Sending GMOs to Starving People is 'Inhuman Aid'
By Vandana Shiva
Humanitarian Review, Summer 2003
FOOD AID IS INCREASINGLY being used as a weapon to create markets for the biotechnology industry and genetically engineered foods. The most dramatic example of this inhuman form of aid was the attempt by USAID to supply GM maize as food aid to the famine stricken countries of Southern Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi. Malawi accepted the GM maize because under pressure from the World Bank it had been forced to sell its maize reserves in order to repay commercial loans. However, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which had played a significant role in negotiating the Biosafety Protocol, the regulatory system for GMOs under the United Nations Conventionon Biodiversity, refused to accept GM maize in the form of food aid.
Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said his people would rather die than eat toxic food. The President's statement followed a national consultative meeting in Lusaka on 12 August 2002 at which farmers, women's groups, church leaders, traditional leaders, members of parliament, opposition politicians and government jointly recommended that Zambia should not accept GM food aid.
The Zambian president condemned the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the World Food Programme for being irresponsible in supporting the US. "We may be poor and experiencing food shortages", he said, "but we are not ready to expose people to ill-defined risks". He also pleaded that Zambians should not be used as guinea-pigs.
Drought and famine
The combination of climate change and the World Bank's structural adjustment programmes have turned Southern Africa into a victim of drought and famine with the result that countries have been obliged to dismantle their food security systems.
More than 300,000 people now face starvation and the policy of sending them food aid containing GMOs is now a major issue. In the closing plenary of the 2002 Johannesburg Earth Summit, for instance, US Secretary of State Colin Powell was heckled by both NGOs and governments when he insisted that African countries import GM food from the US. Hundreds of African farmers and government representatives also condemned the US pressure to distribute GM contaminated food aid. Instead, they proposed small scale, indigenous solutions based on farmers rights to land, water and seed. A forthright statement issued by representatives of civil society in 45 African countries made the following points in support of the governments and people of Zambia and Zimbabwe:
* We refuse to be used as the dumping ground for contaminated food, rejected by the northern countries; and we are enraged by the emotional blackmail of vulnerable people in need, being used in this way;
* The starvation period is expected to begin early in 2003, so that there is enough time to source uncontaminated food;
* There is enough food in the rest of Africa (already offered by Tanzania and Uganda) to provide food for the drought areas;
* We want to strengthen solidarity and selfreliance in Africa, in the face of this next wave of colonization in which corporations are trying to control our agricultural systems by manipulating the supply of seed;
* As a mark of responsibility to future generations we will stand together in preventing our continent from being contaminated by genetically engineered crops.
Food aid is also being used to create markets for the biotech industry in non-African countries:
* After the devastating cyclone in India which killed 30,000 people, a corn-soya blend was distributed as food aid despite the fact that the local people eat rice. On analysis by our organisation, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, the mixture was found to be genetically engineered, in total violation of GM laws in India;
* The World Food Programme has been distributing transgenic food for seven years without informing recipient countries and often in violation of the national laws of these countries;
* On 10 June 2002, the Bolivian Forum on Environment and Development found that a sample of USAID food aid tested positive for the presence of Starlink maize, a GM corn not approved for human consumption due to health concerns over possible allergenic effects;
* Aid to Columbia was found to be 90% transgenic.
=Three major issues arise when food aid is used to market biotech products. Firstly, hunger and food scarcity increase as a result of the destruction of ecological security and food security. In our opinion the best solution to food insecurity is to strengthen the ecological resilience of farming systems through biodiversity and sustainable agriculture and the economic strength of local communities through food sovereignty.
Secondly, when countries facing food scarcity want non-GM food, their views must be respected. Southern Africa needed a million tonnes of food grain to relieve its immediate food crisis. 1.16m tonnes of non-GM maize is available in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa. More than double this amount is available on the world market. The EU announced that it would provide Southern Africa with â‚¬30m to buy GMfree food and India has 65m tonnes of non-GM food stockpiled which can be provided for less than US$ 0.10 a kilo. There are many alternatives to GM food. We believe that coercion in periods of emergency is inhuman action, not humanitarian aid.
Finally, India's experience with Bt. cotton demonstrates that the GM option is a threat to food security since it creates ecological and economic vulnerability. On 26 March 2002 the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India, gave conditional clearance for commercial planting of genetically engineered Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.) cotton to Monsanto and Mahyco.
Commercial clearance was granted on the grounds that the crop had been fully tested in Indian conditions, that it does not require pesticide sprays and it gives higher yield and farmers have higher incomes. However, all the claims on the basis of which the clearance was granted have since been proven false by the total failure of Bt. cotton in the states where it was cleared for planting. A field survey by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology last year found the following results:
*Bt. Cotton is not pest resistant
*The Bt. cotton was devastated by pest attacks such as bollworm, aphids and thrips and required more frequent spraying than non-Bt. cotton. In some areas the Bt. cotton was also attacked by wilt and root rot which do not affect other varieties.
*Promised higher yields did not occur
*Bt. cotton was sold with the claim that it would give 15 quintals of yield per acre. Average yields of Bt. cotton were in fact only 1.2 quintals per acre and none were higher than four quintals per acre, which is well below the expected yield in other cotton hybrids. The Bt. cotton plant yielded up to 200-250 bolls on each plant.
Farmers' incomes were not higher
Some growers received very poor yields from their Bt cotton, despite spending thousands of rupees on its cultivation. The poor return has made farmers angry with the companies who have sold them Bt. cotton. Many of them did not earn enough to cover the costs of seed and labour, which amounted to 3500-4000 rupees ($76-$86) per acre. Both Monsanto-Mahyco and GEAC, predicted that a Bt. cotton grower would get an average increased income of 10,000 rupees ($276) per acre. In fact, the Bt. cotton failure has cost farmers a total loss of 1,128m rupees ($24m) in one cropping season.
Food aid has become a major mechanism for undermining food security which can be assured only by ecological and sustainable agriculture. It is usually assumed that food aid is a simple matter of countries donating food. However, food aid also creates a market for northern agribusiness.
The World Food Programme and bilateral aid agencies use public money to buy food in international markets and provide it to countries facing food emergencies. Usually food aid undermines domestic markets, brings down prices, and thus destroys local food security. Sometimes, as in the case of the recent drought and famine in Southern Africa, the US has tried to use food aid to blackmail countries to accept GM food.
Aid needs to be oriented to build long-term food security through sustainable agriculture.Emergency food aid needs to be based on procurement as close to the crisis area as possible and in ways that do not undermine domestic food security by destroying domestic markets and food production.
People's cultures and choices need to be respected when emergency food aid is distributed.
In conclusion, aid can either be support for sustainable agriculture and food security, or a subsidy for dumping non-sustainably produced inappropriate foods on victims of poverty and disasters. It is time for citizens worldwide to insist that their public taxes and public money be used for enhancing public good, not for subsidising global corporations and private profits