Today in AgBioView: August 26, 2002:
* Plea for End to World's Rich-Poor Rift as U.N. Forum Opens
* Give The Poor a Choice
* African Famine, Made In Europe
* Getting Serious About Development
* WFP: Zambia Must Accept Biotech Food
* Zambia Rejects U.N. Food Appeal
* African Nations Ban Biofood Aid Despite Famine
* Southern Africa Reels Under Its Food Shortages
* Networks in Plant Biology, Brunnen, Switzerland; Oct 27-31
* Bush Baits Brussels Over GM Crops
* Time to Sow Seeds of GM Harmony
* Hot Seat May Cool for Berkeley Prof
Plea for End to World's Rich-Poor Rift as U.N. Forum Opens
- Rachel L. Swarns, New York Times, Aug 26, 2002
JOHANNESBURG, Aug. 26 ˇ A call for an end to the rift between the world's
rich and poor marked the opening here today of the United Nations World
Summit on Sustainable Development.
"A global human society based on poverty for many and prosperity for a
few, characterized by islands of wealth, surrounded by a sea of poverty,
is unsustainable," President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa told delegates to
the 10-day meeting. "There is every need for us to demonstrate to the
billions of people we lead," he said, that "we do not accept that human
society should be constructed on the basis of a savage principle of the
survival of the fittest."
The meeting is expected to attract more than 100 presidents and prime
ministers from Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America, who will devise a
plan to protect the globe's atmosphere, lakes, forests and wildlife and
focus on the link between poverty and environmental degradation. Officials
hope to build on the ambitious, but poorly executed, agenda set at the
Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago.
Leaders from the United States, Europe and developing nations have already
agreed that reducing poverty must be a central element of the plan. But
the question of how to do that and to ensure the survival of the globe's
natural resources has left rich and poor nations bitterly divided. The
dispute is likely to dominate the political negotiations here. In this
continent of immense natural beauty and desperate poverty, the debate
could hardly be more relevant.
In the 1990's, Africa had the world's highest rate of deforestation as
poor people cleared trees for farmland and firewood. Acute respiratory
infections, which often afflict families that rely on coal or firewood,
kill or disable about 30 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's children each
year, the United Nations says. Meanwhile, pollution is worsening as
millions of Africans abandon rural villages for urban shantytowns.
Poor countries say they cannot safeguard their natural resources unless
they can strengthen their economies. They want wealthy nations to commit
0.7 percent of their gross national product to aid developing countries;
to reduce or eliminate tariffs on agricultural goods from poor countries
and to halve the number of people without access to sanitation by 2015.
Some wealthy nations, including the United States and some members of the
European Union, are resisting. American officials say they have already
agreed to increase foreign aid to the poor, and developing nations should
eliminate corruption and strengthen democratic institutions before more
aid is committed.
The United States, the world's biggest polluter, has also refused to
commit to time frames for reducing greenhouse gas emissions or for
converting to renewable energy sources, despite pressure from the
developing world and the European Union.
The European Union has agreed to discuss targets for increasing foreign
assistance, but opposes time frames for eliminating agricultural
subsidies, which protect their farmers from foreign competition.
Environmentalists and advocates for the poor, who have poured into this
city by the thousands, have already been holding marches to keep the link
between poverty and environmental decay high on the agenda. Much of their
anger is directed at President Bush, who will not attend.
"The north/south dispute over money and trade is an old one, but it's
particularly acute at the moment," Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of
the United Nations Development Program, said in a telephone interview from
New York. "There's distrust on both sides."
Meeting organizers say they believe that the differences will be resolved.
They note that the nations have already agreed on nearly 80 percent of the
summit's action plan. They have already agreed to offer incentives for
investment in cleaner forms of production, to provide additional resources
to keep deserts from spreading and to try to reduce by half the number of
people living on less than $1 a day by 2015. But none of these commitments
are groundbreaking; the commitment on poverty, for instance, was adopted
two years ago at the Millennium Summit at the United Nations.
Officials assembled here agree that developing countries must focus on
good governance and democracy, and curb pollution within their own
borders. But Mr. Mbeki, who has led Africa's push for more foreign aid,
has said leaders should also take a stand for the environment by
committing to alleviating poverty.
"You can't expect the developing countries to address the environment in
the absence of economic growth and development," said Crispian Olver,
director general of South Africa's department of environmental affairs.
The meeting in Johannesburg will be the third international effort in 30
years to find a way to promote human development without damaging the
environment. But countries have been slow to act.
After the first meeting, in Stockholm in 1972, wealthy nations began
cleaning air and water, but continued to ravage forests and other
resources elsewhere to maintain growth. In Rio, at the second meeting,
leaders signed an ambitious agenda to protect the environment while
strengthening the economies of poor countries. But there were few binding
obligations. Since then, the world's population has continued to surge,
poverty has deepened in Africa, forests have retreated, fish stocks have
decreased and concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
Last year, President Bush angered many leaders when he rejected a treaty
negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, which set targets for reducing emissions. Mr.
Bush said such accords should bind developing nations, especially China
and India, that are also major emitters of greenhouse gases.
Developing nations have refused, saying wealthy countries are among the
largest polluters and should clean up first. So far, the world's
environmental meetings have produced more political declarations than real
action. This time many nations are calling for concrete commitments ˇ
particularly for foreign aid and trade ˇ while the United States insists
they are unnecessary.
American officials note that the Bush administration has agreed to double
foreign aid to the poor and that it supports the United Nations'
Millennium Declaration, which aims to reduce poverty, illiteracy and child
mortality by 2015. "We embrace the United Nations Millennium Declaration
goals, which do specifically refer to targets," Paula J. Dobriansky, the
State Department's under secretary for global affairs, said by telephone
She said that rejecting targets and time frames should not suggest that
the government cares little about poverty or the environment, and that the
American delegation, led by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, is eager
to address those issues. European Union officials say commitments are
needed to reduce poverty and protect the environment.
The European officials have agreed to commit 0.39 percent of their gross
national income to foreign aid by 2006. They say nations should reverse
the loss of natural resources by 2015 and increase the share of renewable
energy sources to at least 15 percent of the primary energy supply by
2010. Making such commitments, they say, might help build solidarity among
"We see the mistrust and the disbelief in many developing countries,"
Margot Wallstrom, the European Union's commissioner for the environment,
said in an interview. "Targets and timetables are the only way to regain
some credibility, to move from words to deeds."
