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Global Opposition to Gene-Foods Mounts

Financial Times (London)
August 23, 2002
Chorus of disapproval grows over modified grains
By JAMES LAMONT and FRANCES WILLIAMS
JOHANNESBURG and GENEVA

The Geneva-based World Conservation Union (IUCN), a federation of 70
countries, yesterday urged southern African nations to reject genetically
modified food relief from the US until sufficient scientific research had
been conducted on its environmental impact.

The IUCN, which also represents 10,000 scientists worldwide and 750
non-governmental organisations, criticised the US for supplying GM grain as
food aid to drought-stricken southern African states.

It advised African countries to consider the future implications of
introducing GM food into their agricultural systems. The IUCN fears that
grains and other forms of food relief might be planted by local farmers
rather than consumed by those affected by food shortages. If GM strains find
their way into local crops, exports may be rejected by countries more
sensitive to the potential danger GM crops pose to the environment. "You
have to ask why genetically modified food is being offering to them (African
countries)," said Xenya Cherny, a spokesman for the union. "It resembles the
forced dumping by the US of genetically modified organisms. They can
proliferate very quickly. It could hugely affect biodiversity."

Southern Africa, faced with the prospect of thousands of people starving
over the next six months, is divided about whether to accept the food
supplies. While Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique have resisted US food aid,
Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland have accepted it.

The controversy over GM food is likely to spill over into next week's UN
World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg. The US
is eager to gain greater international acceptance of GM foods, but is
worried its food aid and the threat of famine on host country South Africa's
borders might inflame the debate.

The US State Department said in a statement that there was "no evidence to
suggest that biotech food is any less safe than its conventional
counterparts".

"Now is not the time to turn away safe and desperately needed food," it
said.

UN agencies are urgently trying to defuse the row before the summit. The
World Health Organisation, World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN
Food and Agriculture Organisation plan to issue today a joint statement on
GM food aid. It will urge donors and recipients to balance the spectre of
millions of people starving to death alongside governments' legitimate concerns
over GM food imports.

Officials said the statement would make clear there was no evidence to date
of any risk to humans from eating GM versions of maize or soya, which the
WFP is supplying in southern Africa.

As for the risk of environmental contamination from escaped or planted GM
grains - the main concerns of Zimbabwe and Mozambique - agencies will urge
donors and recipients to find mutually acceptable solutions, which could
include milling grain before delivery.

The US, whose shipments contain GM grains, supplies 60 per cent of the food
aid distributed by the WFP.

 

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