G8 SUMMIT: Africa Needs Food Security, Not Experimental Crops
Inter Press Service (Johannesburg), July 1, 2005
As world leaders prepare for the Group of 8 (G8) summit next week, a leading global consumer body is warning that genetically modified food is not the "miracle solution" to world hunger and malnutrition.
While large biotechnology corporations, and some governments, try to promote genetically modified (GM) crops as a solution to food shortages and malnutrition, Consumers International (CI) insists there is no evidence that GM crops will solve those problems.
"Genetic modification will not solve world hunger. The supposed benefits of GM have not been proven to outweigh potential risks to the environment, human and animal health. It would make more sense to put scarce money in other technologies that are more ecologically and economically suited to poor farmers and consumers," Amadou Kanoute, director of CI in Africa said in a statement Wednesday.
London-based CI, which works to put consumer rights and social justice at the centre of the international development agenda, is calling for G8 leaders to focus on food security in Africa. It warns that claims made by biotechnology companies are detracting attention from real causes of hunger in Africa, such as the lack of access to and distribution of food, as well as internal conflict and poor infrastructure.
CI says African farmers are faced with unfavourable international trade rules and although they are keen to improve farming methods, the use of GM crops could do more damage than good.
GM crops are created by inserting genes from different plants or even animals into a species to provide it with special attributes, such as resistance to pesticides. The process is completely different from conventional breeding techniques, and has yet to be proven safe.
The first major GM food was introduced on the market in the mid-1990s. Since then, GM strains of maize, soybean, rapeseed and cotton have been marketed and traded nationally and internationally in several areas. GM varieties of papaya, potato, rice, squash, sugar beet and tomato have also been released in some countries.
The production of GM crops has increased significantly over the last decade, but the issue has provoked bitter controversy. Supporters say they will increase yields, but opponents argue that they could have unpredictable health risks.
Other major concerns are increased control of the food chain by corporations, and misleading claims about solving food supply problems and about the benefits of GM crops to farmers, CI says.
At the heart of the problem, adds the organisation, is the fact that GM crops are promoted with "aggressive zeal" by biotech corporations, raising the hopes and expectations of farmers and communities. Unfortunately, CI says, many of the proposed "miracle solutions" end in failure.
"African countries are concerned about bio safety, and the consequences of introducing GM food without proper, independent, human safety evaluations and environmental assessments," David Cuming, GM campaigns manager with CI, told IPS on Thursday.
"At present, African countries do not have the proper regulatory framework in place to cope with GM. Yet they are being pushed very hard by the biotech corporations, and the American government, to introduce it quickly," he added.
CI says GM food is also poorly suited to African farmers in part because it is expensive.
"In Africa, farmers save their seeds to use the following year. When they use GM seeds they are forced to buy them each year so destroying their food production systems. This puts control of the food chain in the hands of a small number of unscrupulous biotech corporations," Cuming said.
Instead of spending millions of dollars on what CI calls "a grandiose biological experiment without a clear idea of how it is supposed to help African consumers", the group says governments and corporations should seek inspiration from alternative solutions.
"A large part of food shortages has to do with food distribution and access. Despite what the U.S. government wants people to believe, GM food is not the only food available. If other food is available, shouldn't Africans be able to choose?" Cuming asked.
Rather than discussing the possibility of using GM foods in Africa -- a topic that is expected to be included in next week's talks -- CI says G8 leaders should look at ways to develop sustainable farming as a potential solution to the hunger crisis in Africa.
"This is about making the most of resources that farmers have in order to end poverty in rural areas. There have been several successful sustainable farming developments in Africa, including pest control for maize and drought tolerance in rice," Cuming said.
GM & Africa resources
*for more on the push to force GM into Africa:
*USAID in Africa - new report
*have you signed on to the "Africa and the G8" statement?
*check out some of the sites on GM in Africa:
Biowatch South Africa
Africa Centre for Biosafety