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3-Food: Recent articles on GE food aid (1): GRAIN

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                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

DATE:   October 2002

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The issue of genetically modified (GM) food aid has been hurriedly added to 
the agenda for a meeting of the World Food Programme's (WFP) Executive 
Board this week (21 - 25 October 2002) [1]. Finding itself in the hot seat 
over its alleged negligence in allowing GM food to be included in food aid 
without informing recipient countries, the WFP has recognised the need to 
establish some kind of policy on the matter. The matter grew into an 
international scandal when in the past few months several governments in 
Africa blocked food aid containing GMOs from entering their countries. Most 
of this aid comes from the USA - whose government refuses to segregate the 
food aid it sends abroad, a position which is widely seen as a strategy to 
force transgenic crops into Africa and elsewhere.

GRAIN [2] urges the WFP to:
1) take concrete steps to prevent the genetic contamination of local crop 
diversity, which is the very basis of food security in the region
2) 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
3) take a long term view of food security in the region

In an article, forthcoming in the October issue of Seedling [3], GRAIN 
argues that "The issue is not whether a few sacks of GM maize are going to 
make people in Southern Africa keel over and die, but whether the 
international community is really bent on helping African farmers support 
their families, their communities and their integrity."

GRAIN says that the threat and impact of contamination of local maize 
varieties would be far more serious than the UN recognises. The UN 
essentially washes its hands of the issue, saying "Any potential risks to 
biological diversity and sustainable agriculture have to be judged and 
managed by countries on a case-by-case basis." Local maize varieties are a 
key foundation of food security in much of Africa. Maize has been grown in 
many parts of the continent since the early colonial times and some 54% of 
the maize growing area is still planted to local varieties, says GRAIN. 
"This is because institutional breeding programmes have failed to produce 
improved varieties that grow well in Africa. Farmers have had to rely on 
their own creativity to develop varieties that work." GRAIN argues that if 
GM maize seed is distributed, some of it will be planted. "Hungry, farmers 
can't stop themselves from planting maize, because they are already 
thinking about next year's harvest and how to safeguard their food supply."

GRAIN also argues for the need, in any food aid strategy, to include 
measures to rebuild local food security that recognise the complexity of 
the farming strategies required to sustain farming communities in much of 
the region. This means keeping GM out of farmers' fields. "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".

Read the full Seedling article at:


[1] A World Food Programme's Executive Board will be held this week (21 - 
25 October 2002). For more information about the meeting visit: http:// To download the Policy Paper "WFP Policy 
on Donations of Foods Derived from Biotechnology (GM/Biotech Foods)" go to
[2] GRAIN - Genetic Resources Action International. visit for 
more information
[3] Seedling - Seedling is GRAIN's magazine providing thought-provoking 
articles on all aspects of GRAIN's work and more. Also included are reviews 
of publications and websites, and details of relevant popular actions 
around the world. Visit for more information.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

SOURCE: Seedling, by Genetic Resources Action International, Spain
DATE:   Oct 2002

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This provocative title of an article in The Economist magazine of 23 
September sums up the scorn that the US government has been heaping on 
governments and NGOs resisting the US offers of shipments of genetically 
modified (GM) food to the hungry in Southern Africa. The Economist article 
claims that "Africans have two reasons for being wary of GM food aid: one 
silly, one slightly less so." The "silly" one being that GM food is bad for 
human health and the other that GM maize could contaminate local varieties 
of maize. The tone of the article is a good reflection of how charged an 
issue GM food aid has become in the last few months.

The crisis in Southern Africa affects Angola, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, 
as well as large numbers of people in Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland. It 
is estimated that, across the entire region, 9.4 million people already 
require immediate food assistance; a figure that will rise to 16.3 million 
in early 2003. Adverse weather conditions are much to blame for the current 
crisis such as drought, erratic rains, floods and tornadoes over successive 
years causing drops in food production. Because of the long period of bad 
weather, many poorer farmers have nowhere to turn to find food. Other 
underlying factors have also reduced the ability of countries to feed 
themselves: political instability in Zimbabwe, a fragile peace in Angola, 
poor macro-economic performance in all countries in the region, 
inappropriate government policies, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In emergency situations, food aid is mostly distributed by the World Food 
Programme (WFP), a United Nations body based in Rome. But the WFP and 
voluntary organisations only organise and distribute the food. It is 
national governments who provide the food aid, in particular the United 
States ö the largest provider of food aid in the world ö administered by 
the US Department for Agriculture (USDA) and the US Agency for 
International Development (USAID). The effective early warning systems of 
NGOs working in Southern Africa had alerted the world to the impending food 
crisis in the region well in advance of the famine hitting hard. Malawi and 
Zimbabwe declared states of emergency at the end of February and the end of 
April this year respectively. By early June the first shipments of GM maize 
were arriving from the US. Zimbabwe was the first country to reject the 
maize, through fears of contamination of local maize varieties and the 
threat to the GM-free premium it commands for its agricultural exports. The 
maize was redirected to Malawi and Zambia.

