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USAID and GM Food Aid - October 2002

2. USA's general aid position
Since February 2002, the United States has delivered or pledged approximately 500,000 metric tons of emergency food assistance, valued at $266 million, to the southern Africa region. This represents half of the humanitarian food requirements through December. USAID has become increasingly frustrated over countries not taking GM contaminated aid - a US official was quoted as saying, "beggars can't be choosers." 6 USAID clearly states, however, that among other things its role is to "integrate GM into local food systems" and "spread agricultural technology through regions of Africa." 7 US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Johannesburg, "In the face of famine, several governments in southern Africa have prevented critical US food assistance from being distributed to the hungry by rejecting GM corn which has been eaten safely around the world since 1995." 8

Part of the US strategy to respond to the situation in Africa has been to utilise the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, established as an emergency reserve to allow the US to respond to unanticipated food crises. This will allow the US to release up to 300,000 tonnes of wheat controlled by the Trust, but on the specific proviso that "the wheat will be sold in exchange for an equivalent value of US commodities that are more typically consumed by the poor in southern Africa. These commodities will be shipped as emergency food." 9 This translates to 190,000 tonnes of US GM-contaminated commodities, including maize and soybean oil, valued at $86 million. 10

The system means that US farmers are being paid twice at heavily subsidised prices for their products - firstly the wheat growers who sell to the Trust, then the soya and maize farmers, whom the Trust buys from with the money generated from the sale of the wheat stocks. This upshot of this system is to create a "propped-up" price for US farm products. It is no coincidence that markets for US maize and soyabean exports have evaporated due to concerns over GM contamination. Since the introduction of GM soya in the US, the volume of US soyabean exports to Europe has dropped from 8.3 million tonnes in 1996 to 6.4 million tonnes in 2000. 11 Since the introduction of GM maize in the US, the value of US maize exports to the EU dropped from US$305 million in 1996 to $2 million in 2001. 12

Interestingly, the US government has introduced a law that limits the use of commodities in food aid. According to Public Law 480, "commodities will not be made available unless…the distribution will not interfere with domestic production or marketing." 10 Does the introduction of unregulated GM varieties into Africa constitute interference with domestic production and marketing?

African states may be more willing to take GM aid if it came in milled form rather than seeds, because they are concerned some of those seeds will be planted and thus threaten the integrity of their seed stock. But USAID says that providing milled GM maize is not an option. They claim, "the UN said that governments can consider milling or heat treatments for corn processing to avoid the inadvertent introduction of a genetically modified seed; however, it is not a UN policy that this type of GM grain should necessarily require this processing." In addition, WFP, the world's largest supplier of food aid, has said that milling will be too expensive. 8

  1. Starved for food, Zimbabwe rejects US biotech corn, Washington Post. 31st July 2002¬Found=true
  2. USAID Announces International Biotech collaboration. US Department of State, June 2002
  3. Milling a temporary solution to Africa GM debate. PlanetArk, September 2002
  4. United States taps Emerson Fund for humanitarian food relief. USAID, 29th August 2002
  5. US food aid programs description: Public Law 480, Food for Progress and Section 416 (b). US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service, 2001
  6. US trade exports - FATUS commodity aggregations. United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service
  7. EEC special trade since 1988. European Statistical Office
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