Zimbabwe, the U.S., the S.A.C.C., and food aid (15/8/2005)

1."GM is a high risk technology" - South African Council of Churches
2.An agricultural and trade expert challenges the United States' food aid policies


There are varying accounts of whether a major food aid shipment held up in Johannesburg, ostensibly over concerns that it might be GM-contaminated, has finally gotten into Zimbabwe.

Even if it has been held up at the border, it looks probable that it will get into the country within the next 24 hrs.

And it's badly needed. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless there thanks to Robert Mugabe's razing of settlements around Zimbabwe's urban centres.

As one commentator notes though, "As frustrating as Mugabe's behaviour is [over the food aid], there are legitimate reasons for skepticism behind the dictator's paranoia."

This is because historically, American food aid policies "were set up to benefit American business interests, rather than constructed to deliver aid effectively," Mother Jones magazine reports in an interview with Sophia Murphy, co-author of the report "U.S. Food Aid: Time to Get it Right". (item 2)

The US is a signatory of the 1999 Food Aid Convention, which recognises that food aid should be bought from the most cost effective source, be culturally acceptable and if possible purchased locally so that regional markets do not suffer. However, the US pretty much does the opposite on all of these, with USAID boasting that, "The principal beneficiary of America's foreign assistance programs has always been the United States."

The real irony in the present case, though, is that the food coming in from Jo'burg is courtesy not of the US but of the South African Council of Churches which, after listening to all sides of the debate, publicly affirmed that "GM is a high risk technology" and called for "a moratorium on any further permits granted for GMOs in South Africa." (item 1)

Mugabe should quit stalling the humanitarian aid of the SACC who are the last people to knowingly force GM-contaminated grain onto those already in need of succour.

1.Statement of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) , May 2004

As participants in the first SACC consultation on GMOs held at the ESCOM Convention Centre, Midrand, South Africa from 26-28 May 2004:

We welcome the initiative taken by the SACC in convening this consultation on a topic which needs in-depth and more urgent and focussed attention by Christians and the churches.

We thank the organisers for providing us the opportunity to enhance our understanding of GMOs by means of a well-balanced program, thus enabling us to broaden and deepen our contribution to the debate. We were given the opportunity to listen to presentations from different sides of the debate, and to reflect on and affirm our own Christian and indigenous spiritual heritage and traditions.

We are concerned about:

1. The manner in which complex issues on GMOs are treated by proponents of GMOs and South African legislation in a 'purely technical' manner, delinking science from ethics, values, economic and political ideology, and our African communal spirituality about life and food.

2. The link between the promotion of GMOs and neo-liberal economic globalization with its inherent unequal power relations;

3. The scientific uncertainties related to the long term economic, nutritional, health, ecological risks of gene transfer technologies in view of the irreversibility in the release and use of GE products;

4. The elevating of natural scientists and civil servants to be experts and adjudicators in regard to issues of GMOs even as they pertain to human life, the environment and the spirituality related to life;

5. The insufficient representation of relevant sciences (including ethics) to advise government, and the apparent non-independence of advisors to government and government institutions in the development and implementation of GMO policy;

6. The lack of public awareness and debate on GMOs, including our own lack of participation in GMO policy developments;

7. The overriding profit motive and supremacy of the market over issues such as human and environmental safety and health, and food supply;

8. The erosion of the sovereignty of national states, democracy and transparency in policy processes of international agreements and conventions related to food standards and agriculture which make domestic issues subject to trade concerns;

9. The commodification of life and monopolisation of knowledge through the patenting of genes and living organisms as well as indigenous science, products and practices.

We appreciate the role played by people and organisations outside the church who have committed themselves and their organizations to fight for socio-economic justice by resisting the unbridled introduction and use of GMOs and products.

We affirm:

1. Our conviction that there is sufficient food for all our people, but the problem remains inequitable access to and maldistribution of food.

2. Our commitment to the option for the poor, marginalized and disempowered. And as far as GMOs are concerned we are further driven by our vision of the dignity of the human person; the common good; solidarity; subsidiarity; integrity of creation; socio-economic and environmental justice.

3. That food and life is a gift from God and we are co-workers and custodians with God to sustain creation and life and the abundance thereof.

4. The power and sustainability of indigenous knowledge, practices and resources.

We commit ourselves to broaden and deepen:

1. our understanding of GMOs and

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