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AFRICA: Outrage Over Claim that Anti-GM Campaign “Causes Hunger”

Miriam Mannak

CAPE TOWN, Aug 27 2010 (IPS) - Civil society organisations have reacted with outrage to claims that the international campaign against genetically modified (GM) crops is partly responsible for food shortages and food insecurity in Africa.

Claims about a certain flood-resistant type of rice being genetically modified have been refuted. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

Claims about a certain flood-resistant type of rice being genetically modified have been refuted. Credit: Miriam Mannak/IPS

“Food insecurity in developing regions such as Africa is partially a result of the anti-GM campaign,” David King, director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University in Britain, said during the 15th World Congress of Food Science and Technology held between Aug 22-26 in Cape Town, South Africa.

King added that, “many African countries have the idea that food that is not good enough for Europeans, is not good enough for Africans.

“In Europe, people might have a choice between conventional and genetically modified products. In Africa, this is not the case. Here, any food that is available is great.”

South African organisations that oppose the genetic modification of food, such as the South African Freeze Alliance on Genetic Engineering (SAFeAGE), have condemned King’s statements.

“Africa’s food insecurity has nothing to do with the anti-GM campaign,” said Fahrie Hassan, media spokesperson at SAFeAGE.

It has in large part been caused by economic policy measures with strict conditions imposed on countries seeking loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund since the 1980s, he argued.

“Many governments of developing countries were forced to tell their farmers they should farm cash crops, which are predominantly meant for the export market, instead of focusing on subsistence farming for local use,” he added.

“In addition, European countries and the U.S. dump their food surpluses onto African markets while heavily subsidising their own farmers,” Hassan added.

Mariam Mayet, director of the non-profit African Centre for Biosafety (ABC), said that, “malnourishment in Africa is not just a result of food shortage, but of poverty. It does not matter how much food is available, if you don’t have money to buy it you are stuck.

“In addition, the plants the GM industry wants to produce in Africa are mainly cash crops that are not just meant for the export market but are to be used to feed pigs and cows in Europe and China and as bio-fuel and cooking oil.

“These crops are not meant to feed African people, thus they will not contribute to food security,” she added.

Mayet slammed King’s statement that African countries rejected GM crops because of the influence of the anti-GM campaign, which originated in Europe and the U.S.

“King is clearly not aware of the fact that Africans have common sense. Does he think we are stupid, can’t think for ourselves and still listen to whatever Europeans tell us to do, like we did in the colonial era?

“We might be poor, but we make our own decisions free from what Europeans, whether politicians or the GM movement, think. African countries are led by their own understanding, not by the anti-GM campaign,” Mayet stated.

Hassan rejected any suggestion that GM corporations intend to help Africans to overcome problems such as malnourishment. “It has nothing to do with helping Africans, but with helping themselves. If a farmer agrees to switch to GM crops, he or she will be tied to the seeds provided by the seed company.

“This process precludes the saving of seeds for the next year. This means the farmer will have to buy seeds every year, which is profitable to the company.”

Muna Lakhani, spokesperson for Earthlife Africa, agreed that GM “will lock Africa into neo-seed slavery” as GM production increases dependence on imported inputs and is therefore detrimental to African food sovereignty. The non-profit Earthlife Africa seeks a better life for all people without the exploitation of people or the degradation of their environment.

“Organic agriculture produces far more food than the current chemicals- based agro-industry. We need to resist attempts to colonise our food production and insist on sustainable food cultivation that is not geared to benefiting the developed world.

“The fact of the matter is that the GM industry, having lost the battle in many countries, now sees African countries as easy pickings,” Lakhani argued.

King also repeated claims that he made in 2008 about flood-resistant GM rice, of which a marketable product “was only recently developed” despite the science to develop flood-resistant rice being in existence for 15 years, according to him.

“The delay of developing a marketable product is partially a result of the pressure of the anti-GM campaign. Because of this, millions of poor people unnecessarily suffered from malnutrition and hunger over the past 10 years,” King claimed.

Rice is an important staple food in Africa, the world’s largest importer of Asian rice. Every year floods cause massive rice production losses all across Asia. “Flood-resistant rice could have prevented much of the losses,” King said, adding that rice losses in Asia have had a severe impact on Africa’s food security.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association, a British organics food and farming organisation, pointed out in 2008 in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that the flood-resistant rice in question is not GM.

Instead, it is the result of “normal breeding informed by knowledge of the genome and supported by environmentalists and organic organisations”.

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