America's 'GM or Death' ultimatum to Africa reveals the
depravity of its GM marketing policy
Robert Vint, UK Coordinator of
Genetic Food Alert, investigates.
has been told by the USA to use $50 million to buy America's GM maize through
the World Food Programme or face starvation. When the US had earlier tried to
force GM food aid on India an unnamed USAID spokesman had told the media:
"beggars can't be choosers".
In 1998 Monsanto sent
an appeal to all Africa's Heads of State, entitled 'Let The Harvest Begin',
which called upon them to endorse GM crops. Monsanto were following the advice
of the world's leading PR company to avoid the 'killing fields' of health and
environmental issues in the GM debate, such as the absence of independent safety
testing, and to shift the debate to focus on supposed benefits for the poor.
Western 'greens' should be singled out for demonisation for
preventing biotech corporations from 'feeding the world'.
Western governments have been bombarded with propaganda calling upon them to
ignore the 'selfish' objections of their own citizens - consumers, health
advocates, environmentalists and food retailers - because this technology was
the only hope for the world's poor. American TV audiences have seen
hundreds of adverts depicting smiling well-fed Third World farmers joyfully
growing GM crops. None of this propaganda is based on fact and,
significantly, none of it originates from the nations that would supposedly
benefit from this technology.
Monsanto's letter-writing exercise could
well have been the most catastrophic PR stunt in history. In response the Food
and Agriculture representative of every African nation (except South Africa)
signed a joint statement called 'Let Nature's Harvest Continue' that utterly
condemns Monsanto's policy. It stated: "[We] strongly object that the
image of the poor and hungry from our countries is being used by giant
multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe,
environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us", we think it will
destroy the diversity, the local knowledge and the sustainable agricultural
systems that our farmers have developed for millenia, and that it will thus
undermine our capacity to feed ourselves".
Since that memorable
occasion four years ago none of these African nations have accepted GM food or
crops. The situation is no better for Monsanto in other parts of the Global
Europeans were told that their insistence on labelling and
regulation of GM food and crops would restrict the development of a technology
desperately needed by the poor. But no poor nation was to be heard making such
claims. What are we to make of the claims when dozens of poor nations themselves
decide to regulate, label or ban these products? And how sincere does American
concern for the poor appear when their Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick,
responds by threatening these nations with sanctions? Such threats are
* America's treatment of Sri Lanka is one of the most shameful
examples of its coercive policies. Sri Lanka's Health Ministry banned GM imports
for a year on 1st May 2000, because of the untested nature of GM foods, and
renewed this ban on 1st May 2001 after the discovery of imported chocolates,
oils and soups containing GMOs. Within ten days the US began to use the WTO to
threaten sanctions. As a result the new import ban was postponed to 1st
September 2001, but the President sent a 'strongly worded' letter to President
Bush to demand that the US stopped dumping untested GM foods in his country. US
threats continued and by August peasant groups across Asia were protesting about
them. Hundreds of letters of solidarity were sent to the Sri Lankan Government.
On the 14th August a petition from 200 organisations demanding an end to US
threats was presented the Bush Government. "Sri Lanka should not be subject to
oversight or punitive action by the WTO because of its efforts to protect its
citizens from the unknown risks posed by genetically modified organisms," the
groups said in their letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick.
These appeals were ignored and on 3rd September Sri Lanka surrendered to
threats from the US backed up by its ally Australia.
Senate unanimously backed GM food labelling in November 2000. Within three
months the USA was threatening to impose sanctions via NAFTA - the North
American Free Trade Area - unless the decision was reversed.
Secretary-General of the Thai Food and Drug Administration revealed in July 2001
that a US trade delegation had threatened to impose trade sanctions on
Thailand if proposals to label GM foods were approved.
introduced GM food labels and documentation requirements for GM imports in May
2001. By October Ann Veneman, US Agriculture Secretary (and previously Director
of a Monsanto subsidiary), was objecting to the inspection of imports of US GM
soya. By March 2002 China had been forced to 'temporarily' abandon its
inspections and to allow unregulated imports of US GM soya.
