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Africans Worried US To Force Unlabeled GE Foods on Them

Africans Worried US To Force Unlabeled
GE Foods on Them

Inter Press Service
September 21, 2001

DEVELOPMENT-AFRICA: U.S./EU DISPUTE OVER GMO WORRIES CONSUMERS
By Lewis Machipisa
Harare, Zimbabwe

Fearing for their food security, African consumer groups are closely
watching the impending trade dispute between the United States and European
Union over the mandatory labelling of genetically modified organisms (GMO).
The groups fear that without proper labelling, consumers may end up
importing and eating GM products unknowingly.

"Consumers have rights, in particular, to know what they are eating, and
that it is safe, to choose what they want to grow and eat, to be heard, and
to redress," says Amaodu Kanoute, Consumers International director for
Africa.

Those opposed to GM technology say they fear the long-term effects on
consumers. The United States is urging the European Union to scrap
its biotech food rules on labelling GM food and products, according to media
reports. Washington is planning, the reports say, to "file a case with the
World Trade Organization (WTO) as soon as possible" over the EU decision.
The United States is concerned that once the labelling of GM products
becomes mandatory the "EU biotech guidelines could become a model for
developing countries and significantly limit the reach of the technology."
Regulations by the EU "could cost U.S. companies $ 4 billion a year and
disrupt efforts to launch a new round of global trade talks," according to
media reports.

The Consumers International regional office for Africa, which represents 120
consumer organizations in 45 African countries, has come out in full support
of the EU's position.

"We would like an assurance that our rights are respected and to this end we
would like to support the EU's legislation, in particular, its position on
precautionary principle and mandatory labelling of all GMOs or their
processes," says Kanoute.

"These are the real concerns which the United States should address, rather
than trying to use international institutions to force consumers to accept
their products," says Kanoute.

Consumers International says it endorses and calls for measures "to ensure
that genetically modified food and animal feed are safe. And that all
products be subject to a mandatory pre-market examination by the appropriate
regulatory authorities and approved for sale only after they are found to
meet the standard of presenting a reasonable certainty of no harm."
As a safety measure, the Zimbabwean government last week banned the
importation of genetically modified organisms or products without the
approval of the Bio-safety Board of Zimbabwe.

"It must be pointed out that most countries producing GM crops and products
are not labelling them. This highlights the need for importers and
transporters to seek the advice of the board before deciding to import,"
said the Research Council of Zimbabwe.

With Zimbabwe planning to import more than 600,000 tons of staple maize and
wheat in the near future, there are fears that some of the food could come
from South Africa, which will begin harvesting GM maize at the end of the
year.

"If we allow these modified products to enter our country without proper
monitoring, they could adversely affect our markets," said the Research
Council of Zimbabwe.

While biotechnology is being touted as the future of farming and food
security in the developing world, the technology still remains firmly in the
hands of a few multinationals who are out to dominate the market.
In 1998, 100 percent of genetically modified seed came from just three
companies. Monsanto is by far the largest, with between 85 percent and 90
percent of the market, followed by Zeneca and Du Point/Pioneer.
Consumers in Africa need assurance on the ability of genetically modified
foods to solve the food security problem in the region.

"Our concern arises from the fact that the first crops produced by the
industry were mainly cash crops for export such as cotton and soya beans;
not necessarily crops to ensure self- sufficiency in the region," says
Kanoute.

"Early priority research was on terminator-style technology, which produces
sterile seeds, or which are dependent on patented chemicals to grow. There
are serious doubts now about whether the technology will address the problem
of food security," he says.

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