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Pacific Ecologist

Africa Responds To US Attack On Food Security

statement 4/9/2003 by Dr Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher

The United States' challenge to the European Union in the WTO courts over Genetically Modified Organisms primarily presents a threat to African and developing countries' food sovereignty and the Biosafety Protocol. We in African countries, who have fought long and hard for the agreement and ratification of the Biosafety Protocol, feel US actions are intended to send a strong, aggressive message to us: that should we choose to implement the Protocol and reject the import of GM foods, we may also face the possibility of a WTO challenge. We cannot help but perceive that US actions are a pre-emptive strike on the Biosafety Protocol and developing country interests.

The Protocol, due to come into effect on the 11th of September, coincides with the WTO's 5th Ministerial Meeting in Cancun, Mexico. At Cancun, the US/ EU GM debate is expected to be high on the agenda. Part of the US argument for forcing the EU to accept GM without any kind of labelling restrictions, is that the EU rejection creates hunger in the developing world. Supposedly, we would willingly grow GM crops if we weren't afraid of losing our lucrative European markets.

But this premise is untrue. The only African country to support the WTO challenge was Egypt, who soon retracted support on the grounds of consumer and environmental concerns. Developing countries, and African countries in particular, do not want to grow GM crops uncritically, without the due process of their regulatory systems approving them. They will not have their crops contaminated by GM crops, for many reasons other than market access to Europe. The one important consideration is safety to human health, domestic animals and the environment. This can only be assured, as provided by the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, only through informed risk assessments and decisions based on the Precautionary Principle.

Secondly, we reject the patenting of living things, as has been made clear by our negotiations in the WTO. Otherwise, Article 34 of TRIPs would, in combination with the natural processes of cross-pollination, not only contaminate our crops, but also turn our farmers into patent infringers. This would remove control of food production into the hands of multinational corporations, thereby wresting away food sovereignty into the hands of these companies. Besides paying royalties, we would lose food sovereignty.

Developing world agriculture systems are adapted to their geography, economy and culture. GM farming systems that require capital and chemicals threaten our agriculture and food security. Ethiopia is strongly against the hasty introduction of GM crops. As a centre of origin and diversity of crops, we recognise the assets that come from biologically diverse, locally adapted, small-scale agriculture. This is why African nations have fought so hard for the Biosafety Protocol, which can provide us with a legal basis on which to protect our own food sovereignty. We suspect that Africa is high on the agenda for the U.S. next push for GM acceptance. We resent the way the stereotyped image of the hungry in developing countries, has been used to force a style of agriculture that will only exacerbate problems of hunger and poverty.

The arguments that the EU must give up its right to label, or even reject GM, because of developing countries must stop. We have the right to implement the Biosafety Protocol, and we must do so without delay.

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