Aug 13, 2009

Now, Egypt says no to trade in GM foods

There is good news on the GM front. Finally, Egypt has shown the door to controversial GM foods. And if you recall some years back some African countries had refused to buckle under the US pressure to import GM corn despite the fake threat of an impending famine. The World Food Programme had collaborated with the USAID to exert pressure on these poor countries.

That was in 2002. And after six long years, Egypt has shown the political courage to say no GM food imports and exports.

To take you back to the issue, let me print the relevant portion from my article Famine as Commerce (Aug 2002 http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/twe286f.htm):

But what is arguably one of the most blatantly anti-humanitarian act, seen as morally repugnant, is the decision of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to offer US $50 million in food aid to famine-stricken Zimbabwe provided that it is used to purchase genetically modified maize. Food aid therefore is no longer an instrument of foreign policy. It has now become a major commercial activity, even if it means exploiting the famine victims and starving millions.


That is the official line at the USAID about the corn it has offered to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi, where an estimated 13 million people face severe hunger and possibly live under the spectre of an impending famine after two years of drought and floods.


For the genetically modified food industry, reeling under a growing rejection of its untested and harmful food products, there is money in hunger, starvation and death. Spearheaded by USAID, the industry has made it abundantly clear that it has only genetically modified maize to offer and was not willing to segregate. The WFP, which over the past few decades has for all practical purposes become an extension of USAID, was quick to put its rubber stamp. It had earlier helped the United States to reduce its grain surpluses by taking the genetically modified food for a mid-day meal programme for school children in Africa.


President Mogabe may not be able to hold for long. He had earlier told Zimbabwe's Parliament on July 23: "We fight the present drought with our eyes clearly set on the future of the agricultural sector, which is the mainstay of our economy. We dare not endanger its future through misplaced decisions based on acts of either desperation or expediency." But then, the biotechnology industry is using all its financial power to break down the African resistance. Once the GM food is accepted as humanitarian aid, it will be politically difficult for the African governments to oppose the corporate take-over of Africa's agricultural economy. For the industry, Africa provides a huge market.


Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa too has said that his people would rather die than eat toxic food. While Malawi says it has no choice but to accept GM maize, newspaper reports cite Mozambique, from where Malawi's food aid has to pass through, asking the WFP to cover it with plastic sheeting to avoid spillage while in transit.


Malawi incidentally is faced with famine after it was forced to sell maize to earn dollars for debt servicing. Explains Ann Pettifor of the New Economics Foundation: Just three months before the food crisis hit, Malawi was encouraged by the World Bank "to keep foreign exchange instead of storing grain" Why? Because foreign exchange is needed to repay debts. Creditors will not accept debt repayments in Malawian Kwachas. Or indeed in bags of maize. Only "greenbacks" or other hard currencies will do.


One of Malawi's key commercial creditors needed to have their debt repaid, according to Malawi's president, who in a BBC interview said the government "had been forced (to sell maize) in order to repay commercial loans taken out to buy surplus maize in previous years". President Muluzi said the IMF and the World Bank "insisted that, since Malawi had a surplus and the (government's) National Food Reserve Agency had this huge loan, they had to sell the maize to repay the commercial banks." So Malawi duly sold 28,000 tonnes of maize to Kenya. Under pressure from her creditors, led by the World Bank and the IMF, Malawi exchanged maize -- her people's staple diet -- for dollars.


And now, it is getting another loan to purchase genetically modified from the United States. Sure the USAID has been working overtime to create a market for its genetically modified food industry!

I am not sure how long will Egypt be able to hold on to this ban. But still it is a very significant development. It isn't easy to stand up to the US (read biotech companies) pressure. Take the example of Poland. Julian Rose says: Now, working in Poland with Jadwiga Lopata (The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside) we are preoccupied with attempting to keep GM crops off the thousands of richly biodiverse small peasant farms that still cling on to survival in this Country. We managed - between 2004 and 2006 to get every Province (there are 16) to make a 'GMO Free' self declaration and then purswaded them to write to the government demanding national legislation banning GM seeds and crops.

To our great surprise the government responded by banning all GM seeds and plants in 2006. But such is the fickleness of politics that the next government decided to reverse this situation - and is now trying to satisfy the dictats of Brussles (the EU) which says that it is illegal to ban GM seeds and plants that have been approved by them.

India is another country which is buckling under the biotech pressure. But in India, it is not only the political pressure that works. Public-Private partnership in agricultural research also plays an equally important role. Agricultural scientists have mortagged the public interest for the sake of their own livelihoods.

EGYPT BANS TRADE IN GM FOOD

AFP, via France 24, 12 August 2009:
http://www.france24.com/en/20090812-egypt-bans-trade-gm-food

Egypt is banning food imports and exports that are not certified free of genetically modified products, state news agency MENA reported on Wednesday.

Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza "gave instructions... against the entry of any imports, especially wheat, corn and soya beans until samples of the cargo have been examined...in the absence of a certificate," it added.

The agency gave no further details.

Egypt is the most populous Arab country and one of the world's largest wheat importers.

GM crops are widely grown in North America, South America and China. Egypt approved the cultivation of genetically modified corn last year.

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