Southern Africa Threatened By American Genetic Plants And Food

By Finnigan wa Simbeye

The Perspective
Paris, France

June 18, 2002

ZIMBABWEAN government of President Robert Mugabe which is said to be struggling to provide food to almost half of its over 12 million population facing acute food shortage, recently amazed the world when an offer of 10,000 metric tonnes of relief maize from the United States was turned down.

Humanitarian organisations and the donor community long at loggerheads with Mugabe’s government over election results and his handling of a fast track land reform aimed at addressing colonial ownership imbalances, condemned him for turning down the US relief maize offer on grounds that Washington had not certified that the cereal consignment is free from genetically modified (GM) seeds.

While critics were chorusing the now usual anti-Mugabe rhetoric, Zimbabwe’s Farmers Union (ZFU) and Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) raised their voices in support of President Mugabe’s decision to turn down the American offer for fear of GM maize crop being introduced in the country indirectly and thus threatening the future of the entire agricultural industry.

The Zimbabwean government was demanding what many American pro-nature activists are lobbying the United States Congress to do, "legislate on compulsory labeling of GM foods in shops so that consumers should know exactly what they are buying."

Worldwide environmental activists mogul, Greenpeace International in the US has a special programme called ‘True Food Network’ which is campaigning against GM products because of their unknown health risks to human beings and effects on the ecosystem.

There are currently thousands of foods on our supermarket shelves with ingredients from soya, corn and canola and other engineered crops, without labeling notice. There is no evidence that these foods are safe for the environment or public health because the Food and Drug Administration does not require testing or labeling, Greenpeace US said in a statement.

Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) is said to have introduced a bill in American Congress seeking legislation for factories to mandatory label genetically engineered foods after overwhelming evidence that public opinion demands such action.

By denying starving Zimbabweans ‘food’ from the US, Mugabe’s government seems to be the most monstrous regime with no sense of affection, one may think, but the truth is that American companies today want to finally recolonise Africa through advanced technologies.

GM crops are a controversial subjects everywhere in the world today except in Africa where World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) senior officials can go, get red carpet reception by the majority poor who are suffering from harsh conditionalities of the Bretton Woods gods. In Africa, everything is home, all things are welcome.

In Europe, for example, GM crops have become so controversial that its compulsory for producers to label them before getting into supermarket shelves. The European Union (EU) commissioned a study on introduction of GM crops along side regular crops in the group’s agro-industry in 2000 and the report was released in May this year.

Researchers from Institute for Prospective Technological Studies of the EU Joint Research Centre, concluded that introduction of GM crops in the Union would increase farming costs, while organic farming of oil seed rape and intensive production of conventional maize would be threatened.

"The question is, if the introduction of GE (genetically engineered) crops on a commercial scale in Europe increases costs of production for all farmers, makes them more dependent on the big seed companies and require complicated and costly measures to avoid contamination, why should we accept GE cultivation in the first place?" Lorenzo Consoli, EU policy advisor for Greenpeace said soon after the report was submitted by researchers.

Consoli also revealed that the European Commission has tried to keep the study secret because it was afraid of its political implications.

American research companies, which are pushing hard for the acceptance of GM crops in the global market, are struggling to market a product and recover their monies but consumers are worry.

After failing to penetrate the well informed and competent developed world markets, the US companies have now turned to Africa, home to millions of people living in abject poverty, largely illiterate, hungry and happy to receive virtually anything called aid. At the helm of these unfortunate people’s daily lives are a rich, greedy and corrupt political elite.

An American company, Vector Tobacco Inc. pioneering a scientific breakthrough in nicotine-free genetically modified tobacco, has been allowed by authorities in Dar es Salaam to introduce the plant on trial in Kilimanjaro region in the north of the country.

"Well, what I can say right now is that we are growing this kind of tobacco in Tanzania on trials with full government authorisation and guidance," the company's spokeswoman was quoted as saying recently.

The Miami based American company first tried to introduce the crop in Argentina two year ago but authorities refused to give the company permission for fear that the GM species may contaminate regular tobacco plant through pollen transfer.

"At the time being, that's all that I can tell you. There is no more information I can provide," she said while pleading to remain anonymous.

Authorities in Dar es Salaam are said to have denied claims that GM nicotine-free tobacco has been introduced for trials in Kilimanjaro region as alleged by chairman of Tanzania Tobacco Cooperatives Apex (TTCA) Limited, Nassoro Magoto and general manager Julius Masongo last month and confirmed by Vector Tobacco Inc.

International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) chief executive Antonio Abrunhosa has warned that the move is disastrous to Tanzania's regular tobacco growers as well as the entire agricultural industry including neighbouring countries.

"For the time being we don’t want any GM tobacco because our customers don’t want it. Tanzania's decision also threatens neighbours", Abrunhosa said.

Authorities in Argentina are said to have rejected a request by Vector Tobacco Inc. two years ago to have the GM tobacco crop introduced in the country at a time when international campaign against cigarette smoking is at record high with governments being forced to adopt strict legislation against cigarette advertisements to reduce ‘underage’ smokers.

Vector Tobacco Inc. of Miami, Florida is due to launch the reduced carcinogen and nicotine-free cigarette called Quest during the third quarter of this year.

"As a nicotine-free cigarette that smokes and tastes just like a regular cigarette, Quest will be unlike any other product on the market. Quest will be priced as a premium cigarette and, we believe, offer adult smokers a new smoking alternative," Bennett LeBow, Vector Group Limited’s chief executive officer said in a statement while announcing the new brand last March.

But Tanzania is not alone because Kenya, which shares a common border with Dar es Salaam on its southern part, has already introduced some GM crops in its agro-industry and talk of having a regulatory mechanism is being touted now.

"We are particularly cautious that genetic modification can have negative impact and we are working on a policy to govern administration of this technology," Kenyan Minister of agriculture, Bonaya Godana, told an agri-business management training workshop recently. Kenya has already allowed GM sweet potatoes and bananas.

Many African countries, Tanzania and Kenya inclusive, are currently struggling against World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s Trade and Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on HIV/Aids anti-retroviral drugs which multinational companies want legal protection for patent rights of life prolonging drugs of the virus.

While a final decision on anti-retrovirals patent rights is yet to be made by WTO, African leaders are engaging their countries unfortunate people in what may become the most serious setbacks since colonialism. Now, this class of greedy corrupt politicians want African farmers to rely on American corporations directly to get seeds for planting every season and with patent rights, shareholders from these companies are going to decide the future of the continent as they will have the food to feed the hungry.

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