"The Consumers International regional office for Africa, which represents 120 consumer organizations in 45 African countries, has come out in full support of the EU's position. "We would like an assurance that our rights are respected and to this end we would like to support the EU's legislation, in particular, its position on precautionary principle and mandatory labelling of all GMOs or their processes"
1. U.S./EU DISPUTE OVER GMO WORRIES CONSUMERS
2. GM CROPS NO ANSWER - letter to South African Press
1. DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: U.S./EU DISPUTE OVER GMO WORRIES CONSUMERS
By Lewis Machipisa, HARARE
Inter Press Service September 21, 2001, Friday
Fearing for their food security, African consumer groups are closely watching the impending trade dispute between the United States and European Union over the mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMO). The groups fear that without proper labelling, consumers may end up importing and eating GM products unknowingly. "Consumers have rights, in particular, to know what they are eating, and that it is safe, to choose what they want to grow and eat, to be heard, and to redress," says Amaodu Kanoute, Consumers International director for Africa. Those opposed to GM technology say they fear the long-term effects on consumers.
The United States is urging the European Union to scrap its biotech food rules on labelling GM food and products, according to media reports. Washington is planning, the reports say, to "file a case with the World Trade Organization (WTO) as soon as possible" over the EU decision. The United States is concerned that once the labelling of GM products becomes mandatory the "EU biotech guidelines could become a model for developing countries and significantly limit the reach of the technology."
Regulations by the EU "could cost U.S. companies $ 4 billion a year and disrupt efforts to launch a new round of global trade talks," according to media reports. The Consumers International regional office for Africa, which represents 120 consumer organizations in 45 African countries, has come out in full support of the EU's position. "We would like an assurance that our rights are respected and to this end we would like to support the EU's legislation, in particular, its position on precautionary principle and mandatory labelling of all GMOs or their processes," says Kanoute. "These are the real concerns which the United States should address, rather than trying to use international institutions to force consumers to accept their products," says Kanoute.
Consumers International says it endorses and calls for measures "to ensure that genetically modified food and animal feed are safe. And that all products be subject to a mandatory pre-market examination by the appropriate regulatory authorities and approved for sale only after they are found to meet the standard of presenting a reasonable certainty of no harm."
As a safety measure, the Zimbabwean government last week banned the importation of genetically modified organisms or products without the approval of the Bio-safety Board of Zimbabwe. "It must be pointed out that most countries producing GM crops and products are not labelling them. This highlights the need for importers and transporters to seek the advice of the board before deciding to import," said the Research Council of Zimbabwe. With Zimbabwe planning to import more than 600,000 tons of staple maize and wheat in the near future, there are fears that some of the food could come from South Africa, which will begin harvesting GM maize at the end of the year. "If we allow these modified products to enter our country without proper monitoring, they could adversely affect our markets," said the Research Council of Zimbabwe.
While biotechnology is being touted as the future of farming and food security in the developing world, the technology still remains firmly in the hands of a few multinationals who are out to dominate the market. In 1998, 100 percent of genetically modified seed came from just three companies. Monsanto is by far the largest, with between 85 percent and 90 percent of the market, followed by Zeneca and Du Point/Pioneer. Consumers in Africa need assurance on the ability of genetically modified foods to solve the food security problem in the region.
"Our concern arises from the fact that the first crops produced by the industry were mainly cash crops for export such as cotton and soya beans; not necessarily crops to ensure self- sufficiency in the region," says Kanoute.
"Early priority research was on terminator-style technology, which produces sterile seeds, or which are dependent on patented chemicals to grow. There are serious doubts now about whether the technology will address the problem of food security," he says.
letter: GM CROPS NO ANSWER
Financial Mail (South Africa) September 21, 2001
...In India research has shown that land reform and simple irrigation can boost crops by 50% for small-scale farmers. Cuba has increased agricultural production by 40% in the past six years using low-input, low-tech agriculture. Research in the US shows that GM soya beans yield 5%-10% less than conventional soya while farmers use up to 30% more herbicide. Consumer rejection of GM soya means these farmers receive between 6%-8% less for their crop. The US is rapidly losing its export markets because of GM contamination. Some US farmers are reverting to non-GM soya. Your report comes across as a typical PR spin by marketers of genetically modified seeds and associated agrochemicals. Hi-tech agriculture fosters larger farms which displace small-scale farmers. This contributes to starvation, poverty and unemployment in the Third World. GM crops are proving to be a millstone round the necks of countries that have adopted them.