More on the African
Frankenfoods/Food Aid Debate

Links to the following articles.

Question and Answer Show
Zain Verjee and Larry Bohlen


Veneman: Advocacy Group Hinders Aid
Fri Aug 30, 7:39 PM ET
By EMILY GERSEMA, Associated Press Writer

Zambian Leader Defends Ban on Genetically Altered Foods
New York Times

More on the African Frankenfoods/Food Aid Debate
By Larry Bohlen, Friends of the Earth (USA)

Posted: 09/10/2002 By <>

Dear Colleagues,

I believe there is time to win the war of words over genetically
engineered food aid and turn the debate in our favor. We need to get
out there in force, though. Last weekend, at an environmental
conference in NY, Frances Moore Lappe told the audience that the
legitimate concerns of the people of Zambia have not been told in U.S.
news stories about food aid and GMOs. I directed my question at the end
of her speech not to her, but the audience, asking who would join me in
writing to their newspapers to help tell the other side of the story.
More than 30 people volunteered!

Let's join hands to tell the world the real story and prevent the
biotech industry from deflecting attention from what they have done to
foster the current crisis.

Below, find a debate transcript where I was able to make a few points
to counter the Bush Admin. It is followed by an updated action alert
and some recent articles on the issue.

12:30 PM Eastern Standard Time
September 5, 2002 Thursday

HIGHLIGHT: A look at the use of genetically modified foods to prevent
famine in Africa and the ramifications of producing GM foods...........

VERJEE: Larry Bohlen, with Friends of the Earth, Robert Watson, the
chief scientist of the World Bank, both of you speaking to me from
Washington, thank you so much -- appreciate it....

VERJEE: Larry Bohlen, what are your concerns about GM food?

LARRY BOHLEN, FRIENDS OF THE EARTH: Well, Zain, Friends of the Earth
sees this whole issue as a simple matter of right and wrong.

It's right for the United States to help starving people, but it's
wrong to say that you have a choice between genetically engineered crops
and starvation. There are more choices than that.

There are millions of bushels of non-engineered corn available on
commercial markets today, including in the United States. We know this,
because the major producers of taco shells, corn chips and tortillas,
for two years have been using non-engineered corn in large quantities
because of the massive contamination of the United States food supply by
StarLink, the engineered corn not approved for human consumption.

VERJEE: But can you understand and appreciate the positive sides of
genetically modified foods?

BOHLEN: There's been promises made, but also promises broken. The most
prevalent genetically engineered crop, soybeans, actually produces lower
yields per acre and results in higher pesticide use, not lower use.

So it's very important to look at the downsides as well as potential

I think it's also very important to look at the legitimate concerns
that Zambia and peoples around the world have about the safety of these
crops. It's very hard to understand, when major scientific bodies are
saying more safety testing needs to be done -- it's hard to understand
how the Bush administration can say these crops appear to be safe.

VERJEE: Robert Watson, give us some examples here, so it puts this into
perspective for us. In which countries has the implementation of GM
foods, GM crops, been successful?

WATSON: It depends what you mean by successful. GM crops are used very,
very heavily in the United States. Not so much in Europe. There is
definitely an aversion to eating GM crops in Europe.

There are a number of developing countries that clearly are
experimenting with GM crops and are seeing this as one potential way

What we need to do is to evaluate, how can we feed the world and how
can we stimulate economic growth, especially in African countries, and
improve the livelihoods of the rural poor. And so what the bank is
proposing is we need to do a very broad assessment that looks at
traditional plant breeding, organic farming, as well as all forms of
biotechnology, so that we can assess what is known, what is not known.

A careful assessment of the benefits of all of these technologies, and
the potential risks of all of these technologies, so that individual
consumers, as well as individual nations, can make decisions of whether
they believe that GM crops are or are not appropriate for them.

VERJEE: Larry.

BOHLEN: Zain, can I say.


BOHLEN: That's why it's a terrible shame for the United States to be
saying that starving people have to take genetically engineered crops
now when, as Mr. Watson put out, there's so many questions remaining
about these crops.

