Global alliance of churches won't buy GMOs for food aid (28/6/2006)

Action by Churches Together (ACT) International - the global alliance of churches and related agencies working to save lives and support communities in emergencies worldwide - has developed a new ACT policy on GMOs.

It is described in their press release below and includes the crucial point that ACT members will in the future follow the guideline of NOT buying any genetically modified food with the resources administered by them.

The long list of ACT members active in humanitarian response is given in item 2. It includes hundreds of organisations worldwide, including a number in the US.

1.(ACT) International adopts policy on the use of GM food in emergencies
2.ACT members active in humanitarian response

1.A matter of ethics: Action by Churches Together (ACT) International adopts policy on the use of GM food in emergencies
ACT News Release : Geneva 0206 Wednesday, June 28, 2006

GENEVA - The debate over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs as they are also known, is one of the most polarising and controversial flash points related to food supply and its impact on social, economic, cultural and environmental welfare, often triggering passionate responses.

Add the humanitarian imperative in disaster response to the discussion, and you end up with a double-edged sword: the non-acceptance of genetically modified food can lead to a deepening crisis, with more deaths as a result, but at the same time, accepting these foods can lead to changes in agricultural practices, pollute the environment and damage local food grain varieties.

In April this year, the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International took a stand on the issue, adopting a policy on genetically modified organisms to guide its members when responding to humanitarian disasters.

"As the debate continues on the harmful effects of GMOs, the ACT alliance could not just sit and watch from the sidelines without producing a policy to protect our food beneficiaries in emergencies," says John Nduna, director of ACT International.

Melton Luhanga of Churches Action in Relief and Development, a member of the global ACT alliance, believes that it's important to have such a policy. "It will help guide us when we carry out our relief interventions," he says.

Not enough conclusive information

"Most non-governmental organisations [working in Malawi] are discussing the issue," he says.

What concerns Luhanga, however, is that there is simply not enough conclusive information on GMOs-plants and animals that have been manipulated at the genetic level though a special set of technologies that alter living organisms. But he also acknowledges that blanket recommendations force people to make difficult choices: "Could you see people dying if there was food?"

One of the eight guidelines that lie at the heart of ACT's new policy on food distributions and GMOs during emergency operations addresses this troubling concern specifically. It recommends that if the distribution of donated genetically modified food is unavoidable, in order to alleviate a serious hunger situation if there is no other alternative and timely solution, ACT members will make sure that everyone benefiting from the distribution knows where the food comes from and whether the food has been genetically modified or not. And all beneficiaries will have the right to choose and decide if they want the food or not.

Sibongile Baker, director of ACT member Lutheran Development Service (LDS) in Zimbabwe, says that education is crucial. "People need to know what this about," she says, explaining that in emergencies "we have to address people's immediate needs * hunger, in other words."

"Our experience is that when people are hungry they will eat whatever food they can get. And if they can preserve anything [such as seeds], they will. Without the knowledge of the long-term effects it may have," she says. "If the government says no to GMOs it's important for us to be able to explain why it's a 'no.' If we do this, then people will understand. It is our responsibility."

Donna Derr, the director of the emergency response program of U.S.-based ACT member Church World Service, emphasises that "the 'right to know' is a critical aspect of the food aid debate."

"All those involved-food donors, organisations distributing food and recipients of food aid-must have full access to information that allows them to understand the implications of donating, distributing or accepting GMOs," she believes.

A matter of principle

Three principles underpin the implementation guidelines that all ACT members will follow in the future when distributing food in emergencies. The first is the precautionary principle. The essence of this principle is that the burden of proof of harmlessness of a new technology, process, activity or chemical lies with the proponent, and not with the consumer and general public. "Of course, this is not the task of the ACT members," says Rev. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, director of Diakonie Emergency Aid, the ACT member based in Germany. "But it obliges members of the ACT family to lobby their respective government concerning appropriate legislation," she explains.

The second principle is the right to food. Everyone has a fundamental right to be free from hunger and being undernourished. Realising this right requires not only equitable and sustainable food systems, but also clear entitlements such as the right to work, to land and to social security, with the understanding that the primary responsibility for this rest with the states.

"Again, it is imperative that ACT members advocate their governments: in the North to provide enough finances to feed the people in emergencies; in the South to pay enough attention to the agricultural sector in general, to sustainable farming, and building and keeping stocks in particular," Füllkrug-Weitzel says.

The third principle is the right to know. All people have the right to know whether there are genetically modified ingredients in the food they buy or the seeds they sow. This also means that they have the right to have enough information to make responsible decisions.

Rev. Forbes Matonga, national director of the Zimbabwean NGO (and member of the ACT alliance) Christian Care, believes that GMOs pose "a threat to food security in developing countries, precisely because the seeds are controlled by a few multi-nationals-the principle of a few having it all."

