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9-Misc: US seeks to force-feed scientific apartheid to Third World

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TITLE:  US seeks to force-feed scientific apartheid to Third World
SOURCE: Business Report, South Africa, by Devinder Sharma
DATE:   May 21, 2003

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US seeks to force-feed scientific apartheid to Third World

The noose is slowly tightening. An all-out offensive has been launched,
using the three most important instruments of economic power - the World
Trade Organisation (WTO), the World Bank and the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) - along with the badly bruised but democratically elected

This time, the target is not oil but to force the world to accept
genetically modified (GM) food and crops.

The battle for controlling the global food chain has begun.

The US administration fired the first missile this month by formally
launching a complaint with the WTO against the European Union (EU) for
its five-year ban on approving new biotech crops.

This action has set the stage for an international showdown over an
increasingly controversial issue.

US trade representative Robert Zoellick says the European policy is
illegal, harming the US economy, stunting the growth of the biotech
industry and contributing to starvation in the developing world.

Coinciding with the frontal attack through the dispute panel is a
seemingly harmless exercise to close ranks around flawed economic policies.

Senior officials of the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank met in Geneva
this month to deliberate on how to bring greater "coherence" in their
policies through "liberalisation of trade and financial flows,
deregulation, privatisation and budget austerity".

As if the loan conditions of the IMF/World Bank - forcing developing
countries to lower their trade barriers, cut subsidies for their domestic
food producers, and eliminate safety nets for rural agriculture - were
not enough, the WTO agreement on agriculture could be used very
effectively to allow the US and 12 other food-exporting countries to dump
unwanted genetically altered food.

Such a policy would destroy food self-sufficiency in developing countries
and expand markets for the large grain-exporting companies.

Trade and financial manipulations alone are not enough.

With the UN no longer relevant, any such global offensive needs political

Therefore, three ministers from each of the 180 invited countries -
holding the portfolios of trade, agriculture and health - will assemble
in Sacramento, California on June 23-25.

The invitation, which comes from US agriculture secretary Ann Veneman, is
essentially for educating (in reality intimidating) these democratically
elected representatives on the virtues of GM food and why they must back
the US transnational corporations' fight against global hunger.

And if they choose not to do so, then why they must remain quiet, as they
did when the US was searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The three-pronged attack will force the EU to either alter its policy
towards GM crops and food, which some consumer groups call "Franken
food", or face economic sanctions across a range of sectors.

For the US, European markets for GM crops and seed are potentially worth
several billion dollars a year.

For the rest of the world, Veneman will explain the consequences - both
economic and political - of not accepting the fruits of this "cutting
edge" technology, as genetic engineering is fondly called.

The first GM Ministerial, therefore, is not open to the public. The
machinations to push unhealthy and risky GM food actually began a decade ago.

The US has so far opposed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which has
been signed by over 100 countries and is intended to ensure, through
agreed international rules and regulations, that countries have the
necessary information to make informed choices about GM food and crops.

The US made every possible attempt to see that the Cartagena Protocol did
not come through.

Whether it is the Cartagena Protocol or the Kyoto Protocol, the US
continues to defy the international order.

Even the Convention on Biological Diversity was ratified by the US at a
stage when it realised it had nothing to lose in the event of adequate
protection granted by the trade-related intellectual property rights (Trips).

The US continues to hold the world's largest collection of plant germ
plasm - about 600 000 plant accessions - which actually belongs to the
developing world.

These plant collections, forcibly held in custody, are the raw material
for the multibillion-dollar US biotechnology industry.

In addition, the biotechnology industry has earned an estimated $ 5.4
billion from biopiracy alone.

With the biotech patents coming into force and the definition of micro-
organism extended to include genes and cell lines, the US has ensured
that once the Trips agreement is internationally harmonised in 2005, it
will be the beginning of the end for public sector research in
agriculture in the developing countries.

In the words of Ismail Serageldin, a former chairman of the Consultative
Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR): "Whenever the
product and process patents in food and agriculture come into effect, it
will be a scientific apartheid against Third World ."

Agricultural research, which has been instrumental in ushering in food
self-sufficiency in many Third World countries in the post-green
revolution era, is being gradually dismantled.

The CGIAR itself is under great pressure from the agribusiness
corporations, which see it as the main obstacle to the process of control
and manipulation.

With research priorities shifting from national requirements to servicing
the biotechnology industry, as in India, it will be a matter of time
before developing countries begin to return to the frightening days of
"ship-to-mouth" existence.

Food aid to starving populations is about meeting the urgent humanitarian
needs of those who are in dire need.

Ideally, it should not be to push the commercial interests of the
biotechnology corporations (while staying away from the international
consensus such as the Cartagena Protocol), or planting GM crops for
export, or indeed finding outlets for domestic surplus.

The US literally arm-twisted four African countries into accepting GM
food at the height of the food scarcity that prevailed in the central and
southern regions of the continent last year.

It even tried forcing the International Federation of Red Cross to lift
the GM food restriction to feed the hungry in Africa.

That strategy didn't work.

Zambia led the resistance against GM food, saying it would prefer its
poor to die than to feed them with unhealthy food. The US has finally
found a way to force African countries into submission.

The US senate has passed a bill, entitled The US Leadership Against HIV/
Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, which links financial aid
for combating HIV/Aids with the acceptance of GM food.

Section 104A says: "Individuals infected with HIV have higher nutritional
requirements than individuals who are not infected with HIV, particularly
with respect to the need for protein.

"Also, there is evidence to suggest that the full benefit of therapy to
treat HIV/Aids may not be achieved in individuals who are malnourished,
particularly in pregnant and lactating women."

The next sentence reads: "It is therefore the sense of congress that US
food assistance should be accepted by countries with large populations of
individuals infected or living with HIV/Aids, particularly African
countries, to help feed such individuals."

The underlying objective is very clear: the US can use the verdict to
stop humanitarian aid for HIV/Aids, unless the recipient countries first
buy GM food.

This is not an isolated effort. The Rockefeller Foundation, in
collaboration with the US-based Madison Institute, had earlier launched a
project called the Madison Initiative.

Under the guise of humanitarian aid and support, the Madison Initiative
was aimed at pushing GM crops to tide over the increasing food insecurity
arising from the growing vulnerability of economies affected by HIV/Aids.

The basic premise is that HIV/Aids has taken a heavy toll of able-bodied
rural males in most parts of Africa.

As a result, there is not enough manpower to undertake agricultural
operations like the spraying of pesticides.

Therefore, these countries must accept GM crops like Bt maize, which they
say require less chemical spraying.

In 1986, the US enacted similar legislation, called Bumper's Amendment,
that prohibited "agricultural development activities, consultation,
publication, conference, or training in connection with the growth and
production in a foreign country of an agricultural commodity for export
that would compete with a similar commodity grown or produced in the US".

As a result, US support for research and development for crops competing
with those grown in the US were stopped.

No wonder, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the CGIAR and
numerous other developing country agricultural programmes continue to
remain starved for financial support.

With national research programmes closing down for paucity of funds, the
field is now open for the biotech industry to take over.

Never before has the world been forced to accept technologies - howsoever
risky these might be, and that includes nuclear power - in the name of
sustainable development.

Never before has any country tried to force-feed a hungry continent by
creating a false scenario of an impending famine.

Never before have science and technology been sacrificed in such a
shameful manner for the sake of commercial growth and profit.

* Devinder Sharma is a food and trade policy analyst based in New Delhi.
His writings can be viewed at