Just how much needs to be done is painfully clear in the impoverished
community of Soweto, a 40-minute drive from here. During these winter
months, when poor people burn coal and firewood to cook and keep warm, the
level of pollutants in the air rises to two to three times the health
standard. Even in neighborhoods where families have electricity, the poor
rely on coal to keep electric bills low.
Monde Bendile, 45, knows that prolonged exposure to fumes and soot
pollutes the air and sometimes causes respiratory illnesses. But she
cannot afford to heat her home with electricity. "The smoke, it's
dangerous," said Ms. Bendile as she watched a salesman unloading coal from
his horse-drawn cart. "But there's nothing we can do.
Give The Poor a Choice
- William Easterly and Dennis Whittle, Financial Times, August 25, 2002
The United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, which
begins on Monday in Johannesburg, may represent a turning point for the
international aid bureaucracy. Thousands of people will be there and yet
almost none of them expects any concrete outcomes. The summit will address
many of the same issues that were left unresolved 10 years ago at a
previous UN World Summit held in Rio de Janeiro.
The current summit is strong on laundry lists and short on focus. Exactly
what "sustainable development" means seems to be a well-kept secret. The
original idea was protecting the environment, but the official documents
for the summit say that sustainable development also involves such
concepts as poverty relief, dialogue among civilisations, democracy,
corporate accountability, "equitable globalisation" and world peace.
The corporate executives at the summit could make a big contribution by
explaining to the other delegates a principle of efficient management: in
trying to solve everything you solve nothing. Is there a better way to
meet the needs of the desperately poor billions?
The problem with the summit approach is that it tries to help the poor
through a group of centralised, only loosely accountable, international
bureaucracies. Contrast that with the mechanism that meets the needs of
the rich: the free market, which is decentralised and yet accountable to
customers. A rich person can order in less than five minutes on the
internet a $382 tin of Beluga caviar and, with overnight delivery, serve
it to his guests the next day. What a tragedy that wants for such luxuries
are satisfied so easily, while the more critical needs of the poor are
lost in an endless cycle of world summits.
The official agencies are not as important as they used to be. Today,
money flowing into developing countries from private and charitable
sources is four times the amount flowing from official aid bureaucracies.
In fact, private individuals in the US give more than $30bn a year to
overseas causes. That is three times more than the US's official aid
The official agencies have been trying hard to evolve but they must
transform themselves instead. We challenge the agencies to use the power
of markets and technology to reinvent the aid process. That would allow
resources to flow more efficiently to where they have the greatest impact.
Fortunately, some promising experiments are under way. The World Bank has
begun to allocate money on a small scale through a series of open
competitions, allowing qualified groups outside the official aid structure
to apply for funding. Since 1998, more than 3,800 teams from 122 countries
have submitted proposals. The winners included two Ugandan women
entrepreneurs who had never left their home province until they went to
Washington to promote their micro-credit scheme.
The scope of these competitions could be dramatically expanded. A salutary
example is the new Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a
multibillion dollar facility with very few staff that solicits proposals
worldwide. Two influential Georges - Bush and Soros - have separately
proposed the competitive submission of projects to aid funds. Michael
Kremer of Harvard has proposed a fund to reward whoever discovers a
vaccine for malaria.
One of us [William Easterly] has proposed setting aside a part of aid
funds to give vouchers to poor communities. The communities could give the
vouchers to any agency in return for any development services they choose.
Letting communities choose the providing agency, which could in turn cash
in the vouchers for money, might induce some healthy competition between
aid agencies. A recent paper for the board of the World Bank proposed
opening competition even to private providers of development services, who
would only get paid upon certification of the completed work.
A further step would be the creation of markets in development assistance,
allowing funders and project sponsors from different countries, sectors
and agencies to interact with each other. These could exist in both
physical and virtual forms. By increasing access, competition and
transparency, they would imporve efficiency, innovation and, ultimately,
the degree of impact. Several such initiatives are already under way.
These market-based mechanisms are not panaceas - like all experiments,
they should be treated as pilots that are carefully evaluated at each
stage. They will work better for some development services than others.
But, as part of their transformation, official aid agencies must increase
their support for such experiments. They can use the money and expertise
that, whatever their other problems, the official agencies have in
William Easterly is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development
in Washington DC. Dennis Whittle is chief executive
of DevelopmentSpace.com, which matches donors and projects online.
African Famine, Made In Europe
- Robert L. Paarlberg, The Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2002
Southern Africa is suffering its worst drought in a decade. The U.N. World
Food Program estimates some 13 million people in six countries will need
1.2 million tons of food aid till March 2003 to avoid famine. Yet two
countries, Zimbabwe and Zambia, have spent most of the summer rejecting
food aid shipments of corn from the U.S. because some varieties of U.S.
corn are "genetically modified" (GM). Incredibly, African leaders facing
famine are rejecting perfectly safe food. What is going on here?
Farmers in the U.S. have been planting (and Americans have been consuming)
genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton since 1995. Regulatory
authorities in the EU and Japan have also approved such GM crops, but in
Europe food safety regulators have been mistrusted by consumers ever since
the unrelated but traumatizing mad cow disease crisis of 1996. EU
Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs David Byrne repeatedly states
there is no scientific evidence of added risk to human health or the
environment from any of the GM products approved for the market so far,
and he can point to 81 separate scientific studies, all EU-funded, that
bolster this conclusion.
But greens and GM critics in Europe say this absence of expected or known
risks is no longer a sufficient regulatory standard. Touting the
"precautionary principle," they argue that powerful new technologies
should be kept under wraps until tested for unexpected or unknown risks as
well. Never mind that testing for something unknown is logically
impossible (the only way to avoid a completely unknown risk is never to do
anything for the first time).
