US & GE Firms Highjack
World Food Summit

Genetic Engineering firms the only winners at food talks summit
Rory Carroll in Rome
Friday June 14, 2002
The Guardian (UK)

A world food summit ended in recrimination yesterday when it was branded
a waste of time for everyone except the United States, which
successfully sold genetically modified crops as a solution to famine.

The UN denied that the exercise in the Italian capital had been
ineffective, despite the event being snubbed by western governments,
complaints from leaders of developing countries and disagreements on
strategies to avoid malnutrition and famine.

Environmental and agricultural groups accused the US of steamrollering
the summit into approving biotechnology, after robust lobbying by

"The US played very hard and succeeded. They now have the moral
authority to use genetically modified food for aid purposes," said
Fernando Almansa of Oxfam.

He hoped the defeat would shock opponents of GM food into mobilising for
the UN summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in August.

The US delegation was led by the agriculture secretary, Ann Veneman, and
made no secret that its priority was to promote the wider use of
biotechnology, an industry dominated by American companies.

"Biotechnology has tremendous potential to develop products that can be
more suited to areas of the world where there is persistent hunger," Ms
Veneman said. "There is no food safety issue whatsoever."

Another delegate was more forthright: "We're here to sell biotech, and
that's what we've done."

Advocates say GM crops with improved yields, resistance to drought and
tolerance of salt could ease food shortages in stricken areas. But
critics say it could destroy biodiversity and force poor farmers to buy
seeds from US corporations.

Fred Kalibwani, an ecology activist from a Zimbabwe-based
non-governmental organisation, said that the patented GM seeds in effect
placed food security in the hands of a few corporations. "This will be
tragic for Africa in the next few years," he said.

Jacques Diouf, director general of the UN's Food and Agriculture
Organisation which hosted the summit, said the event was a success
because it reaffirmed the pledge of a 1996 food summit to halve world
hunger by 2015.

But little headway has been made in the past six years: more than 800
million people are still hungry, famine is looming in southern Africa
and a request for an extra [pounds]16bn each year fell flat.

Some 181 countries were represented, but of the 74 heads of state or
government, only two were from the west. South Africa's president, Thabo
Mbeki, accused the west of indifference.

Clare Short, Britain's secretary of state for international development,
said the summit was a waste of time, and the EU's aid commissioner, Poul
Nielson, accused organisers of trying to build an empire rather than
tackling the real problem of hunger.

Other delegations expressed frustration they were unable to address
western leaders about the damage their tariffs inflict on poor farmers.

Some UN officials said the [pounds]1.6m cost of the event would have
been better spent on grain for the poor.

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