FOCUS ON AFRICA
"[Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa] does deserve the disdain of international media and especially his own people, since perhaps as many as 20,000 Zambians died as a result of his [non aceptance of GM-food aid] policies.
"...aid workers were taking food away from the mouths of starving children. This was just one more example of the folly of the "precautionary principle," and how it is killing poor people in Africa." - Roger Bate, Political Food Folly (item 1)
Where is the evidence to support the claims Roger Bate makes in this article. We followed this issue closely and have never seen anything that would suypport such claims.
Bate also claims - via, he says, GM proponent Per Pinstrup Andersen - that the US would have been equally happy to provide Zambia with non-GM grain in order to resolve the crisis.
In reality, the US insisted for a long time that it would only provide aid to Zambia if Zambia's decision not to accept GM food aid was reversed. In the words of a US state department official at the time, "Beggars can't be choosers".
And if it seems to almost beggar belief that even a pro-GM lobbyist would accuse someone of the deaths of "perhaps" 20,000 people without presenting a shred of evidence to support such an accusation, then have a look at the cynical way in which the US and GM lobbyists sought to exploit the crisis for industry PR purposes at the time. (item 3)
In the words of Michael Manville, "the companies who make [GM foods], and the flacks who hawk their falsehoods, offer us a new definition of depravity, a new standard to plunge for in our race to care least, want more, and divest ourselves of all shame." - Welcome to the Spin Machine (see item 3)
The Spin Machine:
1.Political Food Folly - Roger Bate
2.Roger Bate - GM WATCH profile
3.Tragedy as opportunity - GM WATCH
1.Political Food Folly
Putting food on the negotiating table.
By Roger Bate
August 6 2004
India has rip-off drug makers, China sweatshop textile tycoons, southern Africa its mineral magnates, and all, naturally, have different concerns when it comes to World Trade Organization negotiations. But in global public-policy terms, there is one issue that pulls all developing countries together, and nearly everyone in the rich world too - the misery caused by Western agricultural subsidies.
Until 2001 there was little chance of improvement, owing to French and German intransigence and developing-country disorganization. But things began to improve at the 2001 Doha WTO summit and then in 2002 at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development: when developing countries finally agreed to fight the West's protection of its farmers. President Bush's rhetoric extols free trade but his farm bill continues to support wealthy U.S. farmers. Nevertheless, there has been a continual, if slothful, move in among richer countries to reduce their farm subsidies, since issues of food security (which was the main justification for subsidies in the first place) have receded.
But not all food subsidies are so obviously odious. Many subsidies funded by the world's taxpayers are designed to increase access of the poorest of the poor to basic nutrition. For example recent food aid and funding from the rich world's aid agencies to southern Africa has saved millions from malnourishment. However, some countries, such as Zambia, are still being picky about the food aid they accept and are actively harming their citizens.
There are less-obvious subsidy failures as well. Unfortunately, according to Per Pinstrup Andersen, the 2001 World Food Laureate, many subsidy programs are defended on the basis that they help the poorest, but instead often just help the middle classes. I first spoke to Dr. Andersen in 2002, and I recently spoke with him again.
Dr. Andersen, who has worked on food-policy issues for 32 years, says that in the early 1990s the Egyptian government spent 25 percent of its annual budget on providing food either for free, or very cheaply, to the poor. But the subsidy rolled into the pockets of well-off farmers and other middlemen, meaning the poor gained little from the program. Andersen and other policy experts encouraged the Egyptian government to redirect the funds, so now the subsidies are at a far lower overall level and the poor have greater access to food. For this and other work Andersen won the World Food Prize.
However, the problem of allocating funds to the correct people is sometimes the death knell of programs. Under pressure from Andersen, the Colombian government's allocation was successfully retargeted away from special interests and towards the poor. But the program was cancelled when the politicians responsible for it changed portfolio. Andersen says that owing to this experience he now reluctantly endorses programs where some political constituency (like farmers) benefits by extending the subsidy.
