Third World Suffers from European Moratorium on Biotech Foods

June 3, 2003

The Bush Administration has asked the World Trade Organization to break the European Union's five-year de facto moratorium on the importation of new genetically-modified food products, or GMOs. Over a dozen nations support the U.S. request.

The matter is significant to Third World nations that depend on Europe as an export market for their crops, but have pressing food needs -- and at times famines. Some poor nations fear that if they use or import GMOs their agricultural products could become ineligible for export into the EU.

  • Despite a humanitarian crisis affecting perhaps 3 million people, Zambia last year banned agricultural aid from the United States.
  • Namibia recently decided not to import GM corn from South Africa, fearing it could accidentally become mixed with other corn and endanger Namibia's exports to Europe.
  • Uganda has refused to grow a disease-resistant GM banana out of fears it would lose its European market -- yet a disease spreading throughout the nation's banana plantations already has been a factor in cutting banana yields per acre to less than half their productivity 30 years ago.
  • Zimbabwe turned down 10,000 tons of American grain last year, fearing its crops would subsequently show traces of GMOs -- despite extreme food shortages caused by the Mugabe government's confiscation of farmland.

Yet biotechnology can increase agricultural productivity in the developing world, with humanitarian and economic benefits:

  • The 1997 World Bank and Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research estimated that biotechnology could increase food production in the developing world by 25 percent.
  • Among its environmental benefits, biotechnology has already led to an 80 percent reduction in insecticide use on U.S. cotton crops and U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show a 30-40 percent reduction in herbicide use.

Source: Amy Ridenour, "Feed the World: Bush Challenges EU Ban on Genetically-Modified Foods," Ten Second Response, June 2, 2003, National Center for Public Policy Research.

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