Europeans can perhaps afford hyper-caution regarding new crop
technologies. Even without planting any GM seeds, European farmers will
continue to prosper -- thanks to lavish subsidies -- and consumers will
remain well fed. The same is not true in the developing world, especially
in Africa, where hunger is worsening in part because farmers are not yet
Two-thirds of all Africans are farmers, most are women, and they are poor
and hungry in part because they lack improved crop technologies to battle
against drought, poor soil fertility, crop disease, weeds and endemic
insect problems. The productivity of African agriculture, per farm worker,
has actually declined by 9% over the past two decades, which helps explain
why one-third of all Africans are malnourished.
This ought to change the calculus of precaution. If GM-improved crops are
kept out of the hands of African farmers, pending tests for the "nth"
hypothetical risk, or the "nth" year of exposure to that risk, the misery
of millions will be needlessly prolonged.
But now we are seeing an even less justified application of regulatory
caution toward GM foods. Governments in Africa that are facing an actual
famine have been rejecting some food aid shipments because they contain GM
seeds. In May 2002, the government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe rejected
10,000 tons of corn shipped from the U.S. because it was not certified as
GM-free. This at a time when four to six million Zimbabweans approached a
risk of starvation.
Next, the government of Zambia banned all imports of GM corn, including
food-aid imports, even though some 2.3 million people in the country were
at risk. On Aug. 16, Zambian Information Minister Newstead Zimba announced
on state TV that the government had decided, in light of the uncertainties
surrounding GM foods, that it would be best to "take the precautionary
principle on this matter" and not accept or distribute GM food aid.
Silumelume Mubukwanu, Zambia's High Commissioner to London, explained that
food aid was being rejected because "too much is unknown about GM foods
Precautionary European policies toward the environment are also keeping
Africans from growing their own food. The EU has been insisting that
governments in Africa treat GM crops as a potentially serious threat to
rural "biological safety." This helps explain why there are no GM crops
yet being planted commercially anywhere on the continent, except in the
nation of South Africa. Instead of helping Africa's hungry to grow more
food, European donors are helping them grow more regulations.
African governments also must worry that accepting GM food aid will cost
them commercial export sales to Europe. The EU has not been importing any
U.S. corn since 1998, because U.S. shipments can contain some GM varieties
not yet approved in Europe. African governments now worry that any illicit
planting of U.S. corn by farmers could jeopardize their own exports to
Europe. Trying to remain GM-free for commercial export reasons is a policy
that does not help poor subsistence farmers, but it may soon become the
norm in Africa, once the EU moves next year toward much tighter labeling
and traceability regulations on all imported GM foods and animal feeds.
Even while professing that GM foods are safe, EU officials will soon
require that they be traced individually through the marketing chain, with
legal documentary records to be saved by all producers and handlers for
five years. African countries won't have the institutional capacity to
implement this traceability regulation, so they will have to remain
GM-free to retain their access to the EU market. Meat products raised with
GM feed are not yet covered by this new EU regulation, but Zambia's
initial rejection of GM corn in food aid shipments was partly based on a
fear that if the country lost its GM-free animal feed status, poultry and
dairy exports to the UK would slump.
By inducing African governments to embrace excessively cautious biosafety
regulations and by requiring stigmatizing labels and costly traceability
certificates for all imported GM foods and feeds, wealthy and comfortable
officials in Europe have made it harder for drought-stricken societies in
Africa to accept food aid from the U.S. European critics of GM foods did
not foresee this potentially deadly misapplication of their precautionary
principle. Yet here it is.
Mr. Paarlberg, a professor of political science at Wellesley College and
associate at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, is
the author of "The Politics of Precaution: Genetically Modified Crops in
Developing Countries" (Johns Hopkins, 2001).
Getting Serious About Development
- Editorial,The Wall Street Journal Europe, August 26, 2002
Does the EU really care about starving Africans? Three news items from the
last seven days are worth considering together. Robert Mugabe, the aging,
kleptocratic president of Zimbabwe, stepped up his wholesale seizure of
productive white-owned farmland in a country that currently faces a famine
of unprecedented proportions. The U.S. announced that it would meet almost
half of southern Africas food aid needs in the current crisis, and called
for the European Union to loosen its restrictions on imports of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs). And the delegates to the World
Summit on Sustainable Development descended on Johannesburg.
Related? Yes, and in more ways than one might think. These events, taken
together, highlight the ways in which environmentalists and their
political supporters pursue policies that sell out the developing world in
the name of a false moral high ground.
In a press conference last Tuesday, Andrew Natsios, administrator of the
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), announced that the U.S.
will send an additional 190,000 tons of food aid to drought-plagued
southern Africa, on top of the 310,000 tons already contributed. This
brings the grand total of American aid to roughly half of the
approximately one million tons that are needed to stave off mass
starvation over the next year.
Meanwhile, the European Commission has pledged only 20% of the estimated
need. According to Mr. Natsios, 80% of the food actually on the ground in
Africa at the moment has come from America. As a U.S. State Department
press release put it so gently, "The response by other donors (read: EU),
however, is not yet sufficient to meet the expected need. We know the
European Union will also respond generously to the crisis." The Europeans
seem to need this diplo-lecture to spur them into action.
Mugabe, for his part, has stubbornly resisted any lecturing, diplomatic or
otherwise, on the evils of his move to decimate private property rights in
Zimbabwe. His cynical land grab continued unabated as the property of
white farmers is handed over to Mugabes political cronies (including his
wife). Since most aren't farmers, great swathes of the land lies fallow.
This has transformed a mere drought into a near famine in a country that
used to be a net exporter of agricultural goods.
Against this backdrop, the world's high priests of "sustainable
development" congregate in Johannesburg this weekto hold a summit on, to
cast it broadly, how to prevent what is happening in Zimbabwe at the
moment. If their preparatory meetings are any indication, good luck.
Junes final round of advance negotiations in Bali witnessed the bizarre
spectacle of a Zimbabwean representative lecturing the rest of the free
world on fighting poverty. Some choice quotes from the U.N.s own press
release on the event: "He [the Zimbabwean] stressed the importance of
upholding the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the
internal affairs of States Astonishingly, no one seems to have laughed out
loud as he said this. In fact, they have invited Mugabe to speak to
delegates in Johannesburg.