One of the most important unresolved issues is a concern raised by
scientific advisors to the United States EPA. They've said that the
bacterial toxin put into most forms of engineered corn may be a human
allergen, and there are dozens of reports of severe life-threatening
allergic reactions to corn products in the United States that have not
been adequately investigated.

The concerns by people around the world are real.

VERJEE: Robert Watson.

WATSON: Basically, what we're arguing from a World Bank perspective is,
we need to assess the information. We understand that in some countries,
genetically modified crops have been readily acceptable, i.e. the United
States. We also understand that they actually have been largely rejected
by the consumer, both for concerns on human health as well as concerns
of environmental damage.

What we're arguing is, let's try to get past the potential ideology and
use the best scientific knowledge, both here in the United States, in
Europe, and throughout the world, to try and assess to what degree are
there appropriate ways to use all forms of technology, whether they be
old traditional plant breeding, or some other more modern forms of
biotechnology, so that people will.

VERJEE: Robert -- I'm sorry. I just wanted to put forward, Robert, one
argument that is often used when people say that, look, if we don't use
genetically modified foods, we were going to run out of places of farm,
and we won't be able to feed people. Do you think that that argument has

WATSON: Well, today there's plenty of food in the world. It's access to
food by the rural poor, especially in Africa, some parts of Asia, Latin

There is also no doubt that over the next 20 to 40 years, we'll have to
double food production. We have to ask ourselves, is there anymore land
that we can farm without destroying some of the really precious
biodiversity that we've got, and that's one of the real challenges.

How do we double food production in an environmentally and socially
sustainable manner? There isn't very much more land. We've got to be
very careful that many of the irrigation practices that we use today are
leading to salinization of soils and land degradation. So this is the

And what we have to ask ourselves is, what is the appropriate role that
can be safe, both environmentally and socially sound, of all forms of
technology, including biotechnology. So, his is really the reason that
we want to do this study, is how will we feed the world in the future,
when we've got 2 or 3 billion more people that are also wealthier, and
they'll probably demand different types of food.

VERJEE: Larry Bohlen, in the moments that we have left, I'll give you
the final word.

BOHLEN: I think this is a reasonable approach, but peoples in
developing countries are concerned that the sustainable agriculture
solutions not be owned by companies like Monsanto, the same companies
that brought the world the most toxic chemicals ever known to humankind,
like PCBs, DDT, and Agent Orange. They want sustainable solutions, not
crops that are genetically engineered, where they don't have control
over their own destinies.

VERJEE: Larry Bohlen, with Friends of the Earth, Robert Watson, the
chief scientist of the World Bank, both of you speaking to me from
Washington, thank you so much -- appreciate it.



Dear Friends,

You may have recently seen an article or opinion piece in your local
paper saying that environmentalists are preventing food aid from going
to starving children in Africa. The Bush Administration knows they are
in a tight spot since a few African countries have been bold enough to
say no to genetically engineered food aid and request, instead,
non-engineered crops. Three countries in Africa, including Zambia,
Zimbabwe, and Mozambique have rejected GE food aid or required it to be
milled, concerned that genetically engineered food could cause health
threats and contaminate local crops ruining their export markets to
places such as Europe that do not import GE crops.

Please draft a short letter to the editor of your paper in response,
drawing on the points below, or using some of your own. Letters should
typically be between 100 and 250 words. It's fun to write to express
your values and it only takes 20-30 minutes to craft a good one in your
tone of voice.

Below the talking points, you will find a NY Times article and an AP
Wire story that provide additional background.

The biotech industry has been out in force, both at the Earth Summit
and working the editors of papers across the country. It is only
through collective action that we can push back and make it clear that
the U.S. should not be compelling Africans or Americans to eat
genetically engineered foods!

