Feed the World: Bush Challenges European Ban on Genetically-Modified Foods

 

DATE: June 2, 2003

BACKGROUND: Citing Third World Humanitarian concerns, the Bush Administration has asked the World Trade Organization to break the European Union's five-year de facto moratorium on the importation of new genetically-modified food products, or GMOs.

In a speech at the coast Guard Academy May 22, President Bush said, "Our partners in Europe have blocked all new bio-crops because of unfounded, unscientific fears. This has caused many African nations from investing in biotechnology for fear that their products will be shut out of European markets. European governments should join, not hinder, the great cause of ending hunger in Africa."

Over a dozen nations, including South Africa, Argentina, Chile, Canada, Australia, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, New Zealand, Peru, Uruguay, Mexico and Egypt have expressed support of the U.S. request to the WTO.

The matter is significant to Third World nations that, on the one hand, are dependent upon Europe as a market for their crops, but on the other, have pressing food needs -- and at times famines -- that could be eased or alleviated by the importation or use of GMOs.

Some poor nations fear that if they use or import GMOs, even briefly, their agricultural exports could become ineligible for export into the EU.

Despite a humanitarian crisis affecting perhaps 3 million people, Zambia last year banned agricultural aid from the U.S., saying it would rather its people go hungry than have the nation lose its export markets in Europe.

Uganda has refused to grow a disease-resistant genetically modified banana out of fears it would lose its European market. Yet a disease spreading throughout the nation's banana plantations -- vital to Uganda's economy -- already has been a factor in cutting banana yields per acre to less than half their productivity 30 years ago. Some predict major banana varieties in Uganda will soon be all but extinct.

Despite extreme food shortages caused by the Mugabe government's confiscation of farmland owned by whites, Zimbabwe turned down 10,000 tons of American grain in June 2002 out of fears its crops would subsequently show traces of GMOs.

And, as National Review's Rich Lowry noted in a May 22 column, "Thailand has poured millions of dollars into research on biotech rice, but doesn't dare approve it, because that would end its small exports of rice to Europe. Egypt has had to shy away from genetically modified corn and sweet potatoes. China too has delayed approval of genetically modified crops."

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The European Union has had a de facto moratorium on importing genetically-modified food since October 1998 although its top scientists say the ban is unjustified. This has caused some poor nations to ban importation of GMOs, even as part of needed humanitarian aid packages, for fear the GMOs could comingle with other crops and render their exports ineligible for exportation to Europe. Well-fed Europeans thus essentially are forcing hungry Third Worlders to choose between food and trade.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Genetically-modified crops deemed safe by Europe's top scientists are nonetheless banned for importation by the European Union. Thus effectively forces Third World nations to choose between the benefits of GMOs and their access to European markets. As Hassan Adamu, the Nigerian Minister for Agricultural and Rural Development, wrote in a Washington Post commentary published September 11, 2000: "Millions of Africans - far too many of them children - are suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Agricultural biotechnology offers a way to stop the suffering... To deny desperate, hungry people the means to control their futures by presuming to know what is best for them is not only paternalistic but morally wrong."

DISCUSSION: The Hudson Institute's Alex Avery told Marc Morano of CNSNews.com that the European ban on GMOs is "technological apartheid. Europe is abundantly fed; it is a surplus producer and has the luxury of forgoing technologies that are highly promising and productive. Africa doesn't have that luxury. They have horrible infrastructure, they desperately need productivity enhancing technologies, including the basics like fertilizer and pesticides."

Avery also told CNSNews.com that money is a major factor in Europe's opposition to GMOs: "More than half of the EU's collective budget is gobbled up by farm subsidy costs so Europe has done all that it can to avoid productivity-enhancing technologies for cost savings."

U.S. farmers lose about $300 million per year because of the EU ban.

Genetically-modified foods offer the following benefits:

* Reducing starvation: Biotechnology can increase agricultural productivity in the developing world. The 1997 World Bank and Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research estimated that biotechnology could increase food production in the developing world by 25 percent.

