More on GE-Tainted Food
Aid Debate in Africa

Farm News from Cropchoice
An alternative news service for American farmers

The other side of the story from Zambia

(Aug. 13, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Patrick Killeen sent this update
from Zambia after an open meeting he attended about whether the country
should allow a donation of U.S. corn, some of which is genetically

by Patrick Killeen

The open meeting took place yesterday, Monday 12th August 2002. It was
with the minister for Agriculture and the minister for Industry, Science and
Technology. With the excception of USAid, World Food Program, a South
African Biosafety Assessment Expert and two University of Zambia Deans,
everyone else was opposed to any introduction of GMOs into Zambia for
various reasons. I was shocked at the huge anti-GM voice as I had expected
to be in the minority.

The meeting was heated and turned very anti-American later for their
refusal to offer a choice of GM/non-GM to the Zambian people.

The hunger in the south is bad with people eating roots. A compromise was
offered that pre-milled GM maize be allowed in as a last resort to feed the
people. Already 23,000 tonnes have been brought in by the WFP, although
it is illegal as it contravenes international law, but there is no redress
course, but the hunger is very real. Sadly I think this short term fix
required as it is too late to get grain and money for it from

USAid and WFP are bedfellows as the US provides 60 percent of the
WFP's funding. They grasped the economic oppertunity presented by the
famine to expand the US global domination to food. At least if the corn
is pre-milled it should lessen any environmental impact and also not have
set a precedent for allowing GM seed into the country later. In certain ways,
we won the debate, but due to the twist of the famine/hunger the victory is
hollow. People in even remote villages have heard about GM and are asking
about it. Worries over health and long term consequences being paramount.

All of rhe scientific bodies affiliated to the two ministers advised against the
introduction of GM. Today the papers reported differently, the independent
papers told the true story of the meeting, but the government paper only
reported comments by the pro-GM speakers. Privately the Agriculture
minister is very pro-organic even visitng an organic farm today, but the
famine is putting immense pressure on him to bend. We now have to wait
a week or so for the final decision, by the President Mwanawasa.

About the author: Patrick Killeen is the organics manager for Agriflora,
the largest Zambian exporter of conventional and organic vegetables and
roses. It sells mainly to the United Kingdom. The organic crops
include Mange tout and sugar snap peas, green beans, baby corn, baby
carrots, chillis, asparagus, courgettes, pattipans and runner beans.
Agriflora employs between 7,000 - 12,000 people depending on the
season. It offers free training to all staff and grows rain-fed
maize for employees. It is also taking part in the winter maize
(irrigated) programme initiated by the new government in an effort to
alleviate the drought induced famine in the south of the country.


From: ekogaia []
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2002 2:42 PM
Subject: Aid, GE crops and African drought

A slightly edited version of this was published in the Cape Times, Cape
Town, South Africa on 13 August 2002.

Present discussion about Aid and GE crops in the region is superficial.
Here is the beef.

There is clearly some misunderstanding on the real reasons behind
Zimbabwean, Mozambican and Zambian reluctance to accept Genetically
Engineered (GE) food-aid, sourced from the USA. This was evident by both
Grogan's cartoon of Presidents Mugabe and Mwanawasa feasting whilst
their people starve, and other misinformed and superficial analyses
elsewhere in this newspaper.

Firstly, it is obvious that the need for food aid in the region is
urgent. However the wild and unsubstantiated claim that those opposed to
the uncontrolled release of GE crops have misinformed the leadership of
Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe is false and misleading. This leadership
has clearly acted independently and has followed international best
practice by implementing precautionary practices as indicated by
international, African and other biosafety law. Interestingly, a USAid
official recently blamed the Zambian rejection on the Ogreen party¹, a
non-existent figment of their imagination in Zambia!

Secondly, Zimbabwe has accepted milled grain that may contain GE crops
with little resistance. The only grain being embargoed is whole grain
that may be planted and may germinate. This is because the introduction
of this seed stands to affect the exports of the region to Europe and
elsewhere, driven by consumer and market demand for GE-free produce. The
region also has an important role in seed production, and this aid may
also pollute this industry.

There is also a significant export market for beef to Europe, even in
the midst of this drought. European consumers have insisted, as is their
right, that their meat is to be fed on GE-free grain. With so few
exports, the region cannot afford to endanger their lucrative export
markets. Certainly it is a luxury for Europe to choose GE free food, but
modern market demands are inexorable and unforgiving.

It is often the case that famine and starvation exists alongside
surplus. Famine is usually results from crop failures plus a lack of
ability to purchase food. During the Irish potato famine, ships were
leaving Ireland filled with food for England while around 1.5 million
Irish people starved. Southern Africa continues to export meat while its
people starve. Again this is a result of market demands where market
forces perversely starve developing nations with their insatiable
appetite for meat and other agricultural products such as flowers.

We can also argue that South Africa too, is experiencing a famine;
between 40-70% of our people suffer food scarcity. Our poor simply
cannot afford food. So why is there not a call for internal food aid as
well? There is a strong argument to support this stance; we have
internal famine just as much as Zimbabwe or Malawi has. Just look at the
desperation right around you, even amongst the 3.5 million people now
crammed in the Cape Town metropole; for most, hunger is a way of life.

GE food is not going to solve this problem either. The problem is
economic and social; a technical quick fix offers no real solution. What
we really need is a revolution in how we produce our food. Production
and consumption of food are now completely separated in the developed
world and this is increasingly occurring in developing nations.