Similar sanctions threats have also been issued by the USA against wealthier
nations such as Canada (March 2002 in response to plans to introduce labelling),
Argentina (Monsanto Warns Argentina to Loosen GE Crop Restrictions April 2002)
and the entire European Union (for labelling GM food and for regulating GM
These acts of diplomatic terrorism by the USA may be objectionable
but some of the steps it has taken to force acceptance of GM food and crops by
these nations are more extreme. America reasoned that if no-one else wanted the
crops then at least starving nations would accept them. As one USAID spokesman
said "beggars can't be choosers". America is now the majority stakeholder in the
World Food Programme, which it uses to facilitate the dumping of its crop
surplusses, so it was not difficult to ensure that its unsellable GM crops ended
up in virtually all WFP aid packages. But America is finding that it
cannot even give its GM crops away:
* In March 2000 The
Independent (UK) reported on growing protests in an article entitled 'America
finds ready market for GM food - the hungry'. It stated that 'Aid is the
last unregulated export market open to US farmers as worried European and Asian
consumers shun GM grain and introduce strict import and labelling rules' and
reported on protests by the Malaysia-based Third World Network and by Ethiopia's
Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher who, on behalf of an alliance of Third World nations,
stated "Countries in the grip of a crisis... should not be faced with a dilemma
between allowing a million people to starve to death and allowing their genetic
pool to be polluted".6 A report by Food First (USA) written around this time
"The US food aid system appears to disregard the rights and
concerns of recipient citizens in order to assure profits for US agribusiness
giants. It is a system that allows for the misspending of public funds in ways
that benefit the private sector; a system that takes advantage of the lack of
regulation concerning the genetic engineering of food; and a system that
undermines democratic decision making about food consumption ".
* In the
Philippines in April 2000 the nation's main farmers union, the KMP, protested
about USAID dumping unsellable GM food on the country via the WFP. Rafael
Mariano, chair of the KMP, condemned the deal, saying "The US Department of
Agriculture does not conceal the true objectives of the program. It shamelessly
describes the 'Food for Peace' as a 'concessional sales program to promote
exports of US agricultural commodities'".8 South Africa's Biowatch joined in the
protests, stating "Africa is treated as the dustbin of the world. To
donate untested food and seed to Africa is not an act of kindness but an attempt
to lure Africa into further dependence on foreign aid".
June that year cyclone-hit Orissa, India, was the unknowing recipient of
unlabelled and illegal GM food aid from the US. India's Research
Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology detected the dumping, condemned
it as a hidden subsidy for America's biotech industry and issued a declaration
calling for a ban on the practice.
* The Association of Burundi Consumers
(ABUCO) and other organisations wrote to President Clinton in September 2000 to
protest about dumping of unlabelled maize in Burundi and to ask why food
exported to Europe was labelled but food aid to Africa was not.
In January 2001 Bosnian officials rejected 40,000 tonnes of GM animal
feed provided as aid by the US.
* Equador halted imports
of World Food Programme aid for poor children in May 2001 after the children
held protests outside the WFP offices.12 The food was from the USA and
55% of the ingredients were GM so making it illegal in Equador.
in April 2001, Bolivians were furious to discover that their food aid from the
USA contained high levels of GM soya and cornmeal - which were illegal under
Bolivian law. US Ambassador Manuel Rocha, ignoring the regulations, told Bolivia
that "if they didn't like genetically engineered food, they should think twice
about ever visiting the US because that is what we offer to visitors."
Tests of Bolivian food aid in 2002 have revealed Star Link corn
and other varieties banned in the EU.
* In May 2001 tests
arranged by Colombia Consumers (COCO) of Colombian food aid supplied to the
National Program of Food and Nutrition Program revealed that the soya was an
incredible 90% genetically modified.
* In June 2000 Guatemalans
protested about the presence of GM corn in imported aid for drought-hit
peasants,16 while eight leading Nicaraguan organisations made similar complaints
about the activities of the WFP and USAID after food samples tested positive for
GM. A US Embassy spokesperson said emphatically, "We are not using
genetically-altered seeds. Neither USAID nor any other agency is promoting or
financing the distribution of such seeds within Nicaragua."