The very real problem of contamination

Maize is grown as a staple throughout much of Southern Africa and there is 
a serious threat of the GM maize being planted and cross-pollinating with 
local varieties. According to the FAO, "Maize is known for its propensity 
to outcross, but this is less of a concern in southern Africa where there 
is no large genetic diversity of this crop."Southern Africa may not be a 
centre of origin for maize, like Mexico, but it is a centre of diversity 
for maize and such contamination could have very serious consequences. 
Maize has been grown all over Africa since the early colonial times. It was 
readily adopted by local farming communities because it grew rapidly and 
its cultivation was undemanding. Once dried, it stored well and germinated 
for several years after harvest. Some 54% of the maize-growing area in 
Africa is still planted to local varieties. This is because formalised 
breeding programmes have failed to produce Īimprovedā varieties that grow 
well in Africa. Farmers have had to rely on their own creativity to develop 
varieties that work. Over the several hundred years that maize has been 
grown in Africa, an impressive diversity has been created by farmers all 
over the continent.

The WFP, FAO and the US have shown little concern about the threat of 
contaminating local maize varieties. USAIDās Andrew Natsios claimed 
"Starving people do not plant seeds. They eat them!" While Natsios may know 
about famine relief, he doesnāt appear to know farmers. However hungry, 
many of the recipients of the food aid will save some of that maize seed, 
albeit in small increments, to bury in the earth. Farmers canāt stop 
themselves, because they are already thinking about next yearās harvest and 
how to safeguard their food supply. Planting GM maize can then lead to the 
contamination of GM genes into other local maize varieties. This is exactly 
what happened in Mexico; the maize that has contaminated local varieties 
entered the country as food aid, with the intent that it would just be 
eaten, not planted.

African heads of state have recognised that maize seed will be planted, and 
some would be willing to accept GM food aid if it was milled, because it 
can only be eaten in that form. But USAID will not consider milling (either 
domestically before the grain leaves or in country when it arrives) because 
that would look like admitting that there is something wrong with the 
maize. Even the FAO does not seem to recognise how important milling is. It 
says that, "In the specific case of maize, processing techniques such as 
milling or heat treatment may be considered by governments to avoid 
inadvertent introduction of genetically modified seed. However, it is not 
UN policy that GM grain used for food, feed, or processing should 
necessarily require such treatments."

Milling is not a good option in any case: it dramatically reduces the shelf 
life of maize from ten months to three; increases transport and handling 
costs; increases the risk of infestation and increases delays. In addition, 
some countries like Malawi do not have sufficient milling capacity in-
country. In the end, some of the governments in the region have caved in to 
pressure to accept shipments of GM food aid. Zimbabwe has reversed its 
position and opened its doors to GM food, and Malawi and Mozambique have 
said they will accept GM maize so long as it is milled. Zambia is still 
saying no ö against a formidable opponent, the United States.

The Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre and the Jesuit Centre for 
Theological Reflection have been at the forefront of NGOs in Zambia 
supporting their governmentās controversial position on food aid. They say 
that the current push by some relief food providers for African countries 
such as Zambia to accept the GM foods without any questions is neither 
honest nor fair. "As church groups with close connections with the 
suffering hungry people in Zambia, we recognise the seriousness of the 
current food situation in the country. The GM question is not for us an 
academic issue or a political debate but a matter of life and death for our 
sisters and brothers." These groups make two demands:

* That the Zambian government acts swiftly and openly to source and 
distribute non-GM food.

* That Zambiaās cooperating partners should respond generously to the needs 
of the Zambian people and not politicise the issue or force Zambia to 
accept what it does not want.

Examining philanthropy

In response to the criticisms waged by governments and NGOs, USAID accused 
these groups of endangering the lives of millions of people in southern 
Africa by encouraging local governments to reject GM food aid. "The Bush 
administration is not going to sit there and let these groups kill millions 
of poor people in southern Africa through their ideological campaign," 
Natsios told the Washington Times in August. But let us take a closer look 
at the extent of the USā concern for the hungry in South Africa:

* The US says it cannot provide guaranteed GM-free maize 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.

