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For our health: EU example for others to block entry of GM food March 08, 2006 8:05 AM

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Wednesday, March 8, 2006
By Harish Mehta

It is now clear that giant American food companies do intend to pry open foreign markets where they will sell genetically modified (GM) food, despite overwhelming evidence that it poses risks to human and animal health and is hazardous to the environment.

   In a barely-noticed judgment, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) court ruled last month that Europe violated its rules when it banned GM food imports from 1999 to 2003. The ruling was a victory for the United States, which had dragged Europe to that court. But consumers in Europe do not like being told by the WTO about what they should eat and they are likely to disdain any attempt to foist GM food on them.

Hungary, Greece and Austria oppose GM food, and other European countries are keen to remain GM food-free. lt appears that although the US may have won a court victory at the WTO, it will not be able to persuade individual countries to import or produce GM food.

So, what was behind the American court battle at the WTO? lt appears that the US knows it cannot breach the walls of Europe and is hoping to use the WTO ruling as a precedent to penetrate new markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Consider the facts first. More than two-thirds of GM American corn is currently exported to Asia and Africa. American companies producing GM food, such as Monsanto, have been trying to penetrate developing countries. Some developing countries such as Brazil welcome GM food, but others such as Bolivia reject it. The picture is mixed in India, where some states are opposed to GM food. Protests against GM food have been seen in the Philippines, Korea and Indonesia.

lt is time for the developing world to take note of the intentions of GM food producers. Last December, Indian environment activist Vandana Shiva and French activist Jose Bove launched a campaign. They handed a petition signed by 135,000 citizens of 100 countries to WTO officials to oppose the trade dispute filed by the US against Europe. The petition asked the WTO not to undermine the rights of the European Union to protect its ecology and environment from GM food.

Last November, three new studies of the effects of GM food on health triggered fresh demands for GM ingredients in human food and animal feed to be banned immediately. One study, conducted by Russian scientist Irina Ermakova, showed that more than half the offspring of mice fed on GM soya died within three weeks of birth. A second study, conducted at the Universities of Pavia and Urbino in Italy, showed that mice fed on GM soya experienced a slowdown in cellular metabolism and modifications to the liver and pancreas. A third study, by the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation in Australia, showed that the introduction of genes from a bean variety into a GM pea led to the creation of a novel protein which caused inflammation of the lung tissue of mice.

The alarming news is that while food has often been used as a foreign policy weapon, food aid is now being used as a weapon to create markets for the biotechnology industry and its GM foods. The most dramatic example of this sort of aid was the attempt by the US Agency for International Development to push GM maize - disguised as food aid - in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique and Malawi.

Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said his people would rather die than eat toxic food. At a meeting in Lusaka on Aug 12, 2002, farmers, women's groups, Church and other leaders, MPs and government officials recommended that Zambia should not accept GM food aid. The Zambian President pleaded that Zambians not be used as guinea pigs. Malawi accepted the GM maize because of its severe food crisis, which critics say was caused by World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programmes which forced the country to sell its maize reserves to repay commercial loans.

Despite these warning signals, the GM food juggernaut is running unchecked. Last April, the environmental group Greenpeace said GM rice was being sold in China even though it had not been approved for public consumption. Since 2001, China has imported more than 20 million tonnes of GM food annually, most of which is soya bean which is used to produce edible oil.

Ms Shiva says genetic engineering will not contribute to Third World food security since it has little to do with increasing food yields. lt is related more significantly to traits such as herbicide resistance, which allows the West to sell more chemicals. lt is time for Asia, Africa and Latin America to take a lesson from Europe and block GM food from entering their countries.

Copyright Business Times Singapore
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