THE DEBATE OVER FOOD AID AND GMOS IN LATIN AMERICA
Elizabeth Bravo V. Acción Ecológica
As long as the production of Genetically Modified Foods continues in the world, an open market will be provided through U.S. Food Aid programs addressed to the world,s most impoverished countries; and as long as the consumers of the world,s financially richest countries as the European, East Asian, and also to some extent in the United States, focus their campaigns only in assuring their food and their animals‚ balanced food does not come from genetically modified sources, and the GMO problem is not viewed as a global issue, the Andean Region, Central America, the South Saharan African Nations and the occupied countries as Iraq and Afghanistan will be forced to receive these foods and include them in programs addressed to their countries‚ most vulnerable populations.
If we perform a geopolitical analysis of Food Aid with Genetically Modified Foods we see Latin America playing an important role.
For the time being, in three Latin-American countries the world‚s highest percentage of Soybean is produced. These are Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Bolivia is also an important producer. This fact obeys to the strategy of bio-tech corporations to turn the South Cone into the “Soybean Republic”, where their Genetically Modified Seeds can be sold. In this geopolitical scenario, President Lula da Silva played a key role: by legalizing the year 2003 and 2004 GE harvests. The Brazilian downfall in the GMO market also meant the Paraguayan and Bolivian decline, since their markets being tied up to the Brazilian.
With this event, the world‚s main Soybean sources are Genetically Modified. On one hand, this favours the United States Soybean producer, no longer having to face competition with the conventional Brazilian Soybean in a GMO rejecting market. But a Soybean surplus is created in the world market. Conflicts thus arise among U.S. Soybean producers selling it as a commodity, with the seed companies interested in selling to their competitors. This explains the growing subsidies U.S. Soybean producers receive. Food Aid is part of these subsidies.
This turns out to be ironic, because as long as the WTO and other Free Trade Treaties force us to unprotect our local production, these very institutions force us to accept subsidized foods, as aids or at under production costs prices. In the bilateral Free Trade Agreements that the U.S. has signed with some countries, specially in Latin America, a clause is included by which these countries must accept Food Aid from the United States.
FAO and other UN agencies are also at the service of Free Trade and big Trans National Corporations (TNC), including the World Food Program (PMA) is highlighted.
The Andean region has become of strategic importance for the U.S. Foreign Policy. A motivation is to gain access to Venezuelan rich oil deposits. Part of this strategy is what is known as Plan Colombia. In this geopolitical game, Ecuador becomes a key piece. In 2000, Ecuador received an important U.S. Food Aid aid; even it was not a year climate crises were faced, as in 1998. When the Ministry of State came to deliver such “aid”, she also signed the agreement by which a U.S. military base would be established in Ecuador. The United State‚s attention refocused on Ecuador on year 2004. This being the only South American country included in the Food for Progress Program in year 2004, with no particularly adverse climatic conditions or food shortage.
It has been frequently stated that Food Aid benefits the commercial balance of the receiving countries, because the country reduce their imports. Nevertheless, the aid foods are changing the national productive structure towards new structures of consumption, based on imported raw materials (Prudencio and Velasco, 1987). New feeding patters are also adopted. Aid foods are mostly processed foods, and the national industry‚s processing capability in several aid-receiving countries is based on imported raw materials, therefore the national consumption is being oriented to products with high quantities of imported raw materials. (Ramos, 2002).
Food Aid programs is complement with others promoted by the Foreign Market Development Program. Among the FMD goals, is to support foreign partners to improving their capacity of processing U.S. products, in order to identify new markets. This year, the first beneficiary will be the American Association of Soybean Producers, which will receive a fund of over $ 7 million only in this program. The need for Soybean is first created through the Food Aid Programs, then local processors are taught to process it. A new market has been opened.
FOOD AID AND GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS
The Agriculture Department of the United States is exporting thousands of tons of Genetically Modified Corn and Soybean to the Third World, through Food Aid programs, transferring the risk that U.S. producers face due to consumer’s rejection to GE food, to the planet‚s poorest population.
For example, while in Europe and in the United States, awareness and fear increase of the risks of the recombinant growth hormone in milk, the United States has started the Dairy Export Incentive Program (2002-2007), which aims the market expansion, and to turn milk producers competitive in the world market. Between the months of June 2003 and June 2004, the USAID distributed as Food Aid:
22,733 Metric Tons of Powdered Milk
7,032 Metric Tons of Butter
1,010 Metric Tons of Cheese.
In 2003 USAID shipped a total of:
$ 14.8 Million US Dollars in Milk
$ 15 Million US Dollars of Butter
$ 1.5 Million US Dollars of Cheese.
The Dairy product receiving countries of Latin America and the Caribbean were Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, and Trinidad &Tobago.
In Latin America, Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. are becoming very important. Signatory countries will have to follow the U.S. policy in international trade of GMO‚s, for seeds and foods and other products derived from Genetically Modified Organisms. Food Aid is no exception. In Treaties signed with CAFTA (Central America countries?) are forced to accept foods as Food Aid. It is possible similar clauses exist in Treaties under present negotiation with three Andean nations.
