Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Should GMO's Be Included in US Food Assistance?

As the debate about the safety and fairness of genetically modified organisms (GMO's) by large agribusinesses intensifies around the world, is it rational for the United States not to be debating the use of such products as food-aid to poor countries? Mandated by law in the United States, 75 percent of all U.S. food donations must be produced, processed, and shipped by U.S. companies.

Large agribusinesses have recently been lobbying around the world to secure markets for their GMO products. Major agricultural oligopolies claim that their genetically modified products are completely safe. Furthermore, any attempt by governments to guard local farmers from their more advanced products was simply "protectionism".

But that hasn't stopped the groundswell of resistance in the European Union for example. Many countries inside the European Union refuse to accept many varieties of GMO's which are bought and sold in the United States. Citing higher safety standards than the United States, European countries remain committed to denying access of some GMO's into their territories. Eleven European Union countries will call next week for the right to opt-outs for growing genetically modified crops.

In response, to the question "should GMO's be banned in Europe?” conducted in April 2009, 79 percent said yes, 18 percent no and 3 percent did not know. There is no question that in Europe there is a deep skepticism about the growing pressure from agricultural powerhouses to pump their products into European markets.

In the US, fifteen groups in the top wheat-exporting countries of Canada, the U.S. and Australia released a joint statement of opposition to GMO wheat this month. The group cited competitive concerns as their primary resistance.
"If (genetically engineered) wheat is released commercially, contamination would be inevitable and markets would view all wheat produced from these areas as GE unless proven to be non-GE...Farmers growing GE wheat will take on all of the responsibilities, costs and liabilities, with little available legal recourse to recover their losses."
If such a resistance is emerging in the global North on the grounds of either safety concerns or competition with larger oligopolies, why is there virtually no debate about the use of these same genetically modified products flooding into poorer countries as aid, let along be sold in the US?

These products have been long criticized by advocacy organizations for hurting local farmers who can't compete. Concerns about the safety of these products are also voiced in regions of the world where cash-strapped governments are less likely to question the safety standards.

As the United States looks to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance to developing countries. There is an important but sadly absent debate about US food aid and GMO's that could prevent us from doing more harm than good.

It would be a complete shame if a little pink cat on youtube could host a more honest discussion on GMO's than the US government.

Well i'll be darned....

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