Representatives of the World Food Programme also issued 'denials' which
on close reading did not deny anything.
* In the last few months
America's controlling stake in the World Food Programme has given it the power
to exploit Africa's crisis by offering its 'GM or Death' ultimatum to
Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. It is only because the US can prevent
the WFP from purchasing available non-GM food from Southern nations that it able
to tell these nations that they must buy GM maize, that they must buy it from
the US and that it must be unmilled.
Financially, this aid
primarily benefits the US biotech industry rather than the poor. The US
offered Zambia $50 million (the annual sum the biotech industry spends on TV
ads) on strict condition that it only be spent on GM maize from the USA.
India has vast surplus stocks of rice - 65 times as much as Africa needs - that
would be available at half the cost of the US maize, but Zambia is forbidden to
buy this with the money. Similar conditions were imposed on Zimbabwe,
Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi. Zambia's response marks the death of the
'feeding the world' PR strategy. Referring to the maize, President Levy
Mwanawasa said "if it is not fit then we would rather starve" - and the national
paper added "If the US insists on imposing this genetically modified maize on
our people, we will be justified in questioning their motive".
a region devastated by HIV/AIDS, where much of the population have deficient
immune systems, where bacterial diseases are widespread and where outdated
antibiotics are in widespread use there are sound medical reasons to reject
crops containing genes for antibiotic resistance. This is the very reason for
which they have been rejected in Europe.
Monsanto and its
Government cronies are desperate for real television footage of starving
Africans gratefully eating GM food - so desperate that they would allow millions
to starve if they fail. But independent experts agree that agricultural
biotechnology is, at best, irrelevant to famine prevention.
agricultural systems are irrelevant to poor and famine-stricken nations. US
farms employ under 2 million farmers yet will require in 2002 a subsidy of over
20 thousand million dollars. This subsidy does not help American family farms,
most of which face bankruptcy, but it does provide an essential indirect
subsidy to the biotech corporations. Poorer nations cannot support
agricultural systems that are so capital-intensive and that employ so
Indian food and trade policy analyst, Devinder Sharma, says:
"Somehow, biotechnologists prefer to turn a blind eye to the ground realities,
missing the realities from the commercial interests of the biotechnology
industries. In their over-enthusiasm to promote an expensive technology
at the cost of the poor, they have forgotten that biotechnology has the
potential to further the great divide between the haves and have-nots...
Biotechnology will, in reality, push more people in the hunger trap.
With public attention and resources being diverted from the ground realities,
hunger will only grow in the years to come".20 Ethiopia's Food and Agriculture
spokesman, Tewolde Egziabher, agrees, adding "this notion that
genetically engineered crops will save developing countries misses the real
point. The world has never grown as much food per capita as it is doing now, yet
the world has also never had as many hungry. The problem is not the amount of
food produced, but how it is both produced and distributed. For example, farmers
in developing countries who buy genetically engineered seeds that cannot
reproduce--and so can't be saved and used for next year's crop--become tied to
transnational companies like Monsanto".
A Christian Aid report
states "GM crops are taking us down a dangerous farm track creating classic
preconditions for hunger and famine", whilst an ActionAid statement concludes
"The use and patenting of GM food and farming technologies in developing
countries could have extremely serious economic implications... the worst off
are likely to be the poorest farmers... this may ultimately lead to the very
poorest leaving farming altogether, exacerbating the shift to cities and
increasing urban poverty".
Even Steve Smith, Director of biotech
corporation Novartis (now Syngenta), admitted in 2000 that " If anyone tells you
that GM is going to feed the world, tell them that it is not. To feed the world
takes political and financial will".
There is no global shortage of food,
nor is there likely to be one in the near future. Europe and America destroy
surplus crops each year - but so do some of the poorest nations. The problem is
not production but distribution. During every famine the affected nation exports
food. Millions of people - including many farm labourers - are now too poor to
buy the crops grown in their own nations - or even on the land they work. They
starve while much of the world's food crops are bought by the West to feed
cattle, pigs and chickens - and while much of the farmland is used, as required
by the IMF, to grow cotton, coffee, tobacco and flowers for export. The millions
of tons of surplus Indian rice that the Zambians are forbidden to buy is rotting
in warehouses because the poor of India cannot afford to buy it. Malawi, too,
had non-GM surplusses until a few months ago, but was required by the World Bank
to sell them to service its debt.
