US Forcing Frankenfoods on
Desperate African Nations

US Forcing Frankenfoods on Desperate African Nations

Norfolk Genetic Information Network (ngin),
An edited version of this article appeared in the South African Mail and
Guardian this week.

US to force GE food onto the WSSD agenda
By Glenn Ashton.

Ten years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Genetically
Engineered (GE) food was not even on the radar screen. At the
Johannesburg Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD), it remains
off the agenda, yet it will be one of the hottest topics in town.

This summit takes place in the shadow of drought and famine in southern
Africa. This famine has many causes, none of them technical, yet a
technical quick fix is being touted as the saviour of Africa. Drought is
cynically and contemptuously used as a marketing tool for GE.

Much of the food aid destined for drought stricken regions is sourced
from the USA, where GE and conventional grain is mixed. US AID, the
main donor has bluntly informed recipients that it is not the time to quibble
when lives are at stake. This may have relevance on the moral level but
is ethically questionable. Surely countries have the right to choose
what seed they wish to import? The threat to African agriculture and its
exports to Europe will be directly impacted by the presence of GE crops
in areas that were previously clean.

Genetic Engineering is not even mentioned in the main negotiating text
for the WSSD, yet it bubbles below, disguised under the sobriquet of
biotechnology. Biotechnology includes GE but the two are as a sparrow
is to a vulture.

Biotechnology is yoghurt, beer, cheese, bread, drugs and remediation,
and has been with us for millenia. Biotechnology is fine. GE is the
artificial insertion of foreign genes into unrelated species--it is a
far cry from our understanding of biotechnology. GE food includes genes
from bacteria, viruses, antibiotics, and now fish and pharmaceutical
structures being blasted into our daily fare.

The equation of GE with biotechnology is the first semantic flick-flack
in a game of smoke and mirrors. The prize is control of the global food
supply. It is critical that this issue receives attention at any summit
dealing with sustainable development. After all, no development without
food is possible. But does sustainable development have to come with
these risks and costs?

If the majority of civil society coming to Johannesburg had their way,
GE food would be rejected. However a narrow interest group led by the
US Government, Monsanto and other corporations together with a powerful
and effective international lobby group are coming to town to sell GE food
as an urgent humanitarian need.

The 10 years since Rio has seen the phenomenal growth of a GE industry.
The fuse was lit in 1994 with the world's first GE crop, the Flavr-Savr
tomato going on sale in the USA. Today, two thirds of the soy and one
third of the maize grown in the USA is GE. The US leads the world in GE
crops and around 90% of this production emanates from one corporation,

Monsanto has morphed over the years from a chemical company that
produced delightful products such as Agent Orange, dioxins,
polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT and agricultural chemicals, to the
World's biggest promoter of GE crops. Its leading agricultural chemical
is a herbicide called Roundup--for which the patent expired in 2000.

Monsanto, now contractually links the use of this chemical to the
purchase of their GE soy, canola and other herbicide resistant crops.
Ordinarily, this market would have been lost to Monsanto but is now

In Africa Monsanto has friends in high places. Florence Wambugu, the
poster girl of the African GE cheerleaders' society, has a historical
relationship with Monsanto, while shamelessly posing as an independent
voice of Africa. Kele Lekoape was formerly the South African Assistant
Director Genetics at the National Department of Agriculture and was
instrumental in drafting theSouth African GMO Act. This Act has been
condemned as ineffective and ambiguous and it has been claimed that it
could have been drafted by the industry. It may as well have been+ADs-
Monsanto now employs Lekoape in their public relations division.
Monsanto has also recently bought two large agricultural seed companies,
Carnia and Sensako, consolidating control of the food chain locally.

Monsanto has a strong influence on a powerful lobby group known as
AfricaBio, a section 21 company. Africabio has unabashedly posed as the
voice of African civil society in international fora. Lekoape been
spokesperson for AfricaBio at several international congresses, calling
for free international trade in GE commodities and increased
international acceptance of GE crops.

AfricaBio is developing almost schizoid characteristics. As a
non-profit, industry support group, they term themselves an NGO. They
have even gone so far as to join SANGOCO, the South African NGO
coalition and used their membership to actively undermine democratically
agreed positions within SANGOCO, established for the WSSD. SANGOCO
canvassed a wide range of opinion for these positions, yet AfricaBio has
shown no compunction in attempting to undermine the democratic voice of
civil society at one of the few global conferences in which civil
society has a meaningful voice.

The question begs itself as to whether this corporate-driven NGO, can
legitimately assume a place amongst civil society. This is greenwash of
the first order, albeit a schizoid, novel, mutant type eminently suited
to its originators. Is nothing sacred? The AfricaBio stance appears to
be little more than a high-pressure sale of snake oil to a bunch of

The US is already coming out with all guns blazing to promote GE food as
a major tool in the fight against global hunger. Tommy Thompson let us
know the US will push it at the WSSD. Ann Veneman crushed due process at
the UNFAO forum in Rome by dangling a +ACQ-100 Million transgenic carrot.
There will be more of the same at Johannesburg, unless civil society
makes its voice heard.

President Bush said shortly after his inauguration that America will
feed the world. By either flooding international markets with subsidised
food, distributing aid or by exporting patented food crops, America will
profit from global hunger. In a world where corporate power has clearly
run amok, we now see it pushing at the highest level to control the
global food supply.

It is not only Monsanto pushing, it is also Cargill and Archer Daniels
Midland, two massive food commodity handlers for whom segregation of GE
and non GE crops become a liability. It is the US Department of
Agriculture that directly supports GE research and has an interest in a
patent on terminator technology, where sterile crops are grown, ensuring
dependence. It is everything that is inimical to African food security
and independence and runs counter to sustainability, to self
sufficiency, to the right and ability to save, store and exchange seed.
By introducing GE seed into Africa the threat of a new kind of
biological serfdom beckons wide.

Are there alternatives to this scenario? Remember Bob Geldorf playing
for the starving Africans at the Band Aid concerts? That was ten years
ago. Ethiopia, at the centre of that terrible drought, has for the past
7 years produced a surplus of food and has surplus food stocks. Small
farmers produce this food using traditional methods, saving and sharing
their own seeds. No GE crops and limited fertiliser are used. Where
those photos of devastation were taken, the land and ecosystems have
been regenerated by following best agricultural practice. Ethiopia has
concentrated on self-sufficiency and independent food production for its
people. Minimal input farming is practised together with sound
conservation policies.

The use of GE crops is quite the opposite of this model. High input
costs, seed that may not saved, coupled to high capital, intensive
chemical and infrastructural inputs is a crazy response to hunger. This
expects Africa to cope with being boosted from an agricultural basket
case, with a complete absence of political, economic and infrastructure
capacity, to a capital intensive, high-risk, high-input free-market

The agricultural best practice debate will burn hot in Johannesburg. The
first shots have been fired by the US, AfricaBio and their African
compradors such as Florence Wambugu and Kele Lekoape. The ability of
African to produce its own food, free of external constraints, stands
threatened by the biological imperialists of the North. Their lure: the
wealth of African biodiversity as collateral for their African
investment. In the genetic revolution, this is the capital of the

Remember those starving people when this debate gets hurled at you. Do
we cast them before the vagaries of the market system, dependent on aid
of uncertain provenance when the system fails yet again? Or do we do we
establish suitable conditions to build our own agricultural
independence, as Ethiopia has so ably shown us?

What is at stake here is the clash of two largely incompatible systems.
The real challenge is to come out of Johannesburg with a future for
Africa that is not indentured to international capital and resources.
Africa has paid long enough: we cannot buy snake oil from the smoothest
operator in town.

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