* Reducing the harm of drought: Modifications can be made in plants to make them drought-resistant. Droughts are a common cause of crop failures leading to famine.

* Health: Bioengineering can reduce the amount of saturated fats in foods, and increase nutrients. According to U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and other sources, 500,000 children in developing nations go blind because of Vitamin A deficiency. 250 million children currently suffer from Vitamin A deficiency worldwide. This can cause learning disabilities and -- for girls -- childbearing problems in adulthood. Biotechnology can fortify rice, wheat and corn with extra Vitamin A to end this suffering. Biotechnology can also reduce allergens in foods. Presently, food allergies are the cause of 2,500 emergency room visits and 135 deaths annually in the U.S. One to three percent of older children and adults suffer from food allergies, as do five to eight percent of infants and toddlers.

* Environment: Biotechnology has already led to an 80 percent reduction in insecticide use in U.S. cotton crops and U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show a 30-40 percent reduction in herbicide use. Biotechnology can reduce the amount of water needed to grow foods and reduce soil erosion caused by agriculture.

* National economy: Dr. C.S. Prakash, professor in Plant Molecular Genetics and Director of the Center for Plant Biotechnology Research at Tuskegee University noted on April 22, 2003: "National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy found that biotechnology-derived plants-soybeans, corn, cotton, papaya, squash and canola-increased U.S. food production by four billion pounds, saved $1.2 billion in production costs, and decreased pesticide use by about 46 million pounds in 2001."

* Family economy: Bioengineered baked goods, fruits and vegetables can have a longer shelf life, reducing waste and spoilage.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Marc Morano, "Bush Urged to Battle 'Technological Apartheid' in Dispute Over Biotech Food," CNSNews.com, May 28, 2003, http://www.cnsnews.com/Culture/Archive/200305/CUL20030528b.html

"Bush: Africa Hostage to GM Fears," BBC News, May 22, 2003 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/3050855.stm

"Greenpeace Founder Supports Biotechnology," Press Release of AgBioWorld Foundation, March 6, 2001 at http://www.envirotruth.org/moore.cfm

"Scientists In Support Of Agricultural Biotechnology," international petition signed by 3,200 scientists in support of the use of agricultural biotechnology at http://www.agbioworld.org/declaration/declaration_index.html

"Africa Cries Out for Genetically-Modified Foods: African-American Leadership Network Joined by African Leaders in Call for Providing Africa With the Tools to Feed Its People," Project 21 Press Release, October 20, 2000, at http://www.project21.org/P21PRBiotech1000.html

John Meredith, "Bio-Foods Can Improve Nutrition in America, Cut Starvation and Disease in Africa," National Policy Analysis #298, June 2000, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA298.html

Michael Centrone, "Biotechnology: Putting an End to World Hunger," National Policy Analysis #289, June 2000, at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA289.html

"Scientists Urge European Union to End Biotech Food Ban, Competitive Enterprise Institute Press Release, May 12, 2003, at http://www.cei.org/gencon/003,03471.cfm

"Banana Risks Extinction," Kampala New Vision, January 22, 2003 at http://allafrica.com/stories/200301220386.html

Rich Lowry, "France to World: Eat Cake," King Features Syndicate, May 22, 2003, hhttp://www.townhall.com/columnists/richlowry/rl20030522.shtml

"Africa's Dilemma in Genetically Modified food War," Kampala Monitor, May 29, 2003 at http://allafrica.com/stories/200305290499.html

"U.S. Requests WTO Consultations with EU on Biotech Moratorium," Bridges International Trade Digest, May 14, 2003, at http://www.ictsd.org/weekly/03-05-14/story1.htm

 

by Amy Ridenour
President
The National Center for Public Policy Research

Contact the author at: 202-543-4110 x110 or aridenour@nationalcent[email protected]

The National Center for Public Policy Research
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