African Groups respond to WFP accusations of inaccuracy (5/5/2004)

"Although the WFP says that African countries can decide to reject GM food aid... In reality, the scenario presented by the WFP is that either they accept GM food aid or face dire consequences."

African Groups respond to WFP accusations of inaccuracy: Instead of defending USAID, WFP must provide a real right to choose
Johannesburg, 5th May 2004

On the 4th of May over 60 African groups protested against  the World Food Programme (WFP)  and USAID. The groups said that the WFP responded inappropriately to decisions by the governments of Sudan and Angola regarding restrictions on genetically modified (GM) food aid, because the WFP and USAID  should have guaranteed the right of these countries to reject or impose restrictions on GM food aid. The groups demanded that the WFP and USAID immediately desist from misleading the governments of Angola and Sudan with a scenario of NO CHOICE, and forcing them to accept GM food aid.

The WFP according to reports appearing in the Sunday Times, and the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, strongly rejected the claims made by the African civil society groups, and questioned the accuracy of the facts presented.

The African Center for Biosafety and Earthlife Africa, maintain  the accuracy of the facts presented, and say that these are fully substantiated.

1. USAID ceased food aid to Sudan in March 2004

The WFP has charged that "groups wishing to partake in the discussion should first check their facts before trying to enter into a dialogue". Additionally, according to Michael Huggins, the Southern Africa regional spokesperson for the WFP,  "USAid has never cut off food to Sudan and has always been the largest single donor to the country."

The fact is that the US government is the major funder of WFP, does not mean that the WFP should defend USAID and in so doing, present inaccurate information. USAID has unequivocally, in black and white, stated that it ceased food aid shipments to Sudan due to the  government of Sudan's policy on GM food aid. According to the testimony of Roger Winter, of USAID which he presented to the US House of Representatives on the  March 11, 2004 Winter said

"I must inform you that as of March 7, 2004, USAID has ceased all further food aid shipments to Port Sudan due to the Government of Sudan insistence that US commodities be certified free of genetically modified organisms." (http://www.usaid.gov/press/speeches/2004/ty040311.html)

The US Government then continued to exert enormous pressure, urging the government of Sudan to provide formal, written notification of a change in GMO certification requirements or a third extension for the current waiver to this policy. The government of Sudan relented, and ended up extending the waiver for six additional months, allowing the distribution of GM food to continue until January 2005.

A detailed description of the constant pressure put by USAID on Sudan Government see Report: "GM Food Aid: Africa denied choice once again?" http://www.earthlife-ct.org.za/ct/article.php?story=20040503122744725

2. WFP must guarantee a "REAL" right to choose

Although the WFP says that African countries can decide to reject GM food aid, the exercise of the right to free choice cannot be made when under circumstances of pressure and no choice. In the case of Angola, the WFP responded to the Angolan government by saying that the country would face a significant decrease in the provision of food aid if it continued to insist that GM grain is first milled. In reality, the scenario presented by the WFP is that either they accept GM food aid or face dire consequences. The WFP, in questioning the decision of the Angolan government, and presenting them an extremely difficult scenario is not in fact, guaranteeing Angola's "right to choose".

The WFP and all donors should provide real choices to any country that imposes restrictions on GM food aid. Failure to do so simply renders the WFP’s recognition of the "the Right to Choose" at best, rhetorical and at worse, hypocritical. .

The truth of the matter, is  that Angola simply abided by the recommendations of SADC approved in August 2003, which states that "Food aid consignments involving grain or any propagative plant material should be milled prior to distribution to beneficiary populations". Furthermore, it decision was not different to that taken by several other southern African countries during the 2002 food crisis.

The controversy over GM food aid in Sudan and Angola was totally unnecessary. The WFP could and should have prevented the controversy from arising in both countries by putting in place adequate mechanisms to avoid a repetition of the controversies that arose during 2002. The WFP did obviously not put in place such mechanisms. Overall, non-GM alternatives exist at national, regional, and international levels, and donors should make these available to Sudan and Angola.

For further information contact:

Mariam Mayet, African Center for Biosafety: +27 11 646 06 99 Bryan Ash, EarthLife Africa: +27 (0) 31 201 1119, or +27 (0) 82 65 21 533

Mail&Guardian. 2004. Africa GM Food Aid claims are "rubbish". May 5 http://www.mg.co.za/Content/l3.asp?ao=65809 The Sunday Times. 2004. WFP says Africa can refuse GM Food Aid. May 5 http://www.sundaytimes.co.za/zones/sundaytimes/newsst/newsst1083732856.asp

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