* US aid comes with strings attached. It either donates foodstuffs or it 
ties its monetary aid to the purchase of US produce. This is despite being 
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. Cash is widely acknowledged to be the most effective form of 
food aid. It enables food supplies to be obtained locally and more quickly, 
supporting local economies and giving some possibility of ending the 
reliance on food handouts.

* The US introduced Public Law 480 to ensure that "commodities will not be 
made available [for food aid] unless · the distribution will not interfere 
with domestic production or marketing."

* The US boasts that "The principal beneficiary of America's foreign 
assistance programs has always been the United States" and that its 
"foreign assistance programmes have helped create major markets for 
agricultural goods" . USAID also states that one of its roles is to 
"integrate GM into local food systems."

* The US refuses to mill the GM maize even though African countries facing 
famine have requested this.

The US has persistently refused to respect Africaās concerns and requests 
regarding food aid. It is working to its own agenda, taking the attitude 
that countries in crisis should be grateful for whatever they are offered. 
The UN has not helped. The FAO has taken the line that GM food is safe, 
that contamination will not be a problem and, in so many words, that 
governments will be acting irresponsibly if they donāt accept GM food aid. 
The WFP recently admitted that since 1996 food aid distributed to the South 
contained GM material and none of the countries who received the food aid ö 
India, Colombia, Guatemala and many African countries ö were informed.Since 
1996 most developing countries have made it very clear, in negotiations on 
international biosafety rules, that they want to be told in advance about 
GM imports.

More than one solution

Though it may not be easy and it may be more expensive in the short term, 
there are other ways to feed the hungry. Before March 2003, between 1 and 2 
million tonnes of grain will be needed in emergency food aid. The FAO 
estimates that 1.16 million tonnes are available in countries as close as 
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. Devinder Sharma suggests that 
Indiaās 65 million tonnes of non-GM food grain stockpiles might also be a 
good source. Even acknowledging that there are a lot of different factors 
and logjams to consider, it just doesnāt seem it should be that hard, if 
the political will is there. As Jean Ziegler, the UN special investigator 
on the right to food has said, "There is plenty of natural, normal good 
food in the world to nourish the double of humanity."

Saliem Fakir, director of the South Africa office of the World Conservation 
Union got to the crux of the issue when he said, "Africa is merely a pawn 
in this global game of chess. By forcing Southern African governments to 
take a decision on GM foods, a precedent will be set. The next time round, 
US corporations will roll out their grand plan for agricultural 
rejuvenation in Africa founded on GM-based production. African governments 
will be hard-pressed to resist given that they have subverted their own 
policies in the face of a food crisis." Fakir goes on to say that "If 
sufficient regions adopt this mode of production, the US will have created 
a group of like-minded countries to help it lobby against EU policies at 
trade negotiations. The US is interested in the EU market because this is 
where money is to be made, not in Africa." Europe has begun to react to the 
situation. Norway and the EU have started to look into funding GM-free 
sources of food aid and the Netherlands has given $4 million to the region 
(including $500k to Zambia for GM-free food). But more is needed. The 
combined voices of the EU can help the WFP resist USAIDās bullying tactics 
and construct a new plan that will really support Southern Africaās hungry 
ö not for the next six months, but the next 20 years. Europe needs to 
demand that the US offers real help.

This means providing cash, not food, so that the WFP and the governments in 
Southern Africa can source food locally as much as possible. This will 
support agriculture in the region as a whole, which is one important step 
towards long term food security for African farmers. A new plan would also 
mean helping countries address some of the economic pressures they face. 
Malawiās food crisis was exacerbated by pressure from the World Bank and 
International Monetary Fund, which caused it to sell 28,000 tonnes of maize 
reserves to Kenya to pay off commercial loans Malawi had taken out to buy 
maize surplus in previous years. The new plan would also need to include 
measures to rebuild local food security that recognise the complexity of 
the farming strategies required to sustain farming communities in much of 
the region. And that means keeping GM crops out of farmersā fields.

The issue is not whether a few sacks of GM maize are going to make people 
in Southern Africa keel over and die, but whether the international 
community is really bent on helping African farmers support their families, 
their communities and their integrity. Many painful experiences in the past 
have shown how poor food aid strategies undermine local food security, 
rather than sinking the roots for strengthening the food base. We should 
have learnt by now that we need to set our sights on 52 years, not 52 
weeks. Allowing GM food aid to pollute the core of Africa's crop diversity 
will undermine the very basis of food security in the region. 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.


|                   GENET                     |
| European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering |
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|             Hartmut MEYER (Mr)              |
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