Washington, DC/Johannesburg, September 4, 2002 – Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) today declared pressure by the Bush Administration on African nations to accept genetically engineered food aid irresponsible political maneuvering to advance the interests of multibillion-dollar biotech companies looking for overseas markets.

“Hunger in countries such as Zambia is being used to play devious politics,” said Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth Nigeria. “Africans should choose what they eat, not have someone else decide for them.”

According to Friends of the Earth International, the Bush Administration has presented African countries with a set of choices that present a “no win” situation: Accept genetically engineered food that could cause life-threatening allergic reactions and contaminate local crops, or starve. Ever since StarLink, a type of genetically engineered corn not approved for human consumption massively contaminated the U.S. food supply causing a massive recall, food manufacturers such as Kraft and Mission Foods have sourced only non-engineered corn to make their products. Given that millions of bushels of non-engineered corn are available on the commercial market, both in the U.S. and abroad, FoEI considers the current Bush “take it or leave it” policy deeply troubling.

“There is plenty of non-engineered corn available for food aid if the Bush Administration cares enough to provide it,” said Larry Bohlen, Director of Health and Environment Programs at the U.S. affiliate of Friends of the Earth.

Scientific advisors to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have said that the bacterial toxin in most types of engineered corn may be a human allergen, and dozens of reports of severe unexplained adverse reactions to corn products in the U.S. have not been adequately investigated. Despite repeated calls from advocacy groups, lawmakers and citizens, the U.S. government has failed to perform adequate testing to determine the potential health risks of genetically engineered foods. Several African leaders have requested only non-engineered food aid while potential health impacts are assessed, and to avoid the economic hardship that could result from crop contamination. Acceptance of engineered corn by nations where seed is traditionally saved for planting, and where special handling techniques are not in place, could lead to contamination that jeopardizes the price African farmers receive for their corn, and therefore their ability to feed their families.

Once released, even in small quantities, widespread contamination by engineered corn can occur, as documented both in the U.S. and in Mexico. StarLink was planted on only 0.5% of all acreage but contaminated at least 10% of the entire corn crop in 2000. The losses to American farmers have been estimated to be as high as $1 billion. The appearance of genetically engineered traits in remote regions of Mexico, which has banned the cultivation of engineered corn, also shows how easily contamination can occur. The source is thought by some scientists to be American imports for animal feed or food processing thought to be inadvertently planted or spilled during transportation.

Besides potentially great economic losses that could exacerbate hunger, African leaders have other reasons to be skeptical about U.S. motivations in sending genetically engineered food aid. The U.S. Agency for International Development was found by a group in Bolivia to have sent a shipment of food aid that contained StarLink, the same engineered corn not approved for human consumption that massively contaminated the U.S. food supply in 2000.

“Clearly African leaders are looking at the information available and deciding for themselves what action to take. The idea that advocacy groups critical of biotechnology are leading African officials to reject genetically engineered crops is ridiculous,” added Juan Lopez, of Friends of the Earth International who is attending the Earth Summit in South Africa. “The biotech industry has 50 lobbyists for every environmental advocate.”

Mark Helm 01 202-783-7400 x102