US may press Africa on GMOs

Original Publication Date: 
7 February, 2006

LUSAKA (Reuters) - The U.S. may push Africa to accept gene-altered (GMO) food now that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has ruled the EU broke rules by barring GMO foods and seeds, but Africans vowed on Wednesday to resist.

"We do not want GM (genetically modified) foods and our hope is that all of us can continue to produce non-GM foods," Zambian Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana told Reuters in Lusaka.

"The decision by the WTO does nothing to change our stand in this matter."

The WTO ruled on Tuesday that the European Union and six member states had broken trade rules by barring entry to genetically modified crops and foods.

A U.S. trade official confirmed findings of the preliminary ruling, contained in a confidential report sent only to the parties. The closely watched verdict addressed a complaint brought against the EU by leading GMO producers the United States, Argentina and Canada.

The European Union's opponents asserted that the moratorium, which Brussels argued was never official, hurt their exports and was not based on science.

Manufacturers of the biotech seeds, designed to increase yields and resist pests better than normal seeds, maintain they are safe for human consumption.

European consumers, fearing the effects of "Frankenstein foods" have resisted them. Even African countries facing food shortages, such as Zambia, have refused to accept gene-altered food donations, arguing their safety had not been ascertained.

Those countries that take in GMO-food demand stringent certifications and milling before it arrives on their borders.

Regional heavyweight South Africa is one of the few countries on the continent to embrace the controversial technology.

SIGNAL TO REST OF THE WORLD

Campaigners and analysts saw the U.S. using the World Trade Organization ruling to press Africans to accept GMO food imports on the basis that Europe, which has usually backed the obstinate African position, will itself have to take them.

"Politically, I think it is very clear that the U.S. will try and use this case to force GMOs into African markets. American industry is already saying that the result is a signal to the rest of the world," Daniel Mittler, trade adviser at Greenpeace International, told Reuters by telephone.

"They are implying that while the EU may be able to resist an outlawing of national bans on GMOs, developing countries will not and will have to open their markets," Mittler said.

Africans argue that better technology to increase irrigation, more widespread use of fertilizers and pesticides, and improved monitoring of market trends will help deliver improved harvests and defeat hunger.

"It is obvious to everyone that the U.S. will interpret the WTO ruling as a message to Africans that it is now time to eat GMOs and stop the noise-making ... after all, the EU has been put on a leash in the matter," said an agriculture consultant in Malawi, one of the countries that often require food aid.

But Zambian minister Sikatana said there was no looking back: "We made a decision based on facts and those facts have not changed. We hope no one in Africa feels they have to change their views based on that ruling, it will not do."

-- Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg