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Last Updated: Friday, 30 May, 2003, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
GM foods: Is Bush right to criticise Europe?
Genetically modified crops
US President George Bush has accused Europe of blocking efforts to fight famine in Africa because of "unfounded" fears over genetically modified foods.

Mr Bush accused European nations of "impeding" US efforts to reduce hunger in Africa by opposing the use of GM crops.

The US plans to sue the EU at the World Trade Organisation unless it allows the sale of GM foods and crops.

US seed companies are eager to sell their products to foreign markets, but European consumers are wary of GM foods, fearing long-term harm to human health and the environment.

Is President Bush's criticism justified? Are you wary of GM foods? Should they be readily provided to affected areas in Africa?

Thank you for your e-mails. This debate is now closed. A selection of your comments is published below.

Over 90% of Africa's farmers depend on farm-saved seed and they produce 70% of the food in the region. GE seed and intellectual property rights (patents and breeders rights) on seed will destroy this system of self-reliance. Poor farmers cannot afford to buy expensive input, such as GE seeds. Asserting that patented GE seeds are the solution to hunger, negates the rights of farmers to breed their own seed, save that seed and exchange that seed as they have done for millennia. The causes of hunger in Africa are complex and unaffordable, patented technology will certainly not help. In the light of the US's foreign policy, it is unbelievably naive to believe that Bush is motivated by anything else but the interests of American corporations. The way GM food is forced on Africa and the emotional blackmail that is used to persuade the EU to accept it, is immoral and should be condemned in the strongest terms.
Elfrieda Pschorn, South Africa

No one knows how GE Foods may affect human health
Oraina Jones, New zealand
Congratulations to the EU and Africa for refusing to accept GE Foods. There are still too many unanswered questions around the safety of GE technology. Any criticisms of the technology are dismissed as unscientific. Yet it has taken 40 years for the damaging effects of the "Green Revolution" crops to emerge. It was not foreseen that these hybrid crops would be deficient in micro nutrients causing wide spread illness. No one knows how GE Foods may affect human health. To insist on labelling of GE derived ingredients in our food is considered an obstacle to free trade. I want to know why.
Oraina Jones, New Zealand

President Bush says that genetically modified crops will help feed hungry people in poor nations. That's nonsense. There is no scientific evidence that genetically modified foods are cheaper, safer, better-tasting or more nutritious. Lacking consumer benefits for its genetically modified crops, the biotech industry is desperately seeking moral legitimacy.

Under the guise of humanitarian aid, the Bush administration is force-feeding high-tech, proprietary seeds that are neither affordable nor relevant to most poor farmers. Some African countries have refused genetically modified food aid because of health, trade and environmental concerns. The true beneficiary of Mr. Bush's promotional efforts are not poor people, but some of the world's largest agrochemical and seed corporations.
Hope Shand, USA

Are those of you against GM crops telling the world that the unknown and unlikely harmful consequences of GM crops outweigh the very known and very real consequences of famine and starvation? You can put any spin on it you'd like, but that's the bottom line.
Bob, USA

Do you know that some GM foods have been made with some animal DNA?
Luc, France
For those who say that GM have existed for centuries should not understand the differences between a crossing and a genetic modification in lab. Do you know that some GM foods have been made with some animal DNA? By playing with genes, humans can do great thing but if it is without legislation and checking, that can lead to the worst.
Luc, France

Are those in the pro-GM lobby seriously suggesting that forcing poor farmers in developing countries to pay every time they plant their improved GM seeds is a solution to feeding the hungry? Get your noses out of your investment portfolios and look around you! Allowing large multi-nationals to own the rights to produce the food we all need is madness. The investment in GM has not been done out of the goodness of the multinationals' hearts but to make money! And please stop trying make out that GM has been around for hundreds of years. Interbreeding of species has occurred and been encouraged to provide the food varieties we find today, but none of this involved gene splicing in a lab! The most important thing to remember is that GM is simply not needed, so why risk it? Do you really trust the captains of industry to do what is best for the people?
Simon Corbett, UK

