulated export market open to US farmers. It is 
very hard for poor countries confronted with natural disasters and constant 
economic crisis to refuse this aid. The Department of Agriculture in the US 
is exporting thousands of tons of transgenic soy and wheat through food aid 
agencies. In 1999 the US Government donated 500.000 tons of wheat and wheat 
products. One can say that 30% of that aid was provided using genetically 
modified produce, according to USAID. Very lucrative contracts took place 
Companies like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill won a third of those 
contracts for a total of 140 million dollars in 1999.

The United Nations aren't sure how much of the help received is transgenic, 
nor do they have policies regarding this issue. The World Food Program 
receives almost half of their yearly budget from the US. Their executive 
Director is an ex-employee of the Department of Agriculture in the US. This 
help comes from the wheat-producing region of this country.

The presence of transgenics in food aid is not a possibility anymore. It's 
presence has been detected is several countries throughout the world, 
including India, where transgenic food was distributed to Typhoon victims; 
the Andean region (Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia), and Nicaragua, amongst 
others. This has caused rejection through the population and of some 
governments.

The organizations that are under the umbrella of the "GE Free Latin 
America" unite to this rejection.



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