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Guatemalans Slam UN for
Sending GE Corn as Food Aid

U.N. slammed for distributing GM corn in Guatemala
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
By Greg Brosnan, Reuters

GUATEMALA CITY - Guatemalan environmental activists slammed the United
Nations Tuesday for distributing genetically engineered corn to drought-hit
peasants in the Central American nation through its World Food Program
(WFP).

Environmental group Madre Selva said U.S. laboratory tests on a sack of
UN-distributed corn it acquired in eastern Guatemala detected genetically
modified varieties, which some scientists fear could be unsafe for human
consumption.

Genetic ID, the Iowa laboratory that performed the tests, confirmed to
Reuters the sample contained three products engineered by U.S. companies but
banned from use in the European Community, where opposition to so-called
''Frankenfoods'' is strongest.

Genetic ID Chief Executive Officer John Fagan said two were made to resist
herbicides made by the same companies which could then be sprayed over
fields without fear of damaging the crop, while the third contained a
pesticide that killed certain bugs. "They are completely unacceptable in the
European Community," said Fagan. His laboratory mostly tests U.S.-grown
crops to see if they are GM-free and therefore suitable for export to
countries that ban the products.

No legislation against GM foods exists in Guatemala, and some scientists say
genetic manipulation can ease hunger by producing new, more resistant
varieties of crops with greater yields.

But critics warn GM products can contaminate nearby fields through
cross-pollination and claim no one yet understands the possible long-term
health risks from eating GM foods. "We have the sack of corn sitting in our
office with the U.N. logo on it," said Madre Selva spokesman Jose Manuel
Chacon. "They are using Central America as a guinea pig."

Lola Castro, acting head of the WFP in Guatemala, said the agency only
distributed food also considered apt for human consumption in the countries
that donated it but had no way of checking supplies for traces of GM crops.
"We have a lot of people to feed," she said, adding that the WFP had bought
the tested sample from local suppliers but that the genetically modified
corn had most likely previously been purchased from the United States.
The corn tested was destined only for human consumption, but Madre Selva
said there was a danger it could end up growing in Guatemalan fields and
pushing out local varieties.

Alex Gonzalez, the Guatemalan agriculture ministry official responsible for
food security, said that while there was no proof the corn was not fit for
human consumption, Madre Selva was "dead right" to worry about the possible
consequences of growing it in the country. He said the government would
further discuss the issue at a grains conference in Guatemala City later
month.


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