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Cropchoice Opinion
Africa Still Not as Excited as Companies Say

(13 September - Cropchoice Opinion) -- We think the "Africans hungry for GMOs" story that the big seed and agrochemical companies love so much is getting a little overworked ... as well as discredited.

Africa's most pressing problems really don't have much to do with biotech in agriculture. But biotech backers think that sending American farmers their version of the news about GMOs in Africa will make you feel good. Use Africa's pain to gain some public relations points with customers in the US.

In the interest of balance, a few days ago Cropchoice reprinted an article from Kenya that was very critical of biotech. No sooner had we done that than the biotech industry responded with yet another editorial from an African in elite circles, this time a Nigerian official, saying he likes GMOs.

The reality is that objections to GMOs in Africa are strong. Many don't want GMOs for cultural or religious reasons. Others think it's a "solution" being forced on them that doesn't address the problems.

Many Africans don't want GMOs, even as food aid. Of course hungry people should eat Bt corn, GMO or not. They'd be insane not to. But how long can American agriculture go on alienating potential customers? How long can we make developing countries, who are getting more and more of the biotech crops that nobody else will buy, feel like second class citizens? They know where it comes from, they know its GMO, it doesn't have a label and, given a choice, they'd rather not eat it.

This kind of food aid will keep people healthy. And if people are hungry that's the right thing to do. But the current situation will also build resentment, and that's not good for American agriculture.

Burundi news agency Net Press

Bujumbura, 5th September: The director of the Africa regional office of the international organization for consumers has addressed a letter to the US president informing the latter of his concern about the dispatching by two American companies, Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill For Humanitarian Aid For Africa, of genetically-modified maize which will have negative effects on environment. Also the maize is not labelled, he added.

He also said the products constituted a danger for the heath of the consumers. He therefore asked the US President to carry out an investigation on the export to Africa of that genetically-modified maize.

In the same vein, the Association of Burundi Consumers [Abuco] has just addressed a letter to the US ambassador to Burundi informing him of similar fears.

Abuco asked the envoy to convey these concerns to President Clinton, all the more so because the maize had probably been sent to Burundi following the "socio-political" crisis and because "that aid" was therefore destined to Burundians.

Abuco said "consumers should not be deprived of the right for information and choice, particularly on a product whose harmlessness to consumers' health has not yet been proved and whose negative effects on environment are obvious".

Abuco chairman Mr Nestor Bikorimana told Net Press that it was suspicious that some products were not labelled. Indeed how come products are labelled when they are sent elsewhere, which is not the case for "these aid packages" for Africa?

The Abuco is asking Mr Bill Clinton to launch an investigation to enlighten "the countries to where the aid is sent, and to ensure that all food aid to Africa are clearly labelled to allow the consumer to enjoy his right for information and choice".