However there are numerous success stories. Ethiopia has been self-
sufficient and food secure for the last 7 years after the terrible
drought there in the late 80s and early 90s. This food security is due
to small farmers sharing and saving conventional seed while using best
agricultural practices. No GE or commercial hybrid seed has been used.
Similarly, in Kenya many schemes have significantly increased food
production with reduced external inputs, contrary to popular received

Instead, GE seed tends to create dependence on an economic system,
simultaneously undermining individual independence and self-sufficiency.
GE grain is unique in that it is patented by its originators. This means
that seed saving and sharing becomes impossible when crops contain these
patented genes.

In North America, corporations have successfully sued farmers who have
unwittingly grown and saved GE seed. This seed has been shown to have
been inadvertently contaminated by cross-pollination from neighbours¹
crops, or by the presence of GE grain in the original seed stock. But
even these reasons carry insufficient legal weight against the rights of
patent holders. On the other hand, seed varieties that farmers have
developed and bred over generations are immediately lost, instead
becoming the property of the corporate complainants in such cases of
genetic pollution.

In this insane version of reverse onus, selected and bred seed is
genetically polluted. Not only is the polluter let off but is then
perversely allowed to claim ownership of these crops by legal trickery,
in turn supported by the World Trade Organisation and other regulatory
groups. To call the law an ass does not even begin to describe this
travesty of justice.

Experienced aid workers point out that aid grain is regularly planted as
crop seed. If this seed is planted, the entire region stands to be
gradually polluted with GE grain. For instance, even in isolated regions
of Mexico, the centre of global maize biodiversity, GE maize has proven
to have polluted local crops. Mexico has long banned GE maize
completely, for obvious reasons of biosafety, yet this genetic pollution
has nevertheless occurred.

Clearly the situation is far more complex than most superficial analyses
indicate. Zimbabwe and Zambia have both indicated they will accept
milled grain, but donors have indicated their unwillingness to carry
this extra cost. This GE grain is already heavily subsidised to
producers and has allegedly been supplied to USAid because it is
unwelcome elsewhere, in the developed world. For example a type of GE
maize forbidden for human consumption in the US and elsewhere was found
in USAid grain to Bolivia. This amounts to little more than the
unethical dumping of internationally unmarketable crops.

Recent scientific reports such as those of Prof. S. Prakash, Senior
Biochemist, Department of Gastroenterology and Human Nutrition at the
All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), have expressed concern
that those suffering from compromised immune systems are at increased
risk from GE crops. Southern Africa is at the epicentre of the global
AIDS pandemic. There is no mechanism to monitor the spread of these
crops in these nations. There are no mechanisms to monitor the effects
of this aid on the local populace.

Organisations such as Codex Alimentarius, the UN food safety body, have
recently indicated that such monitoring would be useful in ascertaining
safety and suitability. This is clearly needed in this case. Contrary to
claims by promoters of these crops, profound concerns about the safety
of these foods remain. They have never been tested on humans and animal
feeding studies indicate further concerns around effects on digestive
systems and gut lining. We are after all ingesting novel genetic
structures containing sections of viral, bacterial and antibiotic
genetic instructions. GE scrambles the genome in ways that are not
understood; given our limited knowledge of the operation of genetics, we
should at least monitor the effects of these foods. Supporters
constantly say that nobody has been found to have been affected by these
crops, but then who is looking?

In light of this lack of institutional oversight are the leaders of
these nations being responsible or irresponsible? It is internationally
agreed that nations are allowed, and indeed are encouraged, to follow a
precautionary stance under existing biosafety legislation. These
ill-resourced nations are merely exercising a sovereign prerogative of
attempting to ensure biosafety. In fact the refusal to accept whole
grain may actually be one of Mugabe¹s more astute decisions in the past
few years.

Yes, we must feed our neighbours. But we must be very careful to not let
this need undermine sensible regulation of this novel type of pollution.
The end result of this pollution could be that in a few years a
significant proportion of Southern African maize might be genetically
polluted. Then private investigators such as have been used by
corporations in the US to track down errant genes in innocent farmer¹s
crops, will be able to visit the region in order to protect the rights
of their principals to enforce ownership of ³their² genes. Such an act
of biological appropriation would prevent the saving and sharing of
seed, an essential means of ensuring crop security for this region. More
importantly African farmers will be beholden to corporate inputs thus
increasing exploitation of the South at a time when the region strives
for self-sufficiency.

We cannot allow this important discussion to be misled when there is so
much at stake. The risks of these plants to national sovereignty,
safety, ecology and economy cannot be lightly dismissed.

It is a necessity, not a luxury, for the leadership of any nation to
appropriately consider these all these risks while simultaneously
investigating the alternatives. Interestingly, it is now abundantly
clear that conventional, non-GE food aid is available from the US and
elsewhere. For instance Europe is sitting on a mountain of conventional
rye grain that would provide excellent aid. It can be used as flour, be
sprouted or used as gruel. There are many lower risk alternatives than
allowing patented GE seeds to surreptitiously enter the region with no
means of regulation or oversight.

Once GE crops are released there is no means of recall. This is an
entirely novel form of pollution with both immediate long-term effects.
It also introduces the possibilities of as-yet-unforeseen consequences.
We must engage in a profound, inclusive examination of this matter.
Instead we see far too much superficial knee-jerk dismissal of the
issues by those misinformed by the promoters of GE crops. These groups
apparently only wish to cast aspersions whilst engaging in shallow
sound-bites of misleading rhetoric, masquerading as analysis. Africa
deserves better. We need solid, profound debate on this complex and
critical matter.

Glenn Ashton.

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