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3-Food: Namibian NGO asks: Is genetic engineering the answer tohunger?

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TITLE:  Is Genetic Engineering the Answer to Hunger?
SOURCE: The Namibian, by Maggi Barnard
DATE:   May 22, 2003

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Is Genetic Engineering the Answer to Hunger?

THE recent refusal by drought stricken African countries to accept
genetically modified (GM) maize as drought aid has fuelled the ongoing
international GM debate.

It drew both criticism and support from those for and against genetic

Now Earthlife Namibia is planning a series of lectures on the issue,
entitled 'Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (GE)'.

The project aims to inform the public, as well as to provoke public
discussion on the important issues surrounding biotechnology.

The lectures will address questions such as: does the Namibian Government
have a position on GE? do we have any legislation on GE? are there GMOs
and-or GM products in Namibia? would GE be able to solve any of Namibia's
problems in agriculture or medicine? how do we as consumers feel about
consuming manipulated maize? do we as consumers have a choice? and are we
in a situation to make an informed choice? Several international experts
will talk about the experiences in their countries.

Genetic engineering is a modern form of biotechnology, involving the
transfer of genetic information in the form of DNA sequences across
species barriers, as would not occur under normal conditions.

This means selected individual genes from one species being transferred
into another, as well as between non-related species, in an attempt to
transfer desirable characteristics.

This creates genetically modified plants, which are then used to produce
GM food crops.

The application of GE in agriculture is growing rapidly.

The most common genetically engineered varieties are those tolerating a
proprietary brand of herbicide and those containing insecticide genes, so
that they are either herbicide or insect-resistant.

Genetic engineering is a controversial issue, especially in the field of
agriculture and food production.

Critics feel that GE manipulates organisms in a way far removed from
traditional breeding and that it could be harmful to both humans and
animals, as well as the environment.

Earthlife has highlighted the arguments for and against GE in a press release.

An argument often used to promote GM organisms is the growing demand for
food production, where, it is suggested, biotechnology could help reduce
food shortages.

According to the United Nations Food Programme, however, there is "more
than enough food production in the world for those who can afford to pay
for it".

The problem is one of poverty and unequal distribution.

Hunger persists even in countries which export food.

According to Earthlife, sub-Saharan Africa is home to 213 million
malnourished people, yet food exports are growing more rapidly than imports.

Hunger is usually related to poverty rather than to production.

The question remains whether genetic engineering holds the solution.

There is also a concern over the potential health and environmental
impacts posed by genetically engineered seeds and their large-scale
release without adequate testing and regulatory control.

Earthlife is still preparing for the project and has not yet published
dates for the lectures.

In the meantime, members of the public who are informed and experienced
on the topic are requested to contact Earthlife Namibia to contribute to
the project.