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USDA Slams Anti-Biotech
Groups as "Irresponsible"

August 31, 2002,

Ag secretary says groups' anti-biotech food message hinders aid
By EMILY GERSEMA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON

Groups opposed to biotech foods in the United States are influencing
starving countries in southern Africa, leading them to refuse American aid
at the risk of letting millions of people die, Agriculture Secretary Ann
Veneman says.

In a statement Friday, Veneman called the organizations irresponsible and
accused them of creating a food scare in the midst of a hunger crisis.
"Our ability to deliver desperately needed food has been greatly hindered by
individuals and organizations that are opposed to biotechnology and who are
providing misguided statements about the U.S. food system," Veneman said.
Nearly 13 million people are facing famine in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique,
Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe because of drought and government
mismanagement, according to the United Nations.

The United States, the leading food contributor to African countries, wants
to deliver a half-million tons of food to avert the crisis, including
biotech corn.

But Zambia has rejected the offer, although 2.5 million of its citizens may
starve. Zimbabwe initially had declined thousands of tons of biotech corn
but later agreed to accept it.

Zambian agricultural leaders say they worry the biotech grains could spread
into fields and contaminate them, threatening its exports to countries that
restrict genetically modified foods.

Veneman didn't blame specific organizations for Zambia's decision, but her
deputy chief of staff, Kevin Herglotz, said it's no secret which
associations and governments have criticized using the technology in food
production.

Herglotz named Greenpeace as an example, saying such groups are "playing a
political game with food."

He said the U.S. biotech foods donated to ease the crisis appear on grocery
shelves all over the United States and research indicates it is safe to eat.
U.S. farmers have been growing such crops for several years, harvesting
grains and vegetables that have been modified to contain added nutrients, to
resist pests and have a longer shelf-life.

The Center for Food Safety, a Washington-based nonprofit group, said it has
been urging the U.S. government to study the effects of biotech foods before
approving their sale and defended its cautious approach to biotechnology.
"For our government to suggest that it is one group for raising this concern
is totally misplaced. ... It shows that they are just trying to arrogantly
push the technology," said Joseph Mendelson, the group's legal director.
The United Nations has tried to persuade the African governments to
reconsider their position on biotechnology.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, director of the United Nations' World Health
Organization said biotech foods appear safe and "governments of countries in
southern Africa must consider carefully the severe and immediate
consequences of limiting the food aid that is made available for the
millions of people desperately in need."

U.S. officials also have attempted to put Zambia's concerns to rest,
offering to set up a plant where scientists could study genetically modified
foods and inviting Zambian leaders to travel to the United States to review
the safety of its corn production.

An international guideline related to genetically modified food that is
contributed as aid hasn't been created, but the United Nations is trying to
develop one.

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