Of course, Zimbabwe didnt completely monopolize the planning meeting in
Bali. The conferees in Bali tooksome time to insert condemnations of
genetically modified foods into the agenda for Johannesburg. Which brings
us backto the Americans, who, last Wednesday, called for the EU to allow
the import of genetically modified food, in light of the scientific
evidence, described by Robert L. Paarlberg elsewhere on this page, that
this food poses no health riskto consumers.
This issue directly affects the looming famine in southern Africa. Some of
the food aid the U.S. is sending consists of genetically modified maize,
some of which could be replanted since it hasnt been milled yet. The
recipient governments, including Mugabes, have been cautious about
accepting this assistance. They reason that if any of it were planted, and
cross-pollinated with native plants, it could "contaminate" the entire
crop, making it impossible to sell to the health-conscious Europeans. The
EU is, in essence, providing Mugabe with a halfway legitimate- sounding
excuse to starve his own people.
The EU has made some admirable efforts to help Zimbabwe. Its expanded
travel ban on Mugabes cronies is good policy. But when it comes to
actually feeding hungry Zimbabweans and other Africans, only the U.S.-the
country most pilloried for ignoring the plight of the worlds
underdeveloped-is acting honorably now. Its time for EU politicians to
realize that cheerleading at "sustainable development" summits doesnt
translate into real poverty relief. The key to that, apart from
enlightened leadership in those countries, is to allow Africa to develop.
That means crisis food aid perhaps, but it also means removing
fear-mongering trade barriers, such as restrictions on GMOs.
WFP: Zambia Must Accept Biotech Food
- AP, August 26, 2002
GENEVA (AP)- Zambia will have to accept donations of genetically modified
food if it wants United Nations help to feed its starving population, the
head of the U.N. food agency said Friday. "There is no way that the World
Food Program can provide the resources to feed these starving people
without using food that has some biotech content," James Morris told
To underscore the point, Morris released a joint policy statement of the
major U.N. food and health agencies the World Food Program, the U.N. Food
and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization saying
they believe genetically modified foods are safe.
The statement was issued amid debate about the use of biotech goods in
food aid, particularly in southern Africa, where nearly 13 million people
are at risk of starvation. The WFP estimates that almost 2.5 million
people in Zambia alone could starve if they do not receive urgent aid. But
the Zambian government so far has refused to accept donations of food that
is genetically modified. That includes food from the United States, which
currently is supplying three-quarters of the food WFP has to distribute.
Zambia is concerned that the food may be a health risk, or that grains of
cereal may be used for planting, contaminating crops that are not
genetically modified and risking trade with the European Union. The EU has
strict rules on imports of biotech crops. "We respect their right to not
use what we bring," Morris said. But, he added, "if external food
resources are not made available for them, there will be widespread
starvation and ultimately death, no question."
Zambia Rejects U.N. Food Appeal
- AP, August 26, 2002
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) - Zambia has rejected a U.N. appeal to
distribute genetically modified food, saying it would procure enough other
grain to feed its starving people.
Aid agencies estimate that almost 2.5 million Zambians are in danger of
starvation if they do not receive urgent aid. "We have the situation under
control," Zambian Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana said Saturday. "We
don't need to engage the biotechnology at this stage. We are assisting
(hungry people) with help from well-wishers and are overwhelmed by the
Zambia has refused to accept donations of genetically modified food and
has said the food may be a health risk. It has also expressed concern that
Zambians may try to plant the biotech grains of cereal, contaminating the
country's , contaminating crops that are not genetically modified.
The major U.N. food and health agencies the World Food Program, the U.N.
Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health
Organization released a policy statement Friday saying as far as they
were concerned genetically modified foods were safe.
"There is no way that the World Food Program can provide the resources to
feed these starving people without using food that has some biotech
content," spokesman James Morris told reporters.
But Sikatana said the safety of the grain remained unproven. "We cannot be
so irresponsible so as to risk the lives of innocent people," he said in a
telephone interview. "We have measures in place to cover (food needs for)
the period up to the next harvest."
Zambia is concerned genetically modified food may be putting at risk trade
with the European Union and other countries that have strict rules on
biotech crops. "If we engage in GM our exports will be thrown overboard
(and) that will cost thousands of jobs," Sikatana said. "We know that the
situation is critical (and) we know that we are making sufficient efforts
to ensure nobody will starve."
On Wednesday the U.S. State Department called on the European Union "to
join us in assuring governments in the region that food made from biotech
crops is safe and should be distributed immediately to those who so
desperately need it." The EU's executive commission put out a statement
Friday backing the U.S. position that the food was safe, while adding that
it was "up to beneficiary countries to make an informed decision on
whether to accept" the biotech food.
The United Nations estimates 12.8 million people in Zambia and five other
Southern African countries Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and
Swaziland urgently need help to avoid mass starvation caused by erratic
weather and exacerbated by government mismanagement in some countries.
African Nations Ban Biofood Aid Despite Famine
Gene-altered U.S. grain stirs fears of impact
- Gavin du Venage, SanFrancisco Chronicle , August 23, 2002
Johannesburg -- Millions of Africans in dire need of food aid may go
hungry because the leaders of several drought- and famine-wracked nations
say they cannot accept genetically modified grain from the United States
-- the very same product that Americans have been eating for years.
With world leaders gathering in Johannesburg for next week's World Summit
on Sustainable Development, diplomats and aid agencies were stunned by
recent decisions by the governments of Zambia and Zimbabwe to reject
shipments of donated genetically modified grain.
Malawi has also expressed strong reservations over the grain, and
Mozambique, through whose ports much of the food aid will travel, has
placed stringent and costly restrictions on any genetically modified
shipments passing through its territory.
COMPLEX CAUSES. The objections appear to turn on several factors:
disinformation by governments eager to deflect attention from their own
poor performances; anti- Western views within the affected countries; and
worries that biotech food companies will demand payment if their products
are planted and grown in recipient nations.
As the controversy expands, 13 million people across Africa are facing a
slow death from starvation. Aid agencies report that desperate families
are eating the last of their livestock, watchdogs and, in extreme cases,
grass and leaves. The United Nations says very young children are the
most severely affected; thousands are expected to die because their
mothers are too malnourished to provide milk.
At least 10 million people are infected with HIV-AIDS on the continent,
and the mortality rate is expected to drastically increase as lack of food
further weakens those already ill. John Stremlau, a former U.S. diplomat
who is a senior member of the South African Institute for International
Relations, believes the obstacles are politically motivated.