The World Food Program produced in February of this year some operational guides for biotech derived foods. The guides‚ forewords acknowledge that WFP makes aids according to international standards and regulations. Additionally, WFP only donates foods that have been approved by the origin as well as by the receiving countries as safe for human consumption.
Guides add that FAO, WHO and the WFP have no scientific prove that Genetically Modified Foods produce negative impacts on human health, and accordingly, will continue to accept donations of GM Foods. But if the donor country does not desire the aid funding to be used for the purchase of GM Foods, the WFP will follow this requirement.
WFP states that countries receiving food aid are entitled to regulate the imports and transboundery movements of GMO‚s, but somehow limits the foods subject to regulation to unprocessed grains, as Corn or Soybean; and adds that grinded Corn or Soybean are not considered as Modified Live Organisms, and therefore are not under the Cartagena Protocol for Biosafety. The same applies to milk. It is also pointed out that the majority of Food Aid receiving countries is in the first stages of the Protocol‚s implementation. Is this a way to suggest that such countries cannot regulate their imports?
WFP must be informed when regulatory changes occur, so it can discuss with the receiving country on the possible impacts on the food deliveries, generated by a change in its policies. This may act as a pressure mechanism to discourage countries from taking a decision limiting OGM imports.
The WFP said that aid is delivered in full compliance of the country‚s regulations, even though this has not been its practice in some countries like Ecuador, where the WFP pressured the country to accept GM Foods, ignoring a Constitutional article that legally locks out OGM imports, including food aid.
In order to comply with the Cartagena Protocol, WFP must include in a near future the language “may have” live modified organisms in their donated GMO shipments. We must not forget that the WFP main GM Food provider is the United States that is actually proposing the countries with whom they have signed bilateral trade agreements, an interpretation on this Protocol‚s clause, so that shipments with less than 5% of GMO will not be required to include such label. In the other hand, the USAID have produced fairly similar rules on food aid.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD AID CASES IN LATIN AMERICA
In 2001, the Network for a GMO Free Latin America monitored food aid in Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, to detect the presence of GMO in the material distributed in Food Aid Programs.
95% of GMO were found in a Soybean based formula distributed under an assistance programs, addressed to infants and pregnant women from low income sectors of society, especially indigenous population, in Ecuador.
The results reveal that Ecuador receives GMO´s by two ways within the food aid context: as GM Soybean cake and oil (as proved by other test done in January 2000), which are commercialized and turned into cash. With this money, GM Soy meal was bought from the U.S. by the WFP, to produce the formula. In exchange for such “Aid”, now we have a U.S. military base in our territory. Due to the generalized protest of the population, the product was withdrawal.
In Colombia, the Institute for Family Welfare has a food aid program which addresses the country‚s poorest and most vulnerable population, especially children in schools and community homes, which includes the distribution of a formula with Soy.
In early 2001, the Colombia Consumers Organisation (COCO), took samples of Soybean used in this program, and the presence of GMOs was evaluated. The results shows that 90% of the Soybean was Genetically Modified.
In April, 2001, FOBOMADE organisation took 2 samples of Food Aid (Soybean-Corn and Wheat-Soy blend). In the sample, over 10% of GM Corn was found, and between 3-10% GM Soybean. For the second sample, a 1-3% GM Soy concentration was found. In further tests Star Link corn was found in food aid samples.
After the reactions from several sectors of the society, several social organisations created the ANTI GMO PLATFORM.
SOYA SOLIDARIA IN ARGENTINA
Argentina was once considered as the barn house of the America Continent and a basic producer of excellent quality foods, the dramatic crisis of year 2002 and the massive adoption of RR Soybean immersed this country in food deficiency conditions, and a feeding plan was launched based on GM Soybean as the main raw material.
The soya solidaria plan distributes soybean to avoid hunger in the population. The Argentinean Association of Wheat and GM Soybean Producers that plant 13 million hectares of GM Soybean promote it.
CENTRAL AMERICA THE CENTRE OF ORIGIN OF CORN
In studies conducted in Nicaragua and Guatemala, with the Support of Friends of Earth International, on donated corn a 3.8% Genetically Modified percentage was found.
Guatemala is one of the major Food Aid recipients in the region, which receive a vast diversity of donated products from USA. Among the received U.S. donations, Corn is outstanding. At this point let us remember that this country is the origin centre of Corn. One could wonder if there is a hidden intention to contaminate the sources of corn in the very place of origin, as it has already happened in Mexico.
The most vulnerable population of the world‚s poorest countries is receiving Genetically Modified Foods through Food Aid Programs.
They are children, pregnant or breast-feeding women, in some cases HIV positive patients, with shocking malnutrition levels, and a very fragile and delicate immune system, living under stressful situations due to war, or surviving natural disasters.
Food Aid in several cases is necessary, but it must be based upon solidarity, to support those facing extreme situations; therefore it should occur in a frame of equity and respect.
Food Aid must not become a mechanism to place surplus of agricultural products, specially products not wanted by others. If this is the case, we are witnessing a new case of environmental racism.
The only way to avoid that the most vulnerable populations of the world‚s most impoverished countries, become an open market for the undesirable products of the bio-tech industry, is the vanishing of Genetically Modified Crops from the face of the Earth. There is where we must focus our efforts.
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