In 2002 Andersen was concerned that the Zambian president decided not to allow genetically modified food aid. At the time, agriculture minister Mundia Sikatana said, "In view of the current scientific uncertainty surrounding the issue...[the] government has decided to base its decision not to accept GM foods in Zambia on the precautionary principle." Andersen said that the Zambian government was being "unreasonable" since the government has been using the food to feed Angolan refugees in the country. Today he still believes this to be the case.
The refusal sparked a fierce debate in the capital, Lusaka, with opposition politicians coming out against the decision. Thousands of tons of American food aid were removed from the country - aid workers were taking food away from the mouths of starving children. This was just one more example of the folly of the "precautionary principle," and how it is killing poor people in Africa.
When I spoke with the head of U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, in 2002 he dismissed any notion that the Zambians had made the right choice. He was clear: "it's their choice to make, but we've been eating and shipping this food around the globe for seven years, there is no real risk." Furthermore, he had offered the Zambians wheat and sorghum. Unlike American corn, which is not separated between non-GM and GM, GM-free wheat and sorghum could have been provided, but "they wanted corn," said an obviously exasperated Natsios.
So the Zambian government demanded corn when there were alternatives, later decided not to accept it, so harming hundreds of thousands of severely malnourished people. Back then I said that "President Levy Mwanawasa does not yet have the dastardly track record of his southern neighbor, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, but many more policy decision like this and he will deserve the same international opprobrium." Today he does deserve the disdain of international media and especially his own people, since perhaps as many as 20,000 Zambians died as a result of his policies.
Subsidies, and especially food aid, have their place, but they are often captured by vested interests, or emasculated by crazy policy decisions. In the past ten years over 14 billion GM meals have been eaten by Americans with no ill effect. But in the perverse world of public policy that hasn't mattered a great deal. The forces of stupidity and malign political self-interest continue to hold sway in many parts of Africa, undermining the good work their politicians are doing to reduce Western agricultural subsidies.
Dr. Roger Bate is a visiting fellow of the American Enterprise Institute
GM WATCH profile
In 1993 Bate founded the Environment Unit of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a London-based free-market think tank. He later became the co-director with Julian Morris of the IEA's Environment and Technology Programme and is still a senior fellow of the IEA.
He is also a fellow of the Morris-directed International Policy Network whose Washington address is that of the Competitive Enterprise Institute where Bate is an adjunct fellow.
Bate is also the former executive director of the European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF) which he co-founded in 1994.
He is the co-author, with Julian Morris, of Fearing Food: Risk, Health and Environment. The IEA website comments: 'In the latest ESEF book, Fearing Food, new agricultural and food technologies, including genetic engineering, are shown to be generally beneficial both to health and to the environment.' Contributors to the book include Michael Wilson, John Hillman and Dennis Avery.
Bate and Morris drew on Avery's bogus E-coli claims in a publicity stunt to launch the book. This involved telling people that 'according to the United States Centers for Disease Control, people who eat the products of...[organic agriculture] are eight times more likely to contract the strain of E-coli that killed 21 people in Lanarkshire in 1997' ('Unsavoury facts about organic food' August 16, 1999). In a related press release, published via the IEA, ('Londoners demand regulation of potentially deadly organic food'), Bate and Morris wrote, 'organic food may well present a danger to children, the elderly and the sick... such people should be discouraged from eating so-called "organic" or "natural" foods.'
Bate also directed and presented the BBC2 TV Counterblast programme 'Organic Food: The Modern Myth' (BBC2, 31 Jan 2000) in his role as Director of the European Science and Environment Forum.
In its mission statement on its original website, the ESEF described itself as 'a non-partisan group of scientists' and claimed, 'To maintain its independence and impartiality, the *ESEF does not accept outside funding from whatever source*, the only income it receives is from the sale of its publications'.