"These objections are completely misguided and clearly political," he
said. "The drought may be a natural phenomenon, but the famine is entirely
man-made." Stremlau says ruinous economic policies in Zimbabwe and
corruption and inefficiency in Zambia and Malawi have destroyed food
self-sufficiency in the region.
In Malawi earlier this month, the government belatedly sacked the minister
of poverty alleviation, Leonard Mangulama, after it turned out that he had
sold the country's strategic maize reserves -- 166,000 tons worth -- and
allegedly pocketed the cash. Malawi is the worst famine-afflicted country,
with hundreds already dead and 3 million on the verge of starvation.
Zimbabwe, which until recently exported maize to neighboring countries,
continues to force white farmers off their land to make way for ruling
party militants and cronies of authoritarian President Robert Mugabe. The
mostly white-owned commercial agricultural sector has been devastated by
the evictions, and farms have been unable to plant seed for next year's
crops. On Thursday, Zimbabwe said it would accept 17,000 tons of American
whole maize meal but mill it first to prevent any chance of contaminating
domestic maize crops with genetically modified varieties. In Zambia,
where 1.75 million people face starvation according to the United Nations,
President Levy Mwanawasa recently declared,
We would rather starve than get something toxic." Such stances anger
Jason Lott, a visiting American academic affiliated with the bioethics
department at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University. "These countries
are rife with corruption and are trying to push the blame for their own
inadequacies onto the World Food Program and the U.S. Agency for
International Development," he said.
Lott has researched a conspiracy theory, circulating in southern Africa,
which claims that the World Food Program and USAID serve as fronts for
American biotech food corporations trying to unload produce they cannot
sell at home. "These governments have latched onto this theory because it
detracts from their own bad management," Lott said.
Many of the conspiracy stories originate with fringe lobbying groups in
Europe, where suspicion of genetically modified foods is high. "The
attitude of 'better to starve than eat GM (genetically modified) corn'
reflects a luxury until now reserved for picky Europeans and radical U.S.
academics," Lott said.
"It is an ill-informed debate that is having pragmatic consequences here
in Africa," he said. "In Europe, people have choices. If they don't want
to eat biotech foods, they can eat something else. In this part of Africa,
where people are dying from hunger, there is no 'something else.' "
With humanitarian aid agencies lobbying hard to get relief supplies into
the region, USAID chief Andrew Natsios said Tuesday that every effort was
being made to calm the fears of affected governments.
"My children and my wife and I have been eating genetically modified maize
for the last seven years, and so have most Americans," he told a news
conference in Washington, D.C. "And, I might add, most Canadians and
Brazilians and Argentinians and Chinese and Indians."
U.S. SET TO SEND 500,000 TONS. Natsios said the United States was prepared
to donate around 70 percent, or 500,000 tons, of the total food needed to
stave off widespread starvation, with Europe making up most of the rest.
Another issue impeding resolution of the crisis is the belief by officials
in several affected nations that small farmers may end up being liable for
patent royalties to be paid to the mostly American agribusiness firms that
dominate the genetically modified field. The officials argue that
subsistence farmers will withhold some of the donated grain seeds to plant
for next year and that African countries could be forced to spend millions
of dollars in precious foreign currency to pay for the crops.
Mozambique's worries over the issue have led to its insistence that all
modified produce landing at its ports must be transported to its famine-
stricken neighbors -- and its own starving populace -- in sealed trucks
that will prevent the accidental escape of seeds.
Support for this view comes from SafeAge, a South African lobbying group
fighting the introduction of genetically modified crops into the region.
"These countries are right to reflect deeply as to whether they should
accept these products," said SafeAge's director, Glen Ashton. "If
genetically engineered grains get planted, then the owners, the patent
holders of these plants, can go into Africa and claim the crops as their
own. It would be nothing more than biological imperialism." Said
Stremlau: "The suspicions regarding the West run extremely deep in this
region. Together with bad management, this distrust mixes up a devil's
brew of problems for anyone wanting to come in and provide assistance."
However, Monsanto Co., one of the largest global biotech food producers
and a frequent target of the anti-genetic foods lobby, denies it will lay
claim to produce harvested by small farmers.
Modified foodstuffs are already used in abundance in South Africa, says
Andrew Bennett, lead biotechnologist for Monsanto in Johannesburg. "These
governments have screwed up and are looking for someone to blame," he
said. "Their people are starving and need food. This should not even be
the subject of discussion at a time like this."
Bennett says chances of Monsanto pursuing any intellectual property rights
complaints are "slim." "In much of Africa, intellectual property rights
are ignored anyway," he said. "The chances of getting a case to court are
Any "contamination" of local crops would only be to the benefit of poor
farmers, Bennett contended. "Our products are resistant to disease and
insects; they create higher yields," he said. "If anyone plants our stuff,
they are certainly not going to complain once they see the result."
Southern Africa Reels Under Its Food Shortages
- Nasreen Seria August 22, 2002, Asia-Africa Intelligence Wire
A discussion about sustainable development would be meaningless in the
southern African context if it did not also include the issue of food
security. There is no doubt that a large part of next week's World Summit
on Sustainable Development will be focused on food security and on
measures to increase food production in vulnerable regions. Southern
African nations such as Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, blighted by drought
last year, have experienced food shortages on a scale not seen in a
decade. The result has been hunger estimated to affect 13-million people
in the region, and a total cereal deficit of 5,4-million tons, according
to the regional food security programme of the Southern African
Development Community (SADC). This is up from a 2,78-million ton shortfall
in all cereals last year.
The maize deficit in the region is expected to rise to 3,27-million tons
compared with last season's shortfall of 115-million tons, according to
SADC, and will force countries to rely on imports to make up the
shortfall. SA's projected maize surplus of 809000 tons is not adequate to
meet the import needs of the maize-deficit countries in the region. The
problem has led to a global appeal by the United Nations for $507m in food
aid for the drought-stricken countries in the region.