For him, as a member of the faith-based community, it is crucial that "as long as scientists are not telling us what the implications are for mother earth, then we should not simply accept it."

He explains that although the Zimbabwean government does not allow GMOs to enter the country in principle, it has allowed some consignments in during emergencies, but only milled grains.

ACT's director agrees that it is a "complex issue with some of the largest food companies in the world having an economic interest in promoting the production of genetically modified foods because of the huge profits they reap from selling these products."

The Lutheran World Federation's (LWF) director and country representative in Zambia, Enos Moyo, argues that the issue of GMOs is about ethics and biodiversity that leads to a nasty catch-22 situation. "Poor people cannot afford to buy new seeds each season and cannot recycle hybrid seeds, which means that every season, they are forced to buy new seeds. But it's a difficult issue."

Moyo, who contributed to the guidelines for the policy regulating the use of GMOs by LWF's Department for World Service (DWS) that formed the basis for the ACT policy on the issue, describes how between 2001 and 2003 LWF found people eating a certain kind of poisonous root that they had to boil for at least 24 hours before they could eat it [as a result of the drought that had the country in its grip]. Even then," he says, "they still got diarrhoea, although it was manageable."

"But if people had a choice - GMOs or poisonous roots?" he asks, shrugging. "There's no real answer. It's just a difficult issue."

This is exactly why the LWF/DWS program believed it was crucial to develop such guidelines. DWS's acting director, Rudelmar de Faria, says given that most of the LWF/DWS programs working in emergency situations are involved in food distribution, "we felt that it was urgent to provide guidance to our staff on the use of GM food in emergency and development operations, in order to ensure compliance to and coherence with our principles for sustainable development and social justice."

Is it safe?

Sangster Nkhandwe, director of ACT member Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Synod of Livingstonia, in Malawi, sums up the one thing that drives most people's fears. "We [just] don't know the long-term effects on humans."

LWF's Moyo agrees. "We understand that it's safe, but this is based on the fact that rich people in the north are eating it. But are they eating it in large quantities. What if 100 percent of all your meals are made of GMO-based food. What is the effect then?"

Sibongile Baker believes the scientific community should continue to research exactly this, saying that it's hard to say a "blanket no" to food, if the only other option is no food. "Has the medical field done enough thorough analysis? What quantities need to be consumed to have a long-term effect?"

"We work with humans," says Melton Luhanga. "Are all the real facts known?"

"When dealing with commercialisation, it's sometimes difficult to find the truth," he notes, then adds, "And the concern is, of course, that the truth will only be known when the damage is already done."

In Malawi, he explains, whenever and wherever possible, his organisation has and continues to buy non-GMO commodities: maize, rice, biscuits. He stops for a moment before asking, "But do we really know whether the biscuits don't contain GMOs or not? We need to proactively go after the truth in this matter," he says.

It is exactly for this reason that ACT International's director believes that the adoption of this policy was an important step. "It's been four years in the making-four years of discussions and deliberations, and even though there is no conclusive evidence related to the products' 'safety' either way," Nduna says, adding that there is a belief that GMOs can be harmful to human consumers in the long term."

A crucial point in the new ACT policy is that ACT members will in the future follow the guideline that they will not buy any genetically modified food with the resources administered by them, even if the food comes from local markets (given that in ACT's procurement policy, members of the alliance are encouraged to, wherever possible, buy as much food aid locally, nationally, and in the region.) There is also the understanding that ACT members will comply with the relevant national legislation on biosafety (if it is in place), especially regarding the use of GMOs in food aid. And in the future, all ACT members will, in the event of having to distribute GMO crops as food aid, with no other option, do so only if the crops are milled.

"Safety also applies to long-term food security. Genetic modification of food often includes the elimination of its potential to be used as seed. Because of this aspect, people remain dependent on foreign food aid in the upcoming seasons-to the benefit of the world-wide agricultural industry," says Füllkrug-Weitzel.

A question of ethics

"The issue of GMOs has important ethical implications. In order to take a stand on GMO-related issues, it is important to ask for whom and for what purpose and - not the least - what the driving forces behind the development are," says Karin LexEn, policy director for ACT member Church of Sweden. For her, several questions related to this controversial issue have not been fully answered. "Are marginalized and poor people and their perspective in the centre of the development and the investment? What will happen in the long-term perspective in terms of ecological, social and economic sustainability? It is of vital importance that poor people and countries are not pushed or forced to accept GMOs."

"While we know that in severe situations of food crises, people will accept any food they are given simply to survive. The policy calls for any GMO grain given in a food emergency to be milled. This is one way of reducing the risks that GMOs may have," says Nduna. "This policy was long overdue and I am happy that we have it now."