GM crops can do nothing to
address the true causes of famine. Inasmuch as they benefit wealthy farmers -
who can afford the GM seeds and the chemicals that must be used with them - at
the expense of smallholders, GM crops actually exacerbate the inequality that
causes famine. Exported GM cash crops, such as Bt cotton and
'controlled-ripening' coffee, will not feed the poor - nor will profits from
them go to the poor to enable them to buy food.
'controlled-ripening' coffee, being developed in the USA, does away with the
need for coffee-pickers - so threatening with unemployment (and therefore
malnutrition) up to 60 million destitute coffee-pickers in over 50
The 'Vision 2020' development project in the state of
Andhra Pradesh, India, will involve the clearance of 20 million cotton growers
and other smallholders from the land to make way for vast automated plantations
of GM cotton. The wealthiest landlords will profit whilst millions of refugees
will face starvation.
A handful of biotech corporations, such
as Monsanto, now have virtual monopoly control of agricultural seed and
chemical sales in many Southern nations - making the food security of these
nations vulnerable to stock-market fluctuations. The corporations have the power
to buy up any local seed company and thereby remove traditional seed varieties
from the market. To ensure a continuing market for their products they
determined to destroy the traditional practice of saving seed from one
harvest for planting in the next season. If farmers use their own seeds
they will not buy from corporations. To prevent this practice the companies
already give priority to the marketing of F1 hybrids - plants that
produce sterile offspring. But even more desirable for them are
'terminator crops' - seeds genetically modified to ensure that they grow into
sterile crops - and 'traitor crops' - crops genetically modified so that
they fail to grow or ripen unless sprayed with a chemical bought from the same
Only when the biotech companies have monopolised the seed industry
and forced Third World nations to accept GM crops will they be able to
universalise Terminator and Traitor crops and so permanently trap Third World
Through the 'GM or Death' aid policy it may be possible to force
the poor to eat GM food but it still seems difficult to force poor nations to
plant GM crops. The most effective technique is to ensure that they are planted
without consent. Several nations have discovered that GM seeds have been
illegally sold to farmers without their consent - sometimes GM seed has
deliberately been marketed as conventional seed, often conventional seed
supplies contain suspiciously high levels of GM contamination and, finally, GM
seeds provided as food aid have been accidentally planted by farmers. This seems
to be the cause of the widespread GM contamination of maize in Mexico, where GM
varieties are banned.
Deliberate contamination through food aid
neatly complements America's strategy of forcing GM food down the throats of the
starving. Having successfully contaminated Mexico, America hopes to
repeat the exercise across southern Africa. America has made it very clear to
the African nations obliged to receive its aid that it will only provide whole
kernels of maize and will not mill them to prevent them from growing. They know
that wealthy farmers in these nations, desperate to obtain seed corn for next
year's crop, will be able to pay more for this corn than will the starving poor.
Once GM crops are illegally growing throughout southern Africa, America reasons,
how will they be able to ban these crops?
GM crops have no
future. The people of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Latin America refuse
to eat them. Farmers in India, 27 Brazil 28 and the Phillippines 29 are burning
and destroying them. The people of America are blissfully unaware of their
existence - but, when asked, 93% want GM food labelled and most would try to
avoid it. In response the share values of Monsanto are crashing. The US is on
the verge of a GM trade war with the rest of the world. Now
the principal marketing strategy of the biotech industry, refined over the
years, has descended into blatant terrorism that threatens the food security of
dozens of nations and the lives of millions.