In your letter, be succinct and reference an article in your paper that
talked about this
issue if possible. Click on the following link and then on the media
guide tab for a listing of your newspapers and their contact information
by zipcode: ""




- StarLink corn, an engineered variety never approved for human
consumption that massively contaminated the U.S. food supply in 2000,
was found by a group in Bolivia in a sample of U.S. food aid. (see if you would like to learn more about this

- Monsanto, the biggest maker of genetically engineered corn, was also
the producer of PCBs and Agent Orange, some of the most toxic chemicals
ever made. The company has been found guilty of secretly polluting
Alabama communities for years with PCBs, and so far has had to
pay over $80 million in damages under federal legal settlements.

- Once released, even in small quantities, widespread contamination by
engineered corn can occur, as documented both in the U.S. and in Mexico.
StarLink was planted on only 0.5% of all acreage but contaminated at
least 10% of the entire corn crop in 2000. The losses to American
farmers have been estimated to be as high as $1 billion. The appearance
of genetically engineered traits in remote regions of Mexico, which has
banned the cultivation of engineered corn, also shows how easily
contamination can occur.

- Scientific advisors to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have
said that the bacterial toxin in most types of engineered corn may be a
human allergen, and dozens of reports of severe unexplained adverse
reactions to corn products in the U.S. have not been adequately
investigated. Despite repeated calls from advocacy groups, lawmakers
and citizens, the U.S. government has failed to perform adequate testing
to determine the potential health risks of genetically engineered

- Acceptance of engineered corn by nations where seed is traditionally
saved for planting, and where special handling techniques are not in
place, could lead to contamination that jeopardizes the price African
farmers receive for their corn, and therefore their ability to feed
their families.


-It's no surprise that countries are rejecting genetically engineered
food aid when polls show a majority of Americans would choose not to buy
genetically engineered foods, given the choice

-(if you see an article that attacks advocacy groups, you might use the
following point) The idea that advocacy groups critical of biotechnology
are leading African officials to reject genetically engineered crops is
ridiculous. The biotech industry has 50 lobbyists for every
environmental advocate. Clearly African leaders are looking at the
information available and deciding for themselves what action to take.

-The Bush Administration has presented African countries with a set of
choices that offer a "no win" situation: Accept genetically engineered
food or starve, despite the fact that millions of bushels of
non-engineered corn are available on the commercial market. This is
clear since most of the taco and tortilla makers in the U.S. have
switched to non-engineered white corn.

Thank you for participating!

For more information or to be involved in future actions like this one,
please contact our outreach coordinator: Lisa Archer, Friends of the
Earth, 202-783-7400 x190. or see
"" for more information on food aid and
genetically engineered crops, including findings of contamination of
U.S. food aid by StarLink corn in Bolivia.


(note to reader: Ann Veneman, Secretary of the USDA was a Board member
of the first U.S. food engineering company, Calgene, which produced the
infamous FlavrSavr tomato that actually had very little taste!)

Veneman: Advocacy Group Hinders Aid
Fri Aug 30, 7:39 PM ET
By EMILY GERSEMA, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Agriculture Department is blaming advocacy groups
opposed to biotech foods for influencing southern African countries'
decision to refuse U.S. aid over fears that genetically engineered foods
are unsafe.

"Our ability to deliver desperately needed food has been greatly
hindered by individuals and organizations that are opposed to
biotechnology and who are providing misguided statements about the U.S.
food system," Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said Friday.

So far Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have
refused to accept U.S. food relief, because much of the food has been
genetically modified. The United Nations estimates that 12.8 million
people in those countries need help to avoid mass starvation, caused by
drought and government mismanagement.

, which has 2.5 million people in danger of starvation, has totally
rejected the food.
The United States is the leading food contributor for African
countries. It wants to deliver about a half-million tons of food to
avert the crisis, much of it biotech corn. So far, it has sent 490,000
tons of aid to hunger-stricken southern African countries through the
U.N. World Food Program.

The Agriculture Department said the anti-biotech groups should not
promote a political agenda at the risk of losing lives.

"It is disgraceful that instead of helping hungry people, these
individuals and organizations are embarking on an irresponsible campaign
to spread misinformation and create an atmosphere of fear, which has led
countries in dire need of food to turn away safe, wholesome food," she

Veneman didn't name specific organizations, but her deputy chief of
staff, Kevin Herglotz said it's no secret which associations and
governments have criticized using the technology in food production.

