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Genetically Engineered Food Aid

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Canadian farmers have lost market opportunities as a result of growing genetically engineered (GE) corn. In Canada, GE corn makes up roughly 27 percent of corn production in Ontario and Quebec. Similarly in the United States, more than 20 percent of corn acreage is genetically engineered.

Canadian farmers have lost market opportunities as a result of growing genetically engineered (GE) corn. In Canada, GE corn makes up roughly 27 percent of corn production in Ontario and Quebec. Similarly in the United States, more than 20 percent of corn acreage is genetically engineered.

How did this scenario of lost revenue happen? GE corn can produce higher yields in some circumstances, but higher yields have increased corn supplies and have consequently lowered prices, so that corn producers have not seen the returns promised by industry. Meanwhile, gene-altered corn has caused traditional overseas corn markets to shrink. As a result, surplus GE corn may likely become part of US aid shipments. Indeed, this is what has happened.

American officials and USAid, the organization responsible for famine relief, have been blamed for using the African famine as an opportunity to dump GE corn as food aid. They are also accused of manipulating the United Nation system to deliver GE crops that could not be sold on the market. Greenpeace has accused the American government and the biotechnology industry for their manipulation of the aid system, namely the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), as a kind of subsidy for farmers growing GE crops. The WFP, which is the largest food aid provider, normally buys its supplies from North American grain growers, leading to the conclusion that American farmers are producing GE corn for the international food relief business. Evidently, the African famine justifies dumping GE crops and camouflaging it as charity. This has allowed the biotechnology myth to persist despite consumer resistance and market restrictions for GE crops.

This situation has highlighted the fact that many food relief agencies have no formal policies on GE food. The general rule is that food considered safe at the national level is also accepted on this basis. However, Canadians know that the safety of GE foods has not been thoroughly investigated and that governments tend to promote biotechnology products and their rapid commercialization.

An estimated 14 million people will risk starvation in the Southern region of Africa in the coming months. Consequently, the US, the largest WFP donor, has offered GE corn as part of its food aid program. Critics argue that the US should have provided money as did other donor countries so that the WFP could have purchased large stocks of non-GE corn instead. In response, WFP officials contended that GE food is better than no food at all.

Not all countries agreed. While famine-stricken Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland were forced to accept the gene-altered corn, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia resisted it for fear that farmers would plant GE grain seed and contaminate organically fed livestock destined for the European market. It's true that the introduction of GE seed threatens the economic viability of African agriculture should GE contamination occur.

Others fear that modified seed technology might become established in Africa as a result of people consuming the GE corn sent for famine relief. African countries like Zambia have demanded that GE corn be milled before they will accept it. This prevents possible planting of seed corn by local farmers.

International agreements relating to the cross-boundary movement of GE crops have strongly reflected Africa's desire to be informed about importing GE foods into its countries. The United Nation WPF's distribution of GE corn as food aid has so far ignored this point.

One way to prevent this is to put pressure on our relief and development agencies to ensure that they will not ship GE products as aid until clear international rules are established. Visit wfp.org and lodge your protest. Global consumer rejection of GE foods should be a clear signal to producers not to grow modified crops for the domestic and international markets.

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