November 14, 2002: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Diplomacy: Hunger: : US Embassy in Italy: U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: An Argument that Keeps Africa Hungry

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U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: An Argument that Keeps Africa Hungry

U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: An Argument that Keeps Africa Hungry

U.S. ambassador and RPCV Tony Hall: An Argument that Keeps Africa Hungry

"An Argument that Keeps Africa Hungry," by Ambassador Tony Hall, November 14, 2002

(Says nations face disaster if food aid continues to be blocked)

(The following article by U.S. Ambassador Tony Hall appeared in the November 13 issue of the Financial Times. No republication restrictions.)
(begin byliner)

An Argument That Keeps Africa Hungry
By Tony Hall

(The writer is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations' food agencies in Rome.)

Africa is on the verge of a catastrophe. Famine is coming and, although the US is doing everything in its power to help, I am not sure it can be stopped.

The causes are many but the most pressing are the HIV/Aids epidemic and drought. Six million Ethiopians are in need of food. In southern Africa, meanwhile, US and international experts agree that the worsening food crisis places as many as 14.5m people at risk. These people do not have food today. Zimbabwe is heading for disaster. Zambia may be even worse.

Late last year, the US famine early warning system identified the onset of drought and food shortages. By February this year, the US was moving emergency relief into the region with the World Food Programme. In southern Africa, more than 350,000 metric tonnes of food have been delivered or are on the way. Another 150,000 metric tonnes are being procured. This still represents only half the food the region will need.

But some governments are blocking the delivery of emergency food relief needed to head off starvation. Their excuse stems from the ongoing debate over biotechnology, spurred in part by the bias against biotechnology of certain European lobby and pressure groups. As a result, food that should have been in Zimbabwe and Zambia weeks ago is still outside these countries. Meanwhile, the debate rages inside those countries over the human health and environmental risks posed by the corn that millions of Americans eat daily. Food that the US moved to Zambia months ago to deal with the crisis remains in warehouses pending the outcome of this debate.

It does not take a lot to calculate the impact of these arguments by well fed experts. As the region heads for famine, vulnerable people will perish. While the US respects the rights of countries to make their own decisions about biotechnology, other donors have simply not stepped up to fill the gap if US food aid is turned away.

The US provides about two-thirds of the food aid needed to meet emergencies around the world. All this food comes from our own stocks and markets. It is the same food we eat. All of it has passed our food safety and environmental impact testing -- the most rigorous in the world. For this reason, US biotech and non-biotech foods are mixed together. We do not, and see no need to, separate them.

At the request of Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation have issued a joint policy on biotechnology stating that marketed genetically modified/biotech foods present no known risk to human health. The European Commission has also issued a public statement agreeing that there is no evidence that genetically modified maize varieties are harmful. Even strong biotech opponents such as Greenpeace belatedly recommend that African countries accept GM corn if the alternative is starvation.

But years of anti-biotechnology lobbying, demands for a "precautionary principle" that no amount of science can satisfy and a mistrustful climate, fostered in part by a handful of pressure groups, provide a ready excuse.

When I was in Zimbabwe and Malawi recently, nobody asked me about the safety of biotech food. Starving people simply want to be fed. Leaders in affected countries are, of course, free to choose whether or not to accept the help that we have offered. But they must consider the severe, immediate consequences of rejecting food aid that is made available for the millions of people in need. Time is running out.

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Story Source: US Embassy in Italy

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; Diplomacy; Hunger;



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