He said Greenpeace is one example of associations spreading fear.

The European Union also has opposed genetically modified foods, but it
changed its position this week in light of the potential famine.

"It's the same food that we're selling on the shelves at American
grocery stores," Herglotz said.

The Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based nonprofit group that is
urging the U.S. government to study the effects of biotech foods before
approving their sale, defended its cautious approach to biotechnology.

"For our government to suggest that it is one group for raising this
concern is totally misplaced. ... It shows that they are just trying to
arrogantly push the technology," said the group's legal director, Joseph

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization urged African countries
Friday to weigh scientific research on genetically modified foods
carefully before rejecting them.
"The United Nations therefore believes that in the current crisis,
governments in southern Africa must consider carefully the severe and
immediate consequences of limiting food aid available for millions of
people so desperately in need," Jacques Diouf, the head of the
organization, said at a news conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Diouf noted that the World Health Organization is seeking to create
standards relating to aid that contains biotech food.

U.S. officials also have offered to help Zambia set up a plant where it
could research genetically modified foods to alleviate fear, according
to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Zambian Leader Defends Ban on Genetically Altered Foods
New York Times

JOHANNESBURG, Sept. 3 - The president of Zambia said today that his
country, which is inching toward famine, would continue to refuse
relief food that may be genetically modified, calling such food "poison" and
saying it is "intrinsically dangerous."

Speaking to journalists at the United Nations World Summit on
Sustainable Development here in South Africa's biggest city, President
Levy Mwanawasa said the desperate plight of his nation would not drive
him to disregard his better judgment and accept genetically modified

"I'm not prepared to accept that we should use our people as guinea
pigs," Mr. Mwanawasa said.

Zambia and five other countries in southern Africa are critically
short of corn, the staple in the region, and the World Food Program is
carrying out a relief operation for more than 13 million people.

The food agency is already feeding just over a million Zambians, and
agency officials predict that the number will approach 2.5 million by
the end of the year.

Much of the aid being earmarked for the region is from the United
States, where crops genetically engineered for better production are
widely grown and the foods produced from them are widely consumed.

The United States says that it is donating the same food Americans eat
and that in any case, it has nothing else to offer.

Last week, the head of the Agency for International Development
visited Zambia to urge the government to distribute the American food already
in the country and accept the additional supplies headed there. This
week, the world food agency's director, James T. Morris, is flying into the
region, seeking to allay the hungry countries' concerns.

Genetically modified foods, which entered American commercial markets
in the mid-1990's, have been the subject of intense international
debate among environmental activists and consumer advocates, particularly in
European Union countries.

Critics say such foods have not been sufficiently tested. Regulators
in the United States, along with many scientists, counter that extensive
studies already carried out have not found any reason to believe that
the products are not safe to eat.

But along with fearing possible health effects, critics have said that
planting genetically modified seeds could threaten the diversity of a
country's plant and animal life. In Zambia's case, that could
complicate and perhaps even jeopardize trade with the European Union.

Such food is grown and eaten in parts of the union, but the union has
generally been more circumspect. It mandates, for instance, that
genetically modified foods be labeled.

With its limited capacity for scientific food analysis, Zambia, now
nominally free of genetically modified food, would not be able to keep
modified crops separate if it did introduce them.

Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland have accepted the modified food.
Mozambique and Zimbabwe have insisted that corn be milled before being
distributed, to eliminate any risk that genetically engineered seeds
could cross-pollinate with naturally occurring seeds.

But President Mwanawasa and his agriculture minister say that even if
the corn were milled, too many questions remain unanswered, namely
whether eating such food poses health risks. "We may be poor and
experiencing severe food shortages," Mr. Mwanawasa said, "but we
aren't ready to expose our people to ill-defined risks."

At the invitation of the United States, a team of Zambian scientists
will be visiting to meet with American experts on genetically modified
organisms, said Mr. Mwanawasa, who added that he remained "open to
conclusive scientific evidence."

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