However, documents released by tobacco giant Philip Morris show that ESEF was established with money from the tobacco industry - solicited by Bate. As Big Tobacco's European front organization, ESEF's task was to smuggle tobacco advocacy into a larger bundle of 'sound science' issues, including 'restrictions on the use of biotechnology.'
Shortly after the Philip Morris revelations Bate suddenly resigned as Director of ESEF and its website was taken down. It has subsequently been relaunched with a different domain name.
Bate contributed a number of articles to the magazine Living Marxism. Both the International Policy Network and ESEF cooperate regularly with members of the Living Marxism network.
3.Tragedy as opportunity
The GM lobby and the food aid crisis (2002)
QUOTE: "all some folks in the U.S. government and business communities can think of is how to make even more money off [Africa's] suffering," - James Clancy, president of Canada's National Union of Public and General Employees
For some the situation in southern Africa is not just a tragedy, it's an opportunity - an opportunity to dump otherwise unmarketable GM crop surpluses, an opportunity to create future food dependencies, and above all an opportunity to introduce GMOs to countries that would otherwise be resistant to them and which are ill prepared to deal with the consequences.
The resistance to such opportunism in turn provides the biotech industry and its supporters, in the US administration and beyond, with an additional opportunity - the opportunity to pressurise international bodies - from the European Union to the World Health Organisation to the Vatican - to endorse GMOs and join its arm-twisting of reluctant nations.
"We have been pushed around by the way the Americans have put pressure on this issue." EU development commissioner, Poul Nielson on the US food aid strategy
Another target has been the biotech industry's critics, both in Africa and elsewhere, who have been portrayed as the merchants of death for having raised concerns over GM food.
At the "Earth Summit" in Johannesburg in September 2002, African delegates expressed their anger at "the emotional blackmail of vulnerable people" that was going on.
"We, African Civil Society groups, participants to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, composed of more than 45 African countries, join hands with the Zambian and Zimbabwean governments and their people in rejecting GE contaminated food for our starving brothers and sisters: We refuse to be used as the dumping ground for contaminated food, rejected by the Northern countries; and we are enraged by the emotional blackmail of vulnerable people in need, being used in this way.
Steering Committee of the African Civil Society Group - download their statement
But African civil society and governmental protests were countered by an attack on the Zambian government by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell who was booed by official delegates when he referred to the need to accept GM maize.
But it wasn't only Powell who was on the attack at the "Earth Summit". According to Roger Bate (a pro-GM lobbyist who has been shown to draw financial support from the tobacco industry):
"One of the more interesting aspects of the debate was that the most fervent pro-GM attack on the Zambian President did not come from the biotech industry but from the head of the aid agency that sent the food. Andrew Natsios is the Director of the US Agency for International Development [USAID]. And he was easily the most effective proponent of the technology at, and after, the WSSD." ('From Jo'burg to Des Moines', Tech Central Station)
USAID's fervently pro-GM stance was no accident. Promoting GM is an official part of the role assigned to an agency which publicly boasts of how its activities create major markets for America's agricultural exports. (Download the Greenpeace report on USAID and GM food aid:
Aid agencies outside the US generally take a very different view:
"The UN confirms there is enough non-GM food in southern Africa and on world markets... The US should [untie its aid] and stop putting a GM gun to the head of hungry Zambians." - Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid, Food aid, The Guardian (London) October 21, 2002
But it's not just been resistance in Africa that the GM lobby has been gunning for.
"[Bernd Halling, of the biotech industry's umbrella group EuropaBio] says that the green lobby has 'built up this GMO issue to the point that it is illogical. [The famine in Africa] is the first issue that has the ability to destroy their credibility
I want to know if they are going to accept responsibility for the people that will die as a result of the refusal of GM aid', said Halling." ('Of Famine and Food Aid: GM Food Internationally', Agbiotechbuzz)
Juan Lopez, of Friends of the Earth International who attended the Earth Summit dismisses such claims, "Clearly African leaders are looking at the information available and deciding for themselves what action to take. The idea that advocacy groups critical of biotechnology are leading African officials to reject genetically engineered crops is ridiculous. The biotech industry has 50 lobbyists for every environmental advocate."
