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Zimbabwe Rejects GE-Tainted
US Food Aid

The Philadelphia Inquirer
June 2, 2002

Zimbabwe says no to U.S. offer of food relief;
A shipment of corn was refused because it may contain genetically altered
grain.

BY: Andrew Maykuth Inquirer Staff Writer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

While three million Zimbabweans face a worsening food shortage, the southern
African nation last month rejected a U.S. offer of 10,000 metric tons of
whole grain corn because the shipment might contain genetically modified
grain.

The U.S. government redirected the gift to other hungry African nations
after Zimbabwe refused to waive a requirement that imported grain be
certified as non-genetically modified organisms. The U.S. government does
not segregate GMO grains from conventional crops.

Zimbabwe's reluctance to accept whole-kernel U.S. corn poses an
uncomfortable challenge to humanitarian officials planning for an impending
food emergency in southern Africa, where 19 million people in six countries
face hunger because of drought and mismanagement of food supplies. The
United States, with its awesome agricultural output, is by far the largest
donor to the U.N. World Food Program, the agency that distributes food to
needy countries. But U.S. grain is not suitable for Zimbabwe, which has
potentially the largest food deficit in southern Africa.

Though officials in Zimbabwe say they are aware that the U.S. government has
determined these foods to be safe, they are reluctant to accept them without
their own testing.

U.N. representatives, African officials, and emissaries from donor countries
are scheduled to meet in Johannesburg this week to sort out how food from
producing countries will be divvied up in the coming months.

"We don't make judgment calls on GMOs, as long as the food passes safety
standards," said Brenda Barton, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program.

"We're really trying to stay out of the middle of this debate."
Zimbabwe's neighbors are hoping they will benefit with larger allocations of
U.S. maize, as corn is called here.

"If Zimbabwe doesn't want the maize, there are plenty of people here willing
to accept it," said Nick Osborne, the country representative of Care
International in Malawi, where humanitarian officials expect severe food
shortages by September, after a second successive crop failure from drought.
Food imports to Zimbabwe are generally not an issue, because Zimbabwe's
farmers usually produce a surplus. But the country of 12 million people has
been hit by a triple whammy this year - a serious drought, the devastation
of thousands of white commercial farms by government-backed militants, and
the government's sell-off of its grain reserves.

The result: Zimbabwe is expected to produce only a quarter of its maize crop
this year, and will require imports of 1.6 million metric tons. Corn is the
principal staple crop in southern Africa; in poor countries like Malawi,
maize accounts for up to 70 percent of a rural resident's diet.

Zimbabwe imposed the restrictions on genetically engineered food two years
ago, partly to support its commercial farmers. Zimbabwe exported beef and
ostrich to Europe, where consumers demand that meat come from livestock that
has not been fed with the engineered grain.

With Zimbabwe's agricultural sector in turmoil because of the government's
takeover of many white-owned commercial farms, the African nation last year
stopped exporting meat to Europe.

"The Europeans are quite paranoid about GMOs, and we were concerned about
keeping our markets," said Paul d'Hotman, chief executive officer of the
Zimbabwe Cattle Producers Association. "But it's all academic now."
Zimbabwe's commercial farmers face soaring prices for livestock feed, and
have asked the government to relax the restrictions on importing genetically
engineered grain. Crops such as corn are typically modified to resist
disease or drought.

The government is concerned that donated genetically modified, whole-kernel
corn might be replanted in Zimbabwe, starting an irreversible propagation of
untested grain.

"It is not so easy to say we're going to suspend our regulations because we
have a food emergency," said Abisa Mafa, registrar of the Research Council
of Zimbabwe's biosafety board.

Yet the Zimbabwean government is willing to feed genetically engineered
grain to its population. This year, it has accepted nearly 43 metric tons of
U.S. corn meal and corn-soy milk worth $27.5 million that the Americans
could not certify was non-GMO. Zimbabwe says corn meal and corn-soy milk are
acceptable because they have already been processed and cannot be planted to
grow crops.

But donor nations are unlikely to be able to fill Zimbabwe's vast needs with
milled maize, which is more expensive than whole-kernel corn, Mafa said.
Zimbabwe might be willing to accept whole U.S. grain as long as it was
milled as soon as it entered the country to prevent it from being replanted.
D'Hotman, the livestock producer, said he believed it was unlikely that much
of the imported modified grain would get set aside as seed.

"People are hungry, and when they're hungry, they're going to eat the grain
and not plant it."

Contact Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2405 or foreign@phillynews.com.


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