SA's department of agriculture is keen to highlight the problem of food
security at the summit, but wants the issue to be seen in a broader
context to see the problem as more than subsistence farming, but to also
focus on market access for the agricultural goods. When we refer to food
security, we are not just referring to the planting of food, but also to
market access. Food security is bigger than just engaging in agriculture
in order to have something to eat, it is also about farmers having access
to a market in order to sell that food,? said Zola Pinda, assistant
director-general of communications and planning at the department of
Market access for agricultural goods, especially from developing
countries, is likely to be a contentious political issue at the summit.
Trade liberalisation for agricultural goods is a continuing process, which
intensified during last year's Doha negotiations of the World Trade
Organisation. But developed countries, such as the European
Union (EU) and US, face continued criticism for propping up their domestic
agricultural industries through export subsidies and other
trade-distorting support measures. In particular, the US Farm Bill,
introduced by President George Bush earlier this year, has raised the ire
of food-exporting countries, including SA, for the large increases in
subsidies that the US government would be paying to its agricultural
industry. Prof Nick Vink, an agricultural economist at Stellenbosch
University, estimated that agricultural subsidies paid by the EU and US
amounted to more than $360bn annually. ?This is an obscene amount. It
works out to $1bn in subsidies per day. All the US has done (with the
introduction of the US Farm Bill) has been to move from obscene to very
obscene,? said Vink.
To double agricultural production in Africa, a stated objective of the UN,
the continent must combine its efforts and boost its regional integration
policies, according to the department of agriculture. SA, which has a
larger and well-funded research capacity compared to smaller and more
food-insecure countries in the region, such as Swaziland, sees the benefit
and necessity of regional integration to deal with food security problems
in the region. The government also wants agricultural development on the
continent to be discussed within the framework of the New Partnership for
Africa's Development (Nepad).
"It is to our advantage that we convince our colleagues in Africa to work
together as an integrated group, to form a bloc, which would have more
impact on, for example, increasing food production or negotiating
favourable trade policies," said Pinda.
While there is acute awareness of food shortages in Africa and the need
for agricultural development to meet a growing demand for food, there are
myriad problems linked to agricultural expansion 'such as deforestation,
desertification, water shortages and environmental damage' which must be
managed to make agriculture sustainable. Managing the resources in a
sustainable way is crucial to ensure that agricultural land continues to
be valuable in the years to come.
How to balance environmental concerns with the requirement to boost
agricultural development is a debate that many at the conference would be
unable to avoid. SA's agricultural sector will make a declaration of its
environmental goals when the department, in collaboration with the farming
unions AgriSA and the National African Farmers Union, launches a charter
on agriculture to articulate its view on the use of land resources
affecting farmers in the southern African region.
Raising food production in Africa is also likely to see the debate of
biotechnology being raised. Genetically modified (GM) food programmes are
only established in five African countries, and stakeholders in the GM
industry want to see Africa using biotechnology to revolutionise
agricultural production methods. The SA government is far ahead of its
peers in adopting GM-friendly policies to boost agricultural production in
the country, seeing the benefit of intensive farming practices. But
environmental and health concerns about the technology, as well as the low
research capacity in many African countries, have resulted in a slow
adoption of the technology, and in some cases suspicion of it.
South Africa; Emerging Technologies Can Work for Africa Only if the
Climate is Right
Africa News, August 25, 2002
If effectively harnessed, new and emerging technologies can help catalyze
Africa's transition to sustainable development by lowering the incidence
of disease, reducing food insecurity, and decreasing vulnerability to
environmental damage by allowing more flexible crop management systems.
However, the expected benefits of both medical (red) and agricultural
(green) biotechnology can only be realized if a number of key challenges
are addressed, including the extent to which the technologies are relevant
to Africa, are pro-poor and mitigate biosafety and related risks.
Biotechnology should be viewed as one part of a comprehensive, sustainable
poverty reduction strategy, and not as a technological "quick fix" for
Africa's hunger and poverty problems.
These are the key messages of a new policy research report entitled
'Harnessing Technologies for Sustainable Development', to be released by
the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) to coincide with the World Summit
on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which takes place in Johannesburg,
South Africa from 26 August - 4 September 2002. The Report identifies red
and green biotechnologies as important ingredients often overlooked as a
basis for sustainable development.
The recent advances in biotechnologies offer crops that have greater
yields, resist pests and diseases, and offer other positive nutritional,
health, and environmental attribute. The Report notes that Africa, which
depends heavily on agriculture -- contributing 30% of Gross Domestic
Product and 70% of employment -- stands to benefit from any technology
that can increase the production of food, enhance its nutritional quality,
and minimize the exploitation of forests and marginal lands. Illustrating
the range and nature of current risks and opportunities inherent in the
biotechnologies, the Report focuses on how to ensure that poor farmers in
Africa stand to gain.
Similarly, the breakthroughs in medical biotechnologies are
revolutionizing the prevention, diagnosis, management, treatment, and cure
of diseases: diagnostic tests are being simplified; more accurate
medicines are being produced through pharmacogenics; gene therapy brings
the possibility of directly correcting genetic disorders before they
appear; and vaccines are being produced that tackle a wider range of
diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, and with greater efficiency. The Report notes
that these new possibilities are especially needed in Africa at a time
that the toll of the HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics are
reversing the health gains achieved over the past four decades.
The Report articulates the potential benefits of specific technologies and
argues that the biggest risk for Africa would be to do nothing and let the
biotechnology revolution bypass the continent. In doing so, it stresses
that the new technologies are no panacea or silver bullet, and highlights
a number of key challenges faced by Africa, among them:
- The current focus of biotechnology research on crops grown and disease
strains that are prevalent in developed, rather than developing countries;
- The fact that in health, only 10% of research and development spending
is directed to the health problems of 90% of the world's people; - The
reality that most African countries are not well equipped to address the
potential risks of these technologies to human and animal health, and the
Recognizing that poor people and poor countries lack resources,
infrastructure, and the business environment to attract new technologies
and related investments, the Report outlines key components for a
technology-infused development strategy within these limitations. It
includes lessons learned and best practice examples from across countries
in the continent, about strategic partnerships that are successful,
products and processes proven to work, and ways to encourage new ideas and
Biotechnology, the Report emphasizes, is only one of a suite of
technologies to be embedded in established breeding and selection
programmes. It argues that reaping the full benefit of the technological
revolution will require critical planning and strategic investments -- by
regional and international organizations and governments, private sectors,
and civil society.
