US 'dumping unsold GM food on Africa'
Monday October 7, 2002
Two leading international environment and development groups accused the US yesterday of manipulating the southern African food crisis to benefit their GM food interests and of using the UN to distribute domestic food surpluses which could not otherwise find a market.
In response to criticism by senior US officials that they have been playing with people's lives by encouraging countries to resist GM food sent as aid, Greenpeace and Actionaid also accused the US government's overseas aid body of offering only GM food when conventional foods were available.
The US, the largest donor to the crisis affecting more than 14 million people in six countries, has offered more than $266m (#180m) of GM maize to southern Africa through the UN World Food Programme.
But while the EU and other countries have mostly given money for countries to buy food on the open market, US food aid to southern Africa has been tied to heavily subsidised GM food grown only in the US.
Greenpeace accused the US government and the biotech industry of using the aid system as a covert subsidy for US farmers. Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique have accepted the GM food but Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe are reluctant to import it in seed form. They fear that farmers may plant some of the seeds, and that it may affect both their environment and future food exports.
Yesterday Andrew Natsios, the head of the US agency for international development (USAid), rejected the accusations and said that it was bound by Congress to offer food and not money.
"There is no way that any responsible country can deal with this drought with cash for work," he said. "The food deficit in southern Africa is so big that there's no way people can buy it on the local market. It has to come from outside.
"We offered non-GM foods but they all declined to accept it. We would have preferred to send non-GM wheat, or rice but they only wanted maize. We tried to source non-GM maize but the industry said they could not guarantee that it was GM-free."
Mr Natsios denied that the US was profiting from the crisis. "They [the critics] may know about the environment, but they don't know about famine relief," he said. "Starving people do not plant seeds. They eat them. These groups are putting millions of lives at risk in a despicable way."
But he was not supported by the latest UN figures on food availability in the region, which showed that 1,160,000 tonnes of cereals are available in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. More than double that amount is available on the world market, according to the UN's global information and early warning system.
"This shows that the alternative to rejecting GM food aid is not starvation," Alice Wynne Wilson, of Actionaid, said. "Good practice in emergency aid is to provide cash support to the UN's World Food Programme, so that it can buy grain from the most cost-effective sources.
"Bringing large volumes of food into a region that has areas of surplus can lead to a situation where there are food shortages in one part of a country, and locally produced food rotting in other parts."
Yesterday both the Zambian and Malawian governments said that they could easily source non-GM food locally if they had the resources.
SK Mubukwanu, the Zambian high commissioner in London, said: "We can get more than 200,000 tonnes from South Africa and our neighbours. All we need is help with the logistics. We have sent our scientists to Europe, the US, to find out more and they should be reporting back soon."