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U.S. government, biotech industry should pay to mill corn donations

by Craig Winters
The Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

(Aug. 1, 2002 -- CropChoice guest commentary) -- Since the agricultural biotech industry is losing ground in developed countries, they have been hoping to get their genetically engineered crops into less developed nations.

Unfortunately an opportunity has developed for them to accomplish that goal. Currently the African nations of Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zambia are facing widespread food shortages after two years of drought and floods.

The United States has offered to supply corn (otherwise known as maize) to the food relief programs, but the corn being offered includes genetically engineered varieties.

These countries have told the U.S. that they only want the corn if it is already milled. They are concerned that the unmilled corn will get planted and contaminate their native crops with GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

When there is not a drought, these African countries export crops to Europe and other nations that do not accept genetically engineered varieties. So if the unmilled food relief corn is accepted, they may experience long-term financial loss since their native crops may no longer have an export market.

The United States is refusing to mill the corn, valued at about $95 a metric ton, because it would cost another $25 a metric ton to mill it. These nations do not have the finances to pay for the milling themselves.

Faced with starvation or the contamination of their native crops, it appears they are going to take the genetically engineered corn.

Many people feel that the refusal of the U.S. to mill the food relief grains is part of the strategy of the biotech industry to deliberately contaminate regular agricultural crops around the world with GMOs. Corn pollen can drift for miles so genetically engineered corn is particularly good at contaminating regular and organic varieties.

Monsanto and the biotech industry deny this is part of their strategy, but many doubt the sincerity of their denials.

A Reuters story from today, "U.S. says Zimbabwe prepared for possible GM maize," reports that Zimbabwe has agreed to accept the corn (maize) that probably includes the genetically engineered variety.

Another Reuters piece, "Africa mulls GMO as debate rages, hunger claws," provides some other interesting background material.

A story from Wednesday's Washington Post titled "Starved for Food, Zimbabwe Rejects U.S. Biotech Corn" is a lengthy article that does a good job of investigating the issue. Unfortunately the headline is misleading because it now appears that Zimbabwe is going to accept the biotech corn.

The Post article contains a quote from a Monsanto spokesman denying that they are deliberately using unmilled grains in food relief programs to spread GMOs around the world. He states: "I don't think there is any justification to make claims like that."

Faced with widespread starvation, it is not surprising that these African nations will accept the genetically engineered corn. But it is disappointing that the U.S. is not agreeing to mill the grain.

If Monsanto wants to prove that their strategy is not to force genetically engineered crops on undeveloped nations, perhaps they should offer to pay for the milling?