African countries must exploit a range of options to ensure that future
biotechnology initiatives reach their full potential for alleviating
poverty, combating disease and securing food security. Specifically, and
among other options, African countries should seek to:
- Promote African-focused biotechnology research in which emphasis is laid
on: the diseases and their strains prevalent in Africa, particularly
HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria; and "orphan crops", particularly cassava, millet
sorghum, sweet potato and yams but also other cereals such as maize, rice
and wheat; - Develop African-owned biotechnology policies whereby all the
relevant stakeholders, including civil society, private sector farmer
organizations, are involved in the formulation of national plans; -
Establish national regulatory institutions for risk assessment and
management since most African countries have inadequate human resource
capacity to perform these functions; - Increase investment in modern
biotechnology research. The current levels in most African countries are
very low (hardly 2% of the total agricultural research funds); and -
Promote public/private sector partnership in modern biotechnology
The experience of African countries that have deployed genetically
modified (GM) crops shows that success depends on the extent to which
countries have pursued these options. Countries cited as success stories
include South Africa (maize and cotton), Kenya (sweet potato), and Egypt
(maize, faba beans and cotton).
Beyond individual countries, the Report states that achieving sustainable
development will require the production of regional and global public
goods, services or resources whose benefits are shared among countries in
a region or more broadly. These regional and global public goods include
the knowledge, regimes, standards and rules required to address
cross-border problems such as infectious disease control and use of GM
crops; the institutions that monitor and enforce the rules and regimes;
and the benefits that arise and are shared indiscriminately among
To ensure the provision of these goods in sufficient quantity,
international collective action will be critical, because no individual
country has an incentive to pay for such things as the prevention of
contagious diseases, the preservation of biodiversity, or research to
develop new crops, vaccines, or drugs to treat tropical diseases.
The provision of these goods, stresses the Report, will require new and
innovative financing at the regional level. Since development assistance
remains anchored in country-based projects and programmes, greater
flexibility will be needed to finance regional programmes for providing
regional public goods.
Around $16 billion is allocated annually to international resource
transfers for global public goods in health, environment, and knowledge
creation, states the Report. Roughly $11 billion of this goes to support
national infrastructure for public goods provision -- such as basic health
care systems and environmental management -- leaving only a small share
for regional and global public goods. Thus much more needs to be done at
the regional level.
Additionally, the Report features innovative new indicators that track the
progress of African countries towards sustainable development. These
indicators combine 27 key economic, environmental, and institutional
variables to track the performance of 38 African countries during the
1975-2000 period, summarizing reasonably the evolution of the current
state of sustainable development. They also help identifying key factors
that determine success and failures in achieving sustainable development,
and priority areas for policy intervention.
The indicators reveal sobering challenges. While some countries have made
good progress, many have slipped down the rankings. In fact, only three
countries -- Mauritius, South Africa, and Botswana -- accounting for about
6.5% of the continent's population, recorded relatively high overall
sustainability throughout the period. Even more telling is the fact that
among the 38 countries studied, the proportion of the populations living
in those with low sustainability rose from one-third in 1975-84 to half in
Networks in Plant Biology, Brunnen, Switzerland; October 27-31
- From: Klaus Ammann
Certainly a very interesting conference in an extremely beautiful Swiss
environment, highly recommendable to participate. What a paradox: My
friend Prakash will be in breautiful Brunnen and I will be those days in
beautiful Madras... - Klaus
The programme and advertisement can be downloaded:
Dear Klaus, would you please announce via your e-mail network the 1st
European Plant Science (EPSO) Conference. The deadline for registration
and abstract submission for speaker selection is 31.8.02! It will be a
high level conference on Plant Science and socially relevant topics.
Please find below a short note and attached a 1 page advert and the
program which really speaks for itself.
Thank you very much for your help. I look forward seeing you and many
members of this e-mail discussion forum this Fall in Brunnen. With best
wishes- Karin Metzlaff
Deadline registration & abstract submission for speaker selection 31.8.02
Title: 1st EPSO Conference "Networks in Plant Biology" Description: At
this top level Plant Science Conference, the 1st in Europe, superior
junior & senior scientists from academia and industry discuss cutting edge
science and organise networks in and beyond Europe. The themes discussed
are: System Approaches in Plant Biology; Basic Biological Processes;
Plants as Source for Sustainable Development; Plants as Key to Food
Quality and Health Improvement. Politicians and consumer experts will join
for 2 panel discussions on social relevant topics: Biotechnology and its
Acceptance; Interaction of Science with Small and Large Companies.
Place/date: Conference Seehotel WaldstÔtterhof, Brunnen, Switzerland;
27-31 October 2002
Information, Registration, Abstract submission:
Deadlines: Registration (31.8.02); Abstract submission for speaker
selection (31.8.02) or for poster only (30.9.02).
Bush Baits Brussels Over GM Crops
- Jason Niss╚, The Independent (UK), August 25, 2002
The US government is to launch a trade war over GM crops in an attempt to
force the European Union to back down in its tough stance against GM.
The Independent on Sunday has learnt that the US trade representative,
Robert Zoellick, is putting in a complaint to the World Trade Organisation
claiming that the EU moratorium on GM imports and crop-testing is a
restraint of trade. His action is being backed by Monsanto, the US
biotechnology group that has been at the centre of the development of GM
It is frustrated by the byzantine structure of product authorisation in
the EU, which has effectively stopped the development and testing of GM
crops in Europe.
Under the existing structure seven EU states ˝ France, Italy, Austria,
Denmark, Greece, Luxembourg and Belgium ˝ have joined together since 1998
to block all new product authorisations for GM oil-seed rape, maize, sugar
beet and the like being imported from the US. Only US soya, which was
approved prior to 1998, is allowed to be sold in the EU.
The European Commission has already admitted that this "de facto
moratorium" on the import of GM products from the US, which has been in
place since 1998, is probably illegal. It is planning to replace it with
an updated, and likely to be tougher, general directive on GM products.
This will be discussed at an EU Council of Environment Ministers, due to
be held on 17 October.