Geneva, Switzerland
+41 22 791 6039/6711
fax: +41 22 791 6506


2.ACT members

All member churches and related agencies of the World Council of Churches and The Lutheran World Federation are eligible to be members of ACT International.

The list below includes all ACT members that are active in humanitarian response, either implementing or raising funds for an emergency program covered by an ACT appeal. The members may be individual member churches, national Christian councils, regional ecumenical organisations, or related agencies. The list also includes member churches and agencies of the ACT Emergency Committee 2003-2006.

Please note that all names are in English (translated from French, Spanish or other languages), but that the acronyms are kept in the original language.



Angolan Council of Christian Churches (CICA) Christian Aid (CA) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Reformed Evangelical Church of Angola (IERA)


Christian Aid (CA)

Church of the Province of Burundi (EEB)

National Council of Churches of Burundi (CNEB)

Burkina Faso

Association of Reformed Evangelical Churches in Burkina Faso (AEERB)

Congo (Republic of)

Council of Christian Churches in Congo Brazzaville/ACDA (COECC)

Congo (Democratic Republic of)

BOAD - "Ecumenical Office for Support to Development"

Christian Aid (CA) - Kinshasa & Bukavu

Church of Christ in Congo (ECC) – Kinshasa/Oriental Province Kis./North Kivu/South Kivu DanChurchAid - Kinshasa Evangelical Lutheran Church of Congo (ELCC) – Lubumbashi & Kivumaniena Lutheran World Federation - Kisangani (LWF)


Dutch Interchurch Aid (DIA)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


Christian Aid (CA)

Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


Christian Aid (CA) - accompanier


Lutheran World Federation - Guinea Project (LWF) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Christian Aid (CA) - also serving Uganda & Southern Sudan Church World Service (CWS) DanChurchAid (DCA) - for Sudan operations Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Methodist Church in Kenya (MCK) National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL)


Christian Health Association of Liberia (CHAL) Concerned Christian Community (CCC) Diakonie Emergency Aid (DEA) Liberian Christian Council (LCC) Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM)


Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Blantyre Synod (CCAP) Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Synod of Livingstonia (CCAP) Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD) Christian Health Association of Malawi (CHAM) DanChurchAid (DCA) Lutheran World Federation - Malawi/Evangelical Lutheran Development Program (LWF/ELDP) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


Lutheran World Federation (LWF)


Christian Aid (CA)

Christian Council of Mozambique (CCM)

Ecumenical Committee for Social Development (CEDES) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Presbyterian Church of Mozambique (IPM)


Christian Aid (CA)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)

Protestant Council of Rwanda (CPR)

Sierra Leone

Christian Aid (CA)

Council of Churches in Sierra Leone (CCSL) Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone (ELCSL) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Methodist Church Sierra Leone (MCSL) United Methodist Church (UMC) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Diakonie Emergency Aid (DEA) - c/o Stuttgart office Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) - c/o Kenya office United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) - c/o Washington office

South Africa

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa Development Services - South Africa (ELCSA) South African Council of Churches (SACC)


Christian Aid (CA) Northern & Southern Sudan Programs Church Ecumenical Action in Sudan (CEAS) - Nairobi Lutheran World Federation (LWF) - c/o Nairobi office Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) DanChurchAid (DCA)


Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa-Lutheran Development Service (ELCSA)


Christian Aid (CA)

Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT)

Tanganyika Christian Refugee Services/LWF Tanzania (TCRS/LWF)


Church of Uganda (CoU)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)


Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ)

DanChurchAid (DCA)

Norwegian Church Aid Zambia (NCA)

Zambia Christian Refugee Service/LWF - Zambia (ZCRS/LWF)


Christian Aid (CA) - also serving Malawi Christian Care (CC) Lutheran Development Service (LDS)



Christian Aid (CA)

Church World Service - Pakistan/Afghanistan - (CWS) Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Christian Aid (CA)

Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB) Church of Bangladesh (CoB) KOINONIA National Christian Fellowship of Bangladesh Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS) Social Health & Education Development Board (SHED)


Church World Service Cambodia (CWSC)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)


Amity Foundation (AF)

Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) Church World Service (CWS) Diakonie Emergency Aid (DEA)


Christian Aid (CA)

Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) DanChurchAid (DCA) Lutheran World Service - India (LWSI) Lutheran World Relief (LWR) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India (UELCI)


Church World Service - Indonesia (CWS)

Yayasan Tanggul Benkana di Indonesia (YTBI) YAKKUM Emergency Unit (YEU)


Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC) National Christian Council in Japan (NCCJ)


Lutheran World Federation (LWF)


