A series of articles have just been published in the world's media (see example below) expressing surprise and consternation that Angola, like Sudan in the north and other southern African countries, is rejecting GM-contaminated food aid. It's clear from the claims, and those who are quoted, that the articles originate with the UN's World Food Programme.
However, the WFP's surprise rings more than a little hollow given that this has been an issue of concern in southern Africa for some two years now and that Angola has been known to share the concern. There is also a striking similarity with what happened when Zambia announced that it would not be reversing its deision to reject GM food aid at the end of October 2002.
It immediately became clear from media statements from WFP, which is dominated by the US, that it had made no move to remedy the situation since the Zambian Government first formally announced its rejection of GM food aid more than 3 months earlier. The WFP once again expressed surprise and said it had insufficient time to respond to the decision.
The reason for the dangerous delay in responding? According to a report in Afrol News: "Only now, further supplies of food aid had been ordered, 'expected to arrive in Zambia in December.' UN agencies had been expecting a change in government mind until the last moment. The decision not to order non-GM food aid until now has been observed as direct pressure against the Zambian government." ("Continued pressure against Zambia on GM food", 30th October 2002) http://ngin.tripod.com/forcefeed.htm
It's interesting to contrast the WFP's reluctance to respond to concerns about GM food aid, and its years of failing to even label GM grain, with the statement on the subject of the Nuffield Council on Bio-ethics in their recent report, "The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries" (2004) It's important to remember when reading this that the Nuffield working party who drew up this report was dominated by people (Derek Burke, Mike Gale, Micael Lipman) known to be fervently pro-GM and who argue elsewhere in the report that developing GM for poorer countries is a "moral imperative":
"With regard to donations of GM crops as food aid, we note that the preferences of developing countries dependent on emergency food aid must be taken seriously. A genuine choice between GM and non-GM food should be offered, where this is possible. It will therefore be necessary to provide full information about whether or not donated food is derived wholly or in part from GM crops (paragraph 5.41).
"Where developing countries prefer to receive non-GM food, the World Food Programme and other aid organisations should consider purchasing it. This is subject to its availability at reasonable financial and logistical costs. Where only donations of GM varieties are available and developing countries object to their import solely on the basis of environmental risks, we recommend that it be provided in milled form (paragraph 5.42). This is because seeds from food aid donations are likely to be planted in developing countries, and it would be unacceptable to introduce a GM crop into any country against its will by this means." (p.xviii)
From the article below it is clear that the WFP is reluctant even to agree to the milling of GM grain. Of course, the WFP's situation is not assisted by the US's insistence on only providing US grain and its continuing refusal to do what other leading donors do and provide financial assistance. (see: http://ngin.tripod.com/forcefeed.htm)
The lessons from Zambia beed to be learned. Here the WFP Country Director said in March this year, "Buying food locally is an effective way for WFP to boost the domestic economy, while also reducing our own transport costs and delivery time. We have been buying from everyone - farmers, millers and the government - in the hope that this will assist local markets and promote food production, which will ultimately contribute to the longer-term development of Zambia's agriculture." http://allafrica.com/stories/200403170439.html
But that has never been part of the US agenda. Indeed, there is even a US law to prevent the US rendering assistance in such a form: "I have heard . . . that people may become dependent on us for food. I know that was not supposed to be good news. To me that was good news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific." - Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, in naming US Public Law 480 which ensures that food aid never interferes with US "domestic production or marketing". http://ngin.tripod.com/forcefeed.htm
Angolan ban on GM food 'puts aid at risk'
By John Reed in Johannesburg
Financial Times, March 30 2004
Angola's move to ban genetically modified food will endanger United Nations distribution of emergency aid to nearly 2m people, the body's World Food Programme has warned.
The government of the war-devastated southern African country earlier this month prohibited imports of unmilled GM foods and seeds.
The UN says the draft law will significantly hamper its operations there as the WFP sources 77 per cent of its food aid from the US, where GM is common.
"It will make life a lot tougher for a large number of people," said Mike Sackett, the WFP's regional director for southern Africa.
He said it was unclear whether Angola's government would allow into the country a shipment of 19,000 tonnes of American maize due to begin shipping this week.
The WFP has a caseload of 1.9m people in Angola, of whom 1.5m are displaced people returning home after the long civil war. "People who just moved back will be really struggling because they are particularly dependent on food aid," Mr Sackett said.
Angola's decision could also hurt the UN as it struggles to collect funds for its food appeals amid growing donor scepticism over some governments' actions.
The WFP's feeding programme has received just $35m (GBP19m) of the $219m it says it will need to feed Angolans in May to December.
Zambia and Zimbabwe, where the WFP also has hunger-relief programmes, have already passed similar laws banning GM foods, citing the need to protect their agriculture.
Donors sidestepped the bans by switching to non-GM food or milling grains, but Angola's entire milling capacity is just 250 tonnes a day, Mr Sackett said.