Needless Tragedy In Angola - US exploiting GM food aid (23/4/2004)

The article below is at least an improvement on the series of crass attacks on the Angolans over the GM food aid issue which have been appearing of late in the US press. For instance:

Needless Tragedy In Angola: 'Refusal of Genetically Modified Food for A Starving Populace Lacks Humanity' - Buffalo News http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=1667

Angola's state-managed food crisis - Washington Times Editorial http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=1596

None of these pieces mention the US's continuing refusal to supply cash to buy grain locally, in the way that other leading donors do. Nor do they mention that Angola voiced opposition to GM some two years ago, ie this issue is very far from something out of the blue.

Nor do they mention the 100,000 tonne non-GM maize surplus in Zambia or Richard Regan, Zambia's World Food Programme spokesman's comment last month, "Buying food locally is an effective way for WFP to boost the domestic economy, while also reducing our own transport costs and delivery time".

"It's wicked," said the UK's then Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, speaking at a briefing of British parliamentarians in November 2002, "when there is such an excess of non-GM food aid available, for GM to be forced on countries for reasons of GM politics... if there is an area where anger needs to be harnessed it is here."

Leading US agronomist and former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture for the US National Academy of Sciences, Dr Chuck Benbrook, echoed his sentiments over the campaign of pressure being mounted at the time against neighbouring Zambia, "To a large extent," wrote Benbrook, "this 'crisis' has been manufactured (might I say, 'engineered') by those looking for a new source of traction in the evolving global debate over agricultural biotechnology. To use the needs of Zambians to score 'political points' on behalf of biotechnology strikes many as unethical and indeed shameless. "

And according to the UK's Observer newspaper, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser Dr David King, "denounced the United States' attempts to force the technology into Africa as a 'massive human experiment'. In a scathing attack on President Bush's administration, Professor David King also questioned the morality of the US's desire to flood genetically modified foods into African countries, where people are already facing starvation in the coming months."

EU Trade Commissioner Lamy also waded in, accusing the US of using its foreign aid programme as a means to "dispose of its genetically modified crop surpluses. The simple solution," he said, "is for the US to behave as a real aid donor."

Guy Scott, a former Zambian agriculture minister, made a similar point. If the aid agencies had cash rather than maize, he pointed out, they could resolve the crisis without touching GM.  "But it is the official policy of USAid to promote GM." http://ngin.tripod.com/forcefeed.htm

Angolan government explains food aid rejection
April 21, 2004

There are sound scientific reasons for Angola's last-minute rejection of refugee food donations of genetically modified American maize seed, according to the Science and Development Network.

A high-ranking civil servant in Luanda has noted that it is not an outright ban, but a request for the seed to be milled so it cannot accidentally cross-contaminate their own crops, which might result in struggling peasant farmers being sued by a giant agro-business such as Monsanto. In addition, it accuses charities of secretly smuggling in GM seeds without informing the government.

According to Elizabeth Matos, the chairperson of the National Plant Genetic Resources Centre, the move protects Angola's great diversity of plant life. "We are holding in our gene bank almost 800 different types of maize and local ecotypes that we have picked up from all over the country and we don't want this material crossed with GM," she says.

Furthermore, she said, Angola has a complete lack of GM regulatory systems - there is no national biosafety framework and no legislation concerning GM products, unlike South Africa or the US.

According to Mike Sackett, the Southern Africa director for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), however, the decision will "quite dramatically" affect efforts to fight hunger in Angola. "Even before the question of the new legislation came out, there were serious constraints on our food pipeline - such that we were going to cut rations for April and May for 1.9 million people by 30%," Sackett said in Johannesburg. "The result of this cancellation is that we have cut rations in half for April and May and there is no food at all for June."

Ban causes delay

Sackett doubts whether anyone in Angola will starve as a result of the ban. However, he adds that "it makes the process of resettling slower and tougher, and that much more risky". The ban is expected to cause a delay of two to three months before another food shipment - this time of GM cereal processed or milled - can be received.

Milling the grain on arrival - which would mean that any GM maize could not be planted as seed - is not possible, as the WFP does not have the funds to pay the few Angolan millers operating in the three ports selected for food deliveries. And if the grain is commercially milled in the United States, less food is received, costs rise significantly and the lag time between order and delivery is extended. Normally, the WFP sends the food as seed and it is milled by hand in the household of the recipient - which is precisely the moment, government argues, when cross-contamination may accidentally occur.

Angola has aligned itself with four southern African nations - Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe - which have controversially banned imports of GM food. Gilberto Buta Lutucuta, Angola's minister of agriculture, and rural development, said the food was rejected "because so far we don't know for sure what impact these products might have on either human or animal health." However, Zambia has recovered so well that it is exporting its maize surplus to Angola. - SciDev.net  

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