Once GM crops are accepted, the genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back. Anyone wishing to grow non-GM crops will be unable to do so due to cross-pollination and fear of prosecution for infringement of patent laws as has already happened in Canada and the US. African farmers cannot afford to pay the high prices biotech companies charge for their seeds and pesticides (required in the ever-increasing amounts). The most efficient and ecologically sustainable form of farming is not giant mechanised intensive agribusiness, but smaller efficient farms, which provide food for their local communities. If the US and other Western nations wish to stop famines in the third world then they should remove their own farm subsidies.
Hugh Shewring, England

What we need is objective information about GM
Wendy, France
GM food is definitely our future. But to say that Europe is against GM is by no means justified. There are actually less anti-GM supporters than before the mad cow crisis. What we need is objective information about GM reality. My only fear is that US companies who already have the monopoly of genetic patents would be the only permit holders to sell these seeds.
Wendy, France

President Bush doesn't understand that opposition to GM is a grass roots issue in Europe, not a political plot. After BSE there was no way the UK government could sell the idea of GM to a population in the mood for back-to-basics farming. The science and economics are irrelevant, consumers don't want the product.
Roger, UK

In case some of you do not know, humans have been making GM food for thousands of years. Ever try the "original unaltered" tomato? It has pH of 2. It is about as acidic as your stomach acid. For those of you who love "organic" food, just to remind you that these organic foods are also called "wimpy food". They have been highly modified to the point that they cannot withstand the nature selection. In another words, they are unable survive on the open farm. So, if regular GM food is a major concern to you, think again before you try your next organic meal.
Please understand Africa isn't a very suitable place for many crops. If any genetic modification can help plants survive the harsh conditions, it will certainly be a great help to the people in Africa. So, instead of fighting over what kind of food should be given, let's give them something to fill their empty stomach first.
Austin, USA

Those saying that genetic modification of crops and animals has been going on for centuries are correct. However, as far as I know, genes from separate plants have never been mixed before (as some are under GM)and who knows what the result might be 50 years down the line. Or is profit now more important than the effects future generations might be exposed to ?

GM foods are fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide reliant plants. They are expensive to keep up. Guess who makes those products? Guess who owns the patents?
Byron, USA

The anti-GM attitude reflects a broader anti-science attitude
Faustino, Australia
There appears to be no scientific evidence to support the negative European attitude to GM foods. Throughout the world, the historically high levels of health, longevity and living standards derive from scientific advances in the last 200-odd years. The anti-GM attitude reflects a broader anti-science attitude from people who fail to understand the benefits from science.
Faustino, Australia

Let's stop all the fighting and feed some hungry people.
Gordon Hodgson, USA

I totally support the EU. Bush can't pretend to field-test GM foods using the whole African continent as his personal lab. Unless it is determined that long term use of GM foods pose no danger to human beings, the EU should block every effort done by the American government to export GM foods to Africa or any other continent.
Alex, USA

GM is the future. We import millions of tonnes of soya per year. If we could grow it here instead (and we could if it was adapted to be frost hardy) we would make our farms profitable again. We would save millions of gallons of finite fossil fuels being burnt to ship the soya here by boat. This example is only one food crop of hundreds that could make our environment cleaner. We are only 70% self sufficient in food production here in the UK. It is our duty to be more self-sufficient instead of plundering the world of its food resources.
Alastair, UK

It is a simple difference in perspective
Richard Blake-Reed, Bath, UK
The GM debate merely highlights the different approaches to risk assessment in the EU and the US. The EU favours the "precautionary principle", keep a lid on developments with legislation until it is proven to be safe. The more commercially-driven US approach is to get the stuff to market and react to problems if (or when) they arise. It is a simple difference in perspective and "Bush Inc." should be made to understand this.
Richard Blake-Reed, Bath, UK

Yes, President Bush is right! People are starving and interest groups are telling them to avoid eating foods which can save their lives. What a tragedy!
Bill, USA

