WASHINGTON (US) / BENIN CITY (NIGERIA) – Food aid has now become controversial on four continents because of U.S. Genetically Modified (GM) food donations, according to a new report [1] released by Friends of the Earth International today.

In a letter and the report released today, Friends of the Earth demanded that the U.S. stop using hunger as a political and marketing tool to benefit big agri-business.

In May 2003 the U.S. Congress has passed legislation tying AIDS assistance to acceptance of Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs [2]. At the same time, the U.S. has also filed a case at the World Trade Organization against the European Union moratorium on GMOs.

“The U.S. should stop playing with hunger. Having attempted to use USAID’s famine relief programme to dump unwanted GM maize in Southern Africa they are now resorting to even more unacceptable methods. African nations should have the right to decide what their people are fed. It is immoral for the U.S. to exploit famine and the AIDS crisis in this way,” said Nnimmo Bassey, Director of Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth-Nigeria.

Controversy over genetically modified food aid arose in 2000 and grew increasingly in 2002, whenseveral Southern African countries refused GM food aid during a food crisis. African countries were presented with a situation where either they accepted GMOs or many people would die. Several countries — like Mozambique and Zimbabwe — rejected GM corn due to environmental concerns, but accepted milled GM corn. Only Zambia decided to reject GM corn in both grain and milled forms, citing health concerns. Several initial reports coming from Zambia suggest that the country has so far been able to cope with the food crisis without GM food aid.

The recently announced World Trade Organization (WTO) case filed by the U.S. against the EU underscores a renewed controversy. The U.S. is again blaming the EU moratorium on GMOs as being the cause of African rejection of GM food aid. [3] However, the EU recently strongly rejected such accusations. [4]

There are also concerns that a U.S. AIDS spending legislation bill which passed the US Senate May 15th and earlier passed the House includes a GMO amendment which ties AIDS assistance to acceptance of GMOs. [2]

Friends of the Earth International’s report released today and entitled “Playing with Hunger”, presents a compilation of case studies related to the shipment of GMOs in food aid to four continents since the year 2000.

It concludes that the controversy over GM food aid during the Southern Africa crisis should have been anticipated by the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Both agencies have been aware since 2000 of the problems and controversies over food aid and GMOs, and should have guaranteed real alternatives to GM food aid to the countries in need.

A letter urging the USAID and the WFP to take the necessary steps to guarantee that in the future GMOs are not forced, via food aid, to any country was sent today by Friends of the Earth. According to Nnimmo Bassey, “There were alternatives to GMOs but African countries were left without a choice. This should not happen again. We call on the World Food Programme and other donors to ensure they will always make available real alternatives in the future.”

The report also gives more evidence about cynical US policy over GM food aid, and criticizes the food aid system. Ricardo Navarro, Salvadorean chairman of Friends of the Earth International said: “Food aid is being used, particularly by the US, as a marketing tool to capture new markets. Big agribusinesses are huge beneficiaries of the current food aid system. There is a need for stricter regulation of food aid to prevent it from being used as a way to open up new markets for GM products.”

Today’s report was released exactly one month ahead of an international summit on agriculture due from June 23-25, 2003 in Sacramento (US). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), USAID, and the US State Department are hosting the summit to which Ministers of Trade, Agriculture, and Environment from 180 nations have been invited. It is expected that this ‘Ministerial Conference and EXPO on Agricultural Science and Technology’ will be used by the US government to promote GM crops in developing countries. The USDA and USAID are in charge of managing some of the world’s largest food aid programmes.


[1]  The report “Playing with hunger: The reality behind the shipment of GMOs as food aid” is available for download at the Friends of the Earth International website

[2] 1 H.R.1298 United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003 passed the Senate on May 15th. To view full text of the bill Go to Congressional record: http://thomas.loc.gov/r108/r108.html , Click on Daily Digest, May 15, and afterwards click on Senate passed H.R.1298, United States Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act. Then click on the last version, Section 104a

[3] Zoellick, R. May 14th. Transcript: USTR says WTO biotech ban case aims to quell fears. “This dangerous effect of the EU’s moratorium became painfully evident last fall when some famine-stricken African countries refused US food aid because of fabricated fears stoked by irresponsible rhetoric about food safety”.

[4] European Commission. May 2003. European Commission regrets US Decision to file WTO Case on GMOs as misguided and unnecessary. The EU has rejected US arguments over the EU responsibility during the African food crisis. They said: “food aid to starving populations should be about meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of those who are in need. It should not be about trying to advance the case for GM food abroad, or planting GM crops for export, or indeed finding outlets for domestic surplus, which is a regrettable of the US food aid policy”


In Nigeria (Africa)
Nnimmo Bassey, Executive Director Friends of the Earth Nigeria
Tel: + 234-52-600165 or +234-80-23176577
E-mail: eraction@infoweb.abs.net

In El Salvador (Central America)
Ricardo Navarro, Chairman Friends of the Earth International.
Tel: +503-2200046 or +503-2206480
E-mail: foeichair@navegante.com.sv

In Washington (U.S.),
Larry Bohlen, Friends of the Earth US
Tel: + 1-202-783-7400 ext. 251
E-mail: lbohlen@foe.org

In Brussels (Belgium),
Juan Lopez, Friends of the Earth International
Tel: +32-2-5420180 or +32-477-391496
E-mail: juan.lopez@foeeurope.or