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3-Food: Food aid and GMOs: Africa and the consumers right to choose

-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Food aid and GMOs: Africa and the consumers right to choose
SOURCE: Consumers International Africa Office, by Amadou C. Kanoute
DATE:   14 Jul 2004

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Food aid and GMOs: Africa and the consumers right to choose

CI Global has 250 members in 115 countries. CI-ROAF was first alerted to
the GM issue when in year 2000 we were alerted about the shipment of
maize food aid to Africa by the USA which was genetically modified, but
did not carry any mention of the nature of the maize.

For us that undermined basic consumer rights among which, the right to
information on goods and services we acquire for our consumption. Our
reaction was to petition the then Clinton Administration and the UN,
requesting two things:
1. That any donation of food be explicitly and positively labeled as to
the nature of the product
2. That the recipient country's consent be sought after information on
the nature of the donation is made clear to them.

Whilst we were campaigning for this basic right to information and
rallying for support from other stakeholders such as farmers,
environmentalist and development groups we came to realize that sending
GM foods to Africa had even deeper consequences that actually denied us
all other consumer rights.

1. Our right to satisfaction of basic needs such as access to secure food
cannot be guaranteed when a technological device is made into a law
denying the producers of food the right to keep and reuse the seeds that
ensure continuity in farming and food security.

2. Our right to safety or to be protected against the marketing or
donation of goods that are hazardous to health is not guaranteed when the
Food Administration allows the marketing of food developed from the
technology without adequate testing on the grounds that the producer of
the food consider them equal to conventional ones.

3. Our right to representation or to make our voice heard is denied when
the decision of what we should consume or not consume is either made on
our behalf by the donor country by not telling our countries the nature
of the food we are being given or when our suggestions of alternative
such as non-GM Food Aid are discarded as non-options.

4. Our right to redress or to be compensated for damages incurred through
contamination of local varieties of crops or for loss of biodiversity is
denied when our farmers unknowingly replant GM Maize or when
Multinational seed companies and GM farmers refuse any liabilities when
conventional or organic farms are contaminated.

5. We cannot acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to be informed
and critical consumers through consumer education, as conclusive
information on critical issues related to the technology of GM are not
always made public or accessible.

6. A healthy environment that can sustain production to feed the people
today and tomorrow is not guaranteed with a production model that
threatens biodiversity and excludes a vast majority of our small scale

Finally choice is denied to consumers and farmers:
When - food aid is imposed
When - labeling of products is deemed unnecessary and confusing
When - contamination of plants can reduce diversity of food base in the
future and undermine competition from local alternatives
When - the products and seeds belong to a small number of giant
corporations which generally function as a cartel

So all our rights as citizens and consumers are denied as the process
used to develop, market, and donate food derived from GM undermine all of
them Question: Why should a country such as the USA where the rights that
I have just enunciated were born under the President J F Kennedy who
requested the American Congress to grant them to all citizens be at the
forefront of undermining those same rights?

This is even more striking when global polls show that 58% of respondents
are unwilling to eat GM food if clearly labeled.

We have to look for the reasons in the US economic and agricultural
policies and the market for GM food.

The global production of transgeneric crops has expanded rapidly in
recent years. During the seven-year period from 1996 to 2002, global
acreage of transgeneric crops increased 35-fold, from 1.7 million
hectares, in 1996 to 58.7 million hectares in 2002. Four principal
countries grew 99% of the global transgeneric crop acreage in 2002. The
USA grew 39.0 million hectares, (66% of the global total), followed by
Argentina with 13.5 million hectares, Canada 3.5 million hectares and
China 2.1 million hectares.

Four major transnational, the so-called "Gene giants", are collectively
responsible for virtually 95 % of the global acreage in transgeneric
crops: Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont and Bayer. Most of these large
transnational seed corporations are the result of mergers and some of
them also have pesticide or pharmaceutical interests.

While acreage is on the rise and mergers are taking place for control of
the seed and biotechnology companies, consumption of GM crops across the
globe does not seem to follow the same trend. In the USA, Latin America,
Asia and Europe the public has proved to be very wary of genetic science
and all its promises.

The market is oversupplied. The volume of GM crops produced far outstrips
the demand. As potential markets in other continents are disappearing, GM
multinationals are having to move fast to find new markets for their
surpluses in order to avoid an economic slump. Africa is the next stop in
the multinationals' journey to create a market for these crops by
whichever means necessary!!! Particularly when the same survey reveals
that 55% of the respondents believe that it is acceptable to send GM food
to countries in need.

Apart from these rights enshrined in the UN Guidelines for Consumer
Protection, what other tools do we have as civil society actors to ensure
our rights as citizens and consumers are enacted.

1. The Cartagena Protocol: Article vii requests the Application of the
Advance Informed Agreement prior to the first international trans-
boundary movements of living modified organisms for intentional
introduction into environment of the importer.

2. The Rio Declaration: in its principle 15 requests for the
precautionary approach to be applied by states and that lack of full
scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost
effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.

3. The African model Law on Bio-safety which clearly provides for the
labeling of GMO's and the involvement of all actors in decision making.

4. The Food Aid Convention which provides in its Articles iii, viii and
xiii that food aid should:
- Be consistent with the dietary habits and nutritional needs of recipients
- Be based on an evaluation of the needs of the recipients
- Take particular account of the longer-term development objectives of
the recipient countries

5. Codex Alimentarius Principles and the Guidelines on Food Derived from
Biotechnology which request: - That a pre-market assessment be undertaken
- That effective risk communication and consultation process be put in
place involving all interested parties including government, industry,
academia, media and consumers.


These have been the basis of our actions when:

- We went to Zambia in 2002, to support the Government after they
rejected GM food aid on the basis that they did not have a conclusive
answer to the questions on health and environmental impacts.

- We joined hands with other NGOs in Sacramento in 2003, to convey to the
US State Department and USAID the message that alternative agricultural
policies and practices to genetic engineering exist, which could help
Africa out of hunger.

- In joining hands today with an international coalition of other
stakeholders to say "no food security is possible when farmers and
consumers are denied the basic right to choose their models of production
and consumption".


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
F: +49-531-5168747
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