Robert Vint, National Coordinator
Africa's Tragedy: Famine as Commerce. Devinder Sharma 06/08/02
Suicide: farming, false promises and genetic engineering in developing
countries. Christian Aid
3 PANAP Press Release 14 August 2001 Asian Groups
Strongly Protest U.S. Threat of WTO Retaliation on Sri Lankan GMO Ban
Agribusiness Fights Mexico Mandatory Labels for GE Foods IS MEXICO GETTING
STRONG-ARMED ON BIOTECH LABELING? Rural UPdates! March 29, 2001
4 Industry mobilizes to modify Mexico's
labeling measures February 12, 2001 -- Cropchoice news
5 US threatened trade
sanctions to block GM labels, says Thai FDA just-food.com editorial team
http://www.just-food.com/news_detail.asp?art=37810&c=1 July 19, 2001
America finds ready market for GM food - the hungry By Declan Walsh
Independent (UK) 30 March 2000 7 Food Aid in the New Millenium - Genetically
Engineered Food and Foreign Assistance Food First (USA)
decry dumping of hazardous GMOs from relief agencies, biotech firms'. KMP Press
Release, 14th April 2000
9 Action Alert (June 2000) STOP DUMPING GE FOOD!
Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, India
10. 5/9/00 BURUNDI: "GENETICALLY-MODIFIED" US FOOD AID
SUSPECT. Text of report by Burundi news agency Net Press on 5th September
Source: Net Press news agency, Bujumbura, in French 1834 gmt 05 Sep 00.BBC
Worldwide Monitoring/ (c) BBC 2000.
11 "Humanitarian" GM corn: U.S. Withdraws
Genetically Engineered Corn - Animal Feed Donation After Bosnia's Hesitation
SARAJEVO, Jan 30, 2001 -- Agence France Presse
12 EFE News
Service May 18, 2001 ECUADOR-FOOD ECUADOR HALTS ROGRAM DUE TO GENETICALLY
13 CHILDREN PROTEST IN FRONT OF THE OFFICES OF THE WORLD FOOD
PROGRAM 7 May 2001 Info & Photos from Red por una America Latina Libre de
Transgenicos Casilla 17-15-246-C Quito - Ecuador
14 Let Them Eat Scrambled DNA: Genetically Altered
Crops Included In Bolivian Food Relief 22 Sept 2001 Earth Island Journal
TRANSGENICS FOUND IN PROGRAMS OF FOOD AID IN THREE COUNTRIES IN THE ANDEAN
REGION 05 May 2001 Red por una America Latina Libre de Transgenicos
16 U.N. SLAMMED FOR DISTRIBUTING GM CORN IN
GUATEMALA Source: Reuters
Environmentalists Accuse World Food Program and USAID of Distributing
Genetically-Modified Foods SOURCE: NicaNet,
http://www.nicanet.org/hotline.php#topic1DATE: May 27, 2002
18 Dignity in
hunger, The Post, Zambia, Editorial, July 30, 2002
19 British Medical Association report:
The Impact of Genetic Modification on Agriculture, Food and Health 1999 ISBN
07279 1431 6
20 Biotechnology will bypass the hungry. Devinder Sharma.
28 June 2002
21 Why poor nations would lose in a
biotech war on hunger. Marilyn Berlin Snell interviews Tewolde Egziabher. Sierra
Magazine, July/August www.sierraclub.org/biotech
22 Selling Suicide: farming,
false promises and genetic engineering in developing countries. Christian
23 AstraZeneca and its genetic research: Feeding the world or fuelling
hunger? ActionAid 1999 ISBN 1 872502 59 8
24 Steve Smith, SCIMAC and Novartis
(now SYNGENTA), Tittleshall Village Hall public meeting on proposed local GM
farm scale trial, 29th March 2000
25 Robbing Coffee's Cradle....
26 Prajateerpu: A Citizens' Jury/Scenario Workshop on Food and
Farming Futures for Andhra Pradesh, India. IIED 2002 ISBN 1 84369 191 4
Cremation Monsanto continues in Karnataka 05/01/02
28 Friday January 26, 8:57 am Eastern
Time http://biz.yahoo.com/rf/010126/n26491024.html Brazilian farmers storm
Monsanto, uproot plants
29 PRESS STATEMENT August 30, 2001 WE DARED TO STRIKE
THE FIERCIEST BLOW AGAINST MONSANTO by Greg Alvarez, Secretary General, KMP- Far