Third world suffers from European moratorium on biotech foods

The U.S. government has asked the World Trade Organisation to break the European Union's five-year de facto moratorium on the importation of new genetically modified food products, or GMOs. Over a dozen nations support the U.S. request.

The matter is significant to Third World countries that depend on Europe as an export market for their crops, but have pressing food needs – and at times famines. Some poor nations fear that if they use or import GMOs their agricultural products 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 United States.

  • Namibia recently decided not to import GM maize from South Africa, fearing it could accidentally become mixed with other maize and endanger Namibia's exports to Europe.

  • Uganda has refused to grow a disease-resistant GM banana out of fears it would lose its European market – yet a disease spreading throughout the country’s banana plantations already has been a factor in cutting banana yields per acre to less than half their productivity 30 years ago.

  • Zimbabwe turned down 10,000 tons of American grain last year, fearing its crops would subsequently show traces of GMOs – despite extreme food shortages caused by the Mugabe government's confiscation of farmland.

    Yet biotechnology can increase agricultural productivity in the developing world, with humanitarian and economic benefits:

  • In 1997 the World Bank and Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research estimated that biotechnology could increase food production in the developing world by 25 percent.

  • Among its environmental benefits, biotechnology has already led to an 80 percent reduction in insecticide use on U.S. cotton crops and U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show a 30-40 percent reduction in herbicide use.

    Source: Amy Ridenour, Feed the World: Bush Challenges EU Ban on Genetically-Modified Foods, Ten Second Response, June 2, 2003, National Center for Public Policy Research.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/10 June 2003

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