In the forefront of the lobbyists' attacks has been the AgBioWorld Foundation headed by Prof CS Prakash of Tuskegee University, USA. AgBioWorld has worked flat out to label the industry's critics as 'killers' of the hungry. Unmentioned is the fact that as well as being a GM lobbyist, Prakash is also an advisor to USAID while his university enjoys multi-million dollar contracts with the agency. Prakash also, according to a series of newspaper articles in The Guardian and elsewhere, works hand in glove with Monsanto's PR operatives who use his listserv to initiate attacks on the company's critics. http://members.tripod.com/ngin/deceit7.html
AgBioWorld's co-founder is Gregory Conko, Director of Food Safety Policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute - an organisation described by PR Watch as "a well funded corporate front". GM firm Dow Chemicals is amongst its corporate donors, as is [Monsanto and] the US tobacco and food giant, Philip Morris. Needless to say, the CEI opposes restrictions on smoking just as vociferously as it does those on GM foods.
But AgBioWorld presents its campaigning as that of a group of disinterested scientists. Thus, as part of its attack on a Zambian Catholic group with concerns about GM food aid, AgBioWorld issued a report said to be authored by "a group of scholars". As well as Prakash and Conko, the "scholars" included Andrew Apel, the editor of a
biotech industry newsletter, who has called on the US to bomb Zambia with its GM grain if it continues to reject it. On a discussion list Apel wrote of the crisis, "I can almost picture the darkies laying down their lives for the vacuous ideals... their death throes, how picturesque, among the baobab trees and the lions!"
AgBioWorld also issued a press release calling on "activist organizations to formally endorse food aid shipments and to not repeat the mistakes of Orissa." The press release implied that thousands had died in the Indian state of Orissa as a result of resistance to GM contaminated food aid. Such claims are a fabrication, as Indian food and trade policy analyst, Devinder Sharma has pointed out. The deaths in Orissa were caused by a super-cyclone and were totally unconnected with the controversy over US food aid . (For more on AgBioWorld's PR work during the crisis in Southern Africa: http://ngin.tripod.com/161002b.htm)
The deceit and lies of the GM lobby serve only to distract attention from the urgent need to resolve the problems in Southern Africa and get some of the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of non-GM grain that's available to where it's most needed.
"The tragedy is that while these well monied types try to filibuster the democratic process in Zambia, people are starving. And there's safe food in the region which USAID will not buy, because it doesn't support U.S. business, and doesn't involve loans from the World Bank" - Dr. Raj Patel, author of Another Poisoned Chalice in Africa
If people do die because of the US/USAID stance, no one should be in any doubt as to how the GM lobby will try and exploit it. The AgBioWorld spin over "Orissa" makes that all too plain. As does Monsanto's spin of the AgBioworld attack on Catholic groups in Zambia which it headlined as, "Academics Say Africans Going Hungry Because of Activist Scare Tactics".
Similarly, EuropaBio's assessment of the food aid crisis as "the first issue that has the ability to destroy their (the critics) credibility", provides the rationale for the demand that the industry's critics "accept responsibility for the people that will die as a result of the refusal of GM aid". And the same unsavoury sense of anticipation seems present in AgBioWorld supporter, Andrew Apel's comments about "darkies laying down their lives" and "picturesque" death throes".
"There are 800 million hungry people in the world; 34,000 children starve to death every day. There are those who consider this a tragedy, and then there are the biotech companies and their countless PR firms, who seem to consider it a flawless hook for product branding... the companies who make [GM foods], and the flacks who hawk their falsehoods, offer us a new definition of depravity, a new standard to plunge for in our race to care least, want more, and divest ourselves of all shame." - Michael Manville - Welcome to the Spin Machine
20,000 dead from GM food aid refusal, claims corporate lobbyist
FOCUS ON AFRICA