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• 04•09•2002 •

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24 Aug - 4 Sept 2002

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US using WSSD to force GMOs on the world?

Patrick Mulvany, ITDG

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26 August 2002


The US is using the dire humanitarian disaster in southern Africa as a way of forcing GMOs and Genetic Engineering on the world. It sees the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) as its platform to get moral approval of biotechnology, backed by three US-inspired pro-biotechnology reports. On Friday the US launched a trade war against the EU over its refusal to accept GM foods and seeds. The solutions lie elsewhere, as identified in ITDG's background paper "Preserving the Web of Life", released today in Johannesburg



The US may use the dire humanitarian disaster in southern Africa as a way of forcing GMOs and Genetic Engineering on the world. It sees the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) as its platform to get moral approval of biotechnology, backed by Press Releases on three reports from the World Trade Organisation / World Health Organisation, World Food Programme and UN Economic Commission for Africa, released in the past few days. The PR spin for each says they promote GMOs, but detailed reading would suggest greater caution.

The USA has hundreds of thousands of tonnes of GM crops stockpiled for lack of markets that even at grossly subsidised prices they seem unable shift. Food Aid is a desirable option for them and the famine in southern Africa provides the opportunity. They are also keen to ensure that the genetic engineering technologies used to create GM crops, for which their corporations hold most of the patents, become dominant in world agriculture. The poor performance of African agriculture, for many structural, economic and political reasons, is seized on as a reason to promote biotechnology.

Despite huge pressures, on Thursday the European Union (EU) rejected calls from Washington for it to reassure African countries that genetically modified (GM) food aid from the United States is safe, saying that they would not get drawn into this discussion between some of the countries of southern Africa and the U.S..

On Sunday it was reported in the UK newspaper The Independent that the US was considering launching a trade war against the EU over its refusal to accept GM foods and seeds: It said that US trade representative, Robert Zoellick, would be puttting in a complaint to the World Trade Organisation claiming that the EU moratorium on GM imports is a restraint of trade.

This is a state-sponsored public relations and opinion forming onslaught on behalf of biotech transnational biotechnology corporations.

As an organisation working closely with smallholder farmers in southern and East Africa, ITDG welcomes the European Union's continued efforts to keep Europe GM free. This resistance to the use of GMOs in food and farming should not be interpreted, however, as in any way furthering the crisis in the southern Africa, nor as a rejection of the overwhelming needs of the 14 million people in the region who are on the brink of starvation.

The answer is not GM Food Aid nor biotechnology. Dr Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), said at the World Food Summit: five years later in June that "The position of FAO is that in the short-term, biotechnology is not the priority to achieve the goals of the World Food Summit for 2015 [to have the number of undernourished people in the world]." Indeed, FAO at the WSSD is promoting ecological approaches to agriculture as the sustainable option.

The solutions lie elsewhere, as identified in ITDG's background paper "Preserving the Web of Life", released today in Johannesburg (copies available at the People's Earth Summit in St Stithians and on the Internet at
< >).

If Governments at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg could agree to three actions, it would go some way to reversing the economic decline in the Region, provide lasting solutions to food shortages and set African agriculture back on the right track:

  • Food aid can and should be provided as requested by recipient governments from non GM crops. There are substantial supplies that the World Food Programme and food aid donors could make full use of non-GM supplies that are acceptable, at a price. For example, Kenya and Tanzania have offered white maize to Zambia and GM-free maize could even be sourced in South Africa, thereby stimulating regional production and trade. Further afield, lower cost Indian supplies could be tapped - encouraging production in the South rather than the subsidised North.
  • Increased support to local sustainable agricultural production using agroecological methods, which maximise the use of agricultural biodiversity and are known to provide reliable sources of food, should be endorsed as part of the WSSD's implementation of Chapter 14 of the Rio Agenda 21, the Convention of Biological Diversity and the Summit's Plan of Implementation (see;
  • Publicly-funded national and international agricultural research should be increased and should redirect its efforts from mimicking the work of the biotechnology companies to finding sustainable, proven and productive agroecological solutions can serve the needs of poor farmers and improve the environment.


In June, the World Food Summit: five years later was used by the US to promote biotechnology. We predicted then that they would attempt the same in South Africa using Food Aid needs as the moral hammer with which to batter its opponents (see

Governments should not allow a similar hijack of the Earth Summit by US and biotechnology company pressures.


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G77: Don't Sell Out Our Small Farmers and Fishermen

By The Philippine Civil Society Counterpart Council for Sustainable Development

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The battle to end environmentally harmful and trade-distorting subsidies continues. At stake is the provision in various drafts of Chapter IX (Means of Implementation) which reads "Reduce or eliminate, as appropriate environmentally harmful and/or trade-distorting subsidies that inhibit sustainable consumption and production patterns in developed countries". On the one hand are the developed countries ganging up for its deletion, on the other is the G77 pushing for its retention. The most recent discussion on this provision also calls for developing countries to end such subsidies.

The most recent wording raises two issues. The first is its retention or deletion, and the second is the removal of the distinction between developed and developing countries. On the first issue, retention is beneficial to the South, as subsidies stifle their export producers' access to international markets. Moreover, some of the heavily subsidised Northern industries, e.g., the fishing industry, has depleted fish stocks of the South, often in breach of agreements, to the detriment of small fishermen in the South.

The second issue recognizes that the matter of subsidies is not purely divided along North-South lines. In general, it is. But it is also a national issue for some G77 countries who can afford to dole out subsidies to relatively large, export-oriented farmers or fishermen who may happen to be politicians or top government officials. Or they may be corporations lobbying hard for continued subsidies even in hard-up developing countries. Subsidy schemes benefitting small-scale farmers and fishermen may be justifiable, but are certainly rare.

The fear is that the G77 is willing to use its position as a trading horse once it is crunch time, accepting subsidies in exchange for some provisions on governance from the North. Another leverage to push developing countries into agreeing to wholesale deletion of the entire provision is the removal of the distinction between North and South, as suggested in alternative versions of the provision.

We call on G77 to look beyond the welfare of special-interest groups, and champion the small farmers, who constitute the majority of their constituents. Your unyielding support for the retention of this provision in the Implementation Plan would send an important signal with positive social and environmental impacts, not only in the South, but also in the North.

We call on Southern NGOs to immediately put pressure on their respective country delegations not to compromise on this issue whatsoever. Finally, we also call on developed countries to play fair by removing perverse subsidies. Instead, they should channel these funds to assist developing countries to attain sustainable development in line with what they promised in Rio.

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