NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Amid Famine, Africans Reject GM Corn

August 23, 2002

The U.N. World Food Program estimates that some 13 million people in 6 countries will need 1.2 million tons of food aid until March 2003 to avoid famine. But Zimbabwe and Zambia have refused aid shipments of corn from the U.S. -- because it may contain some genetically-modified kernels.

Analysts and critics say greens and some European anti-GM activists are to blame for Africa's anti-GM squeamishness. Further, if Africans die of starvation amid offers of plenty, the blame should be laid at the Europeans' doorsteps.

  • Farmers in the U.S. have been planting -- and Americans have been consuming -- genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton since 1995.
  • Regulatory authorities in the EU and Japan have also approved such GM crops -- with EU commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs David Byrne repeatedly stating there is no scientific evidence of added risk to human health and the environment from any GM products approved for the market.
  • But greens and GM critics say this absence of expected or known risks is no longer a sufficient regulatory standard -- and touting the "precautionary principle" want powerful new technologies kept under wraps until tested for unexpected or unknown risks as well.
  • Meanwhile, the productivity of African agriculture has actually declined by 9 percent over the past two decades, and while European consumers can afford to boycott GM foods if they wish, for millions of Africans the alternative to GM foods is famine.

Outside of South Africa, no GM crops are yet being planted commercially anywhere on the continent.

The EU has not been importing any U.S. corn since 1998, fearing U.S. shipments can contain some GM varieties not yet approved in Europe. African governments now worry that any illicit planting of U.S. corn could jeopardize exports to Europe.

Source: Robert L. Paarlberg (Harvard University), "African Famine, Made in Europe," Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2002.


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