Church World Service - Pakistan/Afghanistan - (CWS) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


Christian Aid (CA)

National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP)

South Korea

Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK)

Sri Lanka

Christian Aid (CA)

DanChurchAid (DCA)

National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL)


Aotearoa-New Zealand

Christian World Service (CWS)


Anglican Board of Mission Australia Limited (ABM) Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) Christian World Service (CWS)/National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA)

Cook Islands

Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC)


World Council of Churches Office in the Pacific

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea Council of Churches (PNGCC)


Tonga National Council of Churches (TCC)

Western Samoa

Samoa Council of Churches (SCC)



Armenian Apostolic Church-Catholicossate of All Armenians (AAC) Armenia Round Table Office WCC United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Diakonie Austria

United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Church World Service (CWS)

Diakonie Emergency Aid (DEA) - Diakonisches Werk EKD (DW) International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Czech Republic

Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Czech Republic (ECCCR)


DanChurchAid (DCA)


Finnchurchaid (FCA)


International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Diakonie Emergency Aid (DEA)/Bread for the World (BfdW)


International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC)


Hungarian Baptist Aid (HBA)

Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA)


Icelandic Church Aid (ICA)

Macedonia (FYROM)

Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC)


Protestant Church in the Netherlands/Kerkinactie-Global Ministries Protestant Church in the Netherlands/Interchurch Organisation for Development (ICCO)

Northern Caucasus (Russian Federation & Ingushetia) Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) Russian Orthodox Church (ROC)


Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


World Council of Churches - Eastern Europe Office (WCC-EEO)


Ecumenical Association of Churches-AIDROM International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC)

Serbia & Montenegro

Church World Service (CWS)

Ecumenical Humanitarian Office (EHO)

Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA)

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Christian Aid (CA)

DanChurchAid (DCA)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Macedonia Centre for International Cooperation (MCIC) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


Ecumenical Council of Churches in the Slovak Republic (ECCSR)


Church of Sweden (CS)



Lutheran World Federation (and its field offices)

U.K. & Ireland

Christian Aid (CA)

Methodist Relief & Development Fund (MRDF)



Argentine Federation of Evangelical Churches (FAIE)


Evangelical Methodist Church in Bolivia (IEMB) Lutheran World Relief (LWR)


Ecumenical Coordination of Service (CESE)


ACT Netherlands (Kerkinactie & ICCO) - Project Counselling Service (PCS) Christian Aid (CA) Church World Service (CWS) Diakonie Emergency Aid (DEA) Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Costa Rica

Costa Rican Lutheran Church (ILCO)


Council of Churches of Cuba (CCC)

Dominican Republic

Procaribe/Lutheran World Federation (PROCARIBE/LWF) Social Service of the Dominican Republic Churches (SSID)


Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI)

El Salvador

Christian Aid (CA)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA)

Salvadoran Lutheran Synod (SLS) - Church "La Resurrección"


Guatemala Evangelical Conference of Churches (CIEDEG) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) - c/o El Salvador Office Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


Christian Aid (CA)

Lutheran World Federation (LWF)


Christian Aid (CA)

Christian Commission for Development (CCD) DanChurchAid (DCA) HEKS Lutheran World Federation (LWF) - c/o El Salvador Office


Christian Medical Action (AMC)

Council of Evangelical Churches for a Denominational Alliance (CEPAD) Interchurch Center for Theological and Social Studies (CIEETS) Lutheran Church in Nicaragua (ILN) Lutheran World Relief (LWR) Central America Office


Centre for Studies and Disaster Prevention (PREDES) Evangelical Lutheran Association for Aid to Community Development (DIACONIA) Lutheran World Relief (LWR) - Andean Regional Office

Trinidad & Tobago

Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC)



Middle East Council of Churches (MECC)


Middle East Council of Churches (MECC)


Middle East Council of Churches (MECC)


International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)

Israel/Palestinian Territories

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Middle East Council of Churches/Department on Service to Palestine Refugees (MECC/DSPR) Young Men’s Christian Association-East Jerusalem (YMCA)


Middle East Council of Churches (MECC)

Norwegian Church Aid (NCA)


Middle East Council of Churches Headquarters (MECC)


Middle East Council of Churches (MECC)


ACT Netherlands (Kerkinactie & ICCO)

Near East Mission, Wider Church Ministries (NEM-WCM)



Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR)

Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWSD) The Primate's World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) The United Church of Canada (UCC)


Christian Church/Week of Compassion (Disciples of Christ) (CC/WoC) Church World Service (CWS) Episcopal Relief and Development (ER&D) Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) Lutheran World Relief (LWR) Presbyterian Disaster Assistance PDA-PC(USA) United Church of Christ - Wider Church Ministries (UCC-WCM) United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR)


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