A source in the biotechnology industry said: "We are praying that Margaret
Beckett [Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs]
attends rather than Michael Meacher [the environment minister] as she is
much more sympathetic to our cause and will stand up against the hard line
taken in Europe."
The UK has the softest stance on GM in the EU, and is the only country
where widespread GM crop tests are ongoing. This testing programme ran
into controversy earlier this month when it emerged that the wrong seeds
were planted at 14 sites being run by Aventis Crops Sciences, a subsidiary
of the German chemical group, Bayer.
The 17 October meeting has been given extra spice by the intervention of
the US. It has told the World Trade Organisation that the blocking of new
product approvals on GM products is a restraint of trade, and wants
sanctions brought against the EU. At the same time the WTO is considering
a complaint by the EU, which says that US tariffs on steel also break
international trade rules. The Bush government softened its steel stance
late last week.
The action by Mr Zoellick has been seen by the GM crops industry as an
about- turn by the Bush administration, which is far less sympathetic to
the industry than the previous Clinton government. The US intervention,
however, has not been entirely welcomed by the GM industry.
Paul Rylott, head of bioscience at Aventis Crop Sciences, said that "it
may help to lance the boil in the short term" but that the EU was getting
to the point where it would consider softening its stance on GM. "We'd
prefer the debate to go forward with a consensus rather than being
steam-rollered," he added.
Time to Sow Seeds of GM Harmony
- Ragnar Lofstedt, August 25, 2002, The Independent (UK),
Why does there continue to be heated debate in Europe about genetically
modified crops? When I travel to the States my American colleagues often
ask me why Europeans are not prepared to accept GM crops, when the US sees
them as safe and beneficial for both the environment and consumers. This
transatlantic schism has several possible explanations.
Firstly, as David Vogel, Professor of Political Science at the University
of California, Berkeley's Haas Business School, points out, the general
public in Europe is less tolerant of food-related risks. They have been
exposed to salmonella in eggs and to foot-and-mouth disease (primarily in
the UK), dioxin in chicken feed (Belgium), and mad cow disease or BSE
(Europe-wide). These crises were, by and large, not handled particularly
well by the authorities.
By comparison, the US has not had any major food scares in the past 25
years or so. There has been no BSE (yet) and, as studies by Dr George Gray
and his colleagues at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis suggest, the
likelihood of the US being affected by a BSE outbreak is comparatively
small. The US has not had a foot-and-mouth outbreak for more than 50 years
and there have been no cases of dioxin contamination in foods. Indeed, as
a result, public trust remains unshaken in the regulatory agencies, the
Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. The
possible risks associated with the planting of GM crops are hence regarded
with greater tolerance than in Europe.
Secondly, Monsanto's advertising campaign to promote GM crops in Europe
was ill-timed, coming so soon after the BSE scare. Because of this, people
were sceptical about the advantages of "flavour-saver" tomatoes and
"roundup-ready" (weed-resistant) soya beans.
Thirdly, groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have been
highlighting the potential dangers of GM crops, claiming environmental
risks from modified genes and adverse health effects from GM foods. As the
public considers these groups more trustworthy than the promoters of the
technology, GM crops cannot at present be grown commercially in Europe
until they have been "trialled" and proven to present no significant risk
to public health or the environment. The European Parliament has also
passed a Bill requiring all GM foods to be labelled so that consumers can
make an "informed" choice.
The situation is very different in the US, where some 60 per cent of all
soya beans are now genetically modified. In Europe, however, the idea of
US-grown GM crops entering the market has triggered a huge political
debate which threatens to flare up in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Frustrated by the long-winded nature of the European regulatory process,
the US could take a test case to the WTO dispute settlement body. This
could have far-reaching consequences.
Based on current scientific evidence it is likely that the US would win
such a case. But even if the EU were to change the regulations, the public
remains highly unlikely to accept GM crops. The result could be punitive
tariffs on EU goods. The key to resolving this potentially explosive
dispute is to build trust in the regulators and the industry and keep the
public fully informed about the risks (minimal as they may be) attached to
GM crops. If the US wants to sell its produce in Europe, it may be better
off sharing its experience with its European counterparts, rather than
taking its grievances to the WTO.
Ragnar Lofstedt is Professor of Risk Management and Director of the King's
Centre for Risk Management, King's College London.
Hot Seat May Cool for Berkeley Prof:
Mexican scientists reportedly confirm his findings of engineered corn in
- Tom Abate, The San Francisco Chronicle, August 26, 2002 (Via Katie
Scientists in Mexico City may have confirmed one finding by a University
of California at Berkeley scientist who caused an international furor last
year when he reported finding traces of bioengineered corn in native
The latest research, outlined in an e-mail from the president of Mexico's
National Institute of Ecology, comes as welcome news to UC Berkeley
ecology Professor Ignacio Chapela.
"We know a little bit about their work," Chapela said. "We're anxious to
see the full data." Chapela, who is up for tenure, has been on a
scientific hot seat since November, when the European journal Nature
published his report that genes from bioengineered corn had appeared in
native maize plants from Oaxaca.
That finding caused a stir because biotech scientists had previously
assumed such genetic pollen drift would be minimal, while opponents of
bioengineered crops argued that gene contamination of wild plants would
become a problem.
Chapela made a second, more startling assertion in the Nature paper he
authored with Berkeley graduate student David Quist. They reported finding
only fragments of the bioengineered gene, suggesting that it broke up
during pollination. Because naturally evolved genes do not break up,
Chapela's paper suggested bioengineered plants did not behave like their
wild or domesticated cousins, confounding another assumption.
Biotech scientists pounced on Chapela's findings. One camp conceded that
he might have found evidence of bioengineered genes in the native corn,
but debunked his notion that this genetic drift had become fragmented in
transit. But a second school of critics said Chapela found nothing at all,
and that what he and Quist thought was genetic contamination was actually
just part of corn's junk DNA that the two ecologists lacked the experience
In April, Nature published some of the critiques along with an apology.
"Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to
justify the publication of the original paper." Now it appears scientists
at the Instituto Nacional de Ecologia have repeated Chapela's analysis of
the Oaxaca maize and corroborated at least his first assertion, that they
contain genetic material from bioengineered plants.
The first public disclosure of the new findings appeared in a recent
article in the Mexico City newspaper La Jornada, wh