GMO will not be the solution to mass starvation in Africa. The problem is not the availability of food but rather the viability of food production. In South Africa my family right now have some three hundred tons of NON-GMO maize which we cannot sell because the market prize is below our cost of production. Farmers are forced to stop production because they cannot make a living from farming.
Dr Michiel Smit, South Africa

Genetic modification has been going on for centuries?
Sam, USA
Yes, Bush's criticism is completely justified. The assertion that GM food poses long-term threats to human health and the environment doesn't pass the laugh test. Are these people not aware that genetic modification has been going on for centuries? When you cross-breed cattle or flowers - practices that have been in place longer than any modern European nation has been in existence - you are modifying the genetic code.
Sam, USA

There is not a problem with world food production, and in theory the African continent can produce enough food without resorting to GMOs. However cash crops to be flown to western markets, and impoverished farmers and farming methods are taking their toll on the subsistence farmer. Add to the fact that GM seed producers do not want to see seed reserved from crops grown which would ensure harvests in years to come. Instead they wish to make the end product sterile and farmers dependant on buying more seed. One bad year and GM dependant farmers will starve to death.
Tim Rose, UK

Another abuse of the power bestowed in Bush. To promote GM as some great remedy to famine in Africa is an absolute disgrace. Food output already, can feed the world twice over. This is a cheap trick to make a lot more bucks out of the vulnerable, rather than solving the true causes of famine. It is also a smack in the face of democracy, if europeans, africans and Asians don't want gm they don't want it. The US have Clearly shown over Iraq and this that it is not international law that is global it is American Law.
Clive, UK

Americans can't even make an informed choice
Kim, USA
I hope Europe and other countries fight against Bush's browbeating. You are lucky you have some choice. Americans are force-fed GM foods because the industry is so cosy with the government that we cannot even get GM products labelled as such. Americans can't even make an informed choice. Hold on to your freedoms, wish we were free.
Kim, USA

I was born and raised in Africa. The problem of famine is partly due to mismanagement and corruption. If you take Zimbabwe as an example, it was once a wealthy agricultural country; it is now on the verge of famine due to Mugabe and co. When President Bush is ready to take out the bad guys in Africa and do some of the peacekeeping, then I will believe his motives are not purely commercial.
Terry Duplock, France

A more useful step towards resolving some of the world's food problems, would be for the US and Europe to stop subsidising their own farmers.
Pauline Humphrey, Greece

I am not sure why it matters to the Europeans that Bush may be promoting GM crops for the benefit of some companies, when it could help alleviate many immediate problems in Africa. European criticism seems to be based upon its irrational suspicion of US "intent" rather than the "results" - incidental or otherwise. The same is true with regard to Iraq. I suspect that this reactionary attitude is largely why the majority of Americans really couldn't care less what our European friends think. The Europeans most admirable quality is their passion, but I find their opposition to the US at every turn to illogical, and in many respects, of no measurable consequence.
M. Meloy, USA

I am all for GM crops, but they must be available for all at low cost
Justin Harrison, UK
This is just Bush being pressurised by campaign contributors to open up markets for them. The GM seeds being peddled come with patent restrictions, which restrict the growers' rights as to how they are used (can only be used for year of purchase, etc). How will GM crops help avert famine when the rich multinationals have the poor countries over a barrel?

The precedent has been set in the pharmaceutical industry with the cost of Aids drugs and other essential medicines. I am all for GM crops, but they must be available for all at low cost. The situation of big multinationals effectively controlling food production in the poorest countries of the world where the interests are not in lives saved but dollars made is unthinkable.
Justin Harrison, UK

American way of life, either you're with us or you're an enemy, now eat what we Americans want you to eat. Time will tell - Africa will one day stand on its own feet. Since when did Bush think of Africa? Let the Americans eat GM foods, we Africans will eat our diet and remain healthier.
Kwame Kum, African/US

I only wish Canada would ban GM food, or at least institute mandatory labelling. Unless I am prepared to pay a substantial price premium to eat an all-organic diet, I have absolutely no way of knowing what I put into my body on a daily basis. I have little desire to participate in this uncontrolled experiment but that choice has been made for me by