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Africa | Zimbabwe
Agriculture - Nutrition

FAO slammed over GMO food by Zim organisation

afrol News, 18 June - The Harare-based Africa office of Consumers International (CI) has slammed the UN's food agency FAO for being "unashamedly biased towards Genetically Modified Organisms" (GMOs). Food aid containing GMOs is a controversial issue in Southern Africa and FAO recently published a report, whitewashing genetically modified food.

The Harare office of Consumers International (CI) today issued a press release, noting "with grave concern the biased contents and conclusions towards genetic engineering" as published in a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report one month ago. The FAO report 'Agricultural biotechnology: Meeting the needs of the poor?' concluded that "bio-engineered food crops have real potential as a tool in the war on hunger."

- Clearly, agricultural biotechnology has real potential as a new tool in the war on hunger, the FAO report said, which however also concluded that "important questions remain." These questions were however mainly related to how more farmers in more countries could "gain access to the technologies that are emerging from the Gene Revolution."

The conclusions of the FAO report has upset CI, which together with the Mozambican União Nacional de Camponeses (UNAC) and other organisations are organising the international workshop 'Hunger, Food Aid and GMOs' in Maputo (Mozambique) in one month.

CI's Harare office and other organisations yesterday sent a protest letter to FAO Director-General, Jacques Diouf, saying the organisation had several "objections" to the factual content of the FAO report. Several grave errors had been made, the signatories hold.

Most importantly, the successes reported by FAO were not the result of GM, they hold. "The FAO report champions the successful use of molecular markers for pearl millet in India, tissue culture for virus-free planting stocks of bananas in Kenya and the eradication of rinderpest," the letter says. "However, the report fails to emphasise that these processes do not involve any genetic engineering or genetic modification," it adds.

The consumer organisation further claims the FAO assessments are "biased, outmoded and unilateral". According to the letter, the FAO report "does not seriously consider any downside to agriculture biotechnology in general and transgenic technology in particular." It holds that the report "suggests genetic engineering alone can feed the poor and clean up the environment."

Also, the signatories claim that FAO now contradicts the its own findings. The report is said to pay "no attention to the environmental and social downsides of the initiative." This is despite the FAO regional office in Asia's acknowledgement of the downsides of the Green Revolution, the groups hold.

FAO previously had put out some "excellent papers on the ethics of biotechnology" and was hailed for its recent consultations on GM, the letter says. "This report falls well short of FAO standards and is a stain on its reputation," the organisations complain.

The absence of consultation process had left many non-governmental organisations feeling angered. This had come after the FAO agreed to a process of consulting stakeholders to develop the concept of food sovereignty, the letter complains. This had now been overlooked.

FAO leader Diouf today has answered to parallel criticism from an open letter to him, saying he had "always maintained that GMOs are not needed to achieve the World Food Summit objective." This could also be achieved by providing smallholder in the developing world with "improved seeds and plant material generated by international agricultural research centres," he added.

- FAO, in accordance with its mandate, will continue to provide a framework for ensuring a dialogue on these issues at the international level, says Mr Diouf. "Such a dialogue should be based on sound scientific principles allowing the analysis of socio-economic implications as well as sanitary and environmental issues," he adds.

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