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3-Food: Malawi declaration on GE food aid

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TITLE:  Declaration of regional workshop on GM food aid held at Malawi
SOURCE: Peoples Earth Decade, UK
DATE:   posted on Jan 28, 2003

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Declaration of regional workshop on GM food aid held at Malawi Institute

We, likeminded organisations from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia,
Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Ethiopia, United States of America, United
Kingdom, Malaysia and Malawi, meeting from 11 -14 December 2002 in
Malawi, would like to make our concerns known We appreciate the
intentions of the donors and governments to save the people from
starvation through provision of food aid. We have observed with
disbelief, however, how GMO food aid is being forced on countries facing
starvation in Africa.

We believe that the whole subject surrounds the issue of choice made by
all people in Africa related to Food Sovereignty. Governments are obliged
to fulfill the needs of its people in ways that do not infringe on the
rights of its people and we have arrived at the conclusion that Genetic
Engineering (GE) and Food Aid run contrary to democratic principles in
the following ways.

1. Knowledge gap

GE issues are clouded by mystery. Multinationals engaged in GE research
are compounding the problem further by refusing to have their research
findings analysed by independent researchers. In addition, no empirical
data exists to verify the safety of GMOs for human health, the
environment, or food safety.

The knowledge gap is widened as scientists from developing countries
where the GMO food aid is being dumped do not yet have the resources to
assess the risks of GMO food aid and yet governments expect them to be
advisors on the issue. On the other hand government relies on information
from the promoters of GMOs, which may be highly biased.

The knowledge gap is further compounded by the fact that GMOs have not
been debated and are being prematurely forced upon the region under the
guise of Food Aid. Field trials on GMO technology are being conduced in
some African countries on indigenous food, but on the assumption that GE
would improve yield and pest resistance.

2. The long-term problem of food security

The complexities of the Food Security situation in Africa encompass a
wide range of issues such as the wrong policies, distribution,
maximization of resources and the use of low-tech alternatives. We feel
that GMOs from developed countries should not be promoted as the magic
wand solution to Africa?s food crisis. Rather, the continent can address
the subject in the long-term by exploring the innovative usage of local
resources and promoting local varieties which have proved to be low-tech
and highly pest resistant.

Such modern agro-ecological approaches have already proved to
significantly increase yields.

We are therefore concerned that GM crops will increase both the
dependence and reliance on multinational seed companies and complicate
the picture further with high incidents or litigation as a result of
violation of intellectual property rights by poor farmers in the region.
GM crops may also reduce yields.

This scenario will in turn create food insecurity and severely disrupt
traditional farming methods, which still prove to be reliable, and serve
as the basis for a better and assured alternative to GMOs. The potential
destruction of local varieties will propel the region further into crisis.

3. The freedom to choose

The Genetically Modified (GM) food is said to have been given as food aid
since the late 90s. However this has been done without the prior informed
consent of the recipient countries. The argument that is used is that
either you eat GM food or you starve. Unfortunately, the same language
has been copied at a national level.

As such:

- We call on all governments in the region to respect the rights of all
its citizens and create as much awareness as is currently possible on
taking precaution on the issues of GMOs. We believe this can be achieved
by enhancing the point of Prior Informed Consent particularly regarding
food donations.

- We support the recipient?s country right to refuse GM food aid as is
provided for in the Biosafety Protocol, and we call on all donors not to
force Africa to choose between starvation and GM food when there are
plenty non-GM Food, representing 93% of the world food.

- We call for a concerted effort to adopt contextually relevant
regulatory frameworks at both national and regional levels, regarding the
introduction of GE seeds and foods. In this regard, the African Model law
should serve as the route to achieving this goal.

- In light of the fact that GM foods have found their way into the
markets of Africa, we call for the enhancement and implementation of full
and comprehensive labeling laws.

- We believe that nations should be left free to apply the precautionary
principle and choose aid that is appropriate, socially and culturally
acceptable to its peoples. There is need for a consistent consultative
process with civil society in the drafting or revision of protective
legislation on GMOs.

4. Liability

We realize that scientific opinion is divided on the safety issues
surrounding GM crops, especially when given unprocessed to hungry people
as their staple food, people whose immune systems are weakened by
illnesses such as HIV/AIDS.

In the absence of internationally agreed implications of GM food, we
believe that legal liability for unforeseen consequences of GM food,
currently being offered as aid, must be borne by the donor community.

5. Conclusion

We are very concerned that the worries about GM foods by recipient
countries have been dismissed as trivial when weighed against the threat
of starvation. This is false as GM food constitute only a small portion
of the 7% of global (animal) feed/food in the world. The forcing of GM
food on the poor countries does not recognize the community rights, the
rights of the nations, the sustainable availability of local seed variety
and long-term implications of genetic engineering.

We call on the western countries, whose consumers exercise the
precautionary principle with regards to GM crops, to ensure that their
agents act responsibly and deliver non-GM food aid to poor nations that
need the assistance.

We call on like-minded people who were not present at the meeting in
Malawi to join forces in campaigning against the dumping of GMO food
(aid) in poor developing countries and support alternative breeding and
production methods that benefit the poor. We are determined to see this
issue through to the end.

6. Way forward

We will encourage scientists to improve on alternative breeding methods
through, amongst others:

- Scientists using participatory, sustainable and farmer driven
production and breeding.
- Raising awareness of scientists on deep concerns of GE technologies.
- Advocating for policy change in the biotechnology sector for the
benefit of the people.
- Monitoring development research
- Pushing for corporate responsibility to account for their technology
- Calling on regional blocks e.g. SADC, AU, COMESA, ECOWAS etc to take a
stand on GMOs.

We will continue to remind our national governments:

- To ensure that the people are provided with safe food.
- To respond quickly to indicators of food insecurity in order to plan
- Not to accept GE dumping on their soils

We will continue to call on donors:

- To provide food aid without conditionalities
- To respect sovereignty of Rights of Nations
- To adhere to the international conventions on food aid
- That the UN Food Aid Agencies and others should not be conduits of GE
Food dumping.
- To increase funding in farmer-driven research programmes; and encourage
farmers to diversify their food production and preservation.

On Biosafety regulations, we will continue...

- to call on countries to enact Biosafety laws in line with the African
Model Law on safety in bio-technology
- where Biosafety laws exist, the public should be made aware of.
- To encourage countries to ratify the Cartagena Protocol.
- To call for Labeling of all GM foods and products on the market

Signed in Lilongwe on December 14th 2002.

Action Against Hunger
ActionAid Malawi
African Women Lawyers Association (Ghana)
Blantyre CCAP Synod
Blantyre Justice and Peace Commission
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace
Centre for Social Concern
Centre for Youth and Children Affairs
Christian Service Committee CSC
Church and Society Programme
Civil Liberties Committee
Civil Society Agriculture Network CISANET
Community Services
Consumers Association of Malawi CAMA
Coordinating Unit for Rehabilitation of Environment CURE
ECAZ (Zambia)
Economists Association of Malawi ECAMA
Environmental Monitoring Group (South Africa)
Institute for Sustainable Development (Ethiopia)
Justice and Peace Mzuzu
Livingstonia Synod
Maasai Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (Tanzania)
Malawi Economic Justice Network
Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre
Ministry of Justice (Ghana)
MISA Malawi
Mzuzu Diocese
Mzuzu University Students Union
National Democratic Institute
RHFRD (Zambia)
RIEP Lilongwe
SIRDC (Zimbabwe)
Soil Association (United Kingdom)
Third World Network (Malaysia)
Uganda Wild Life Society (Uganda)
University of California Berkeley (USA)
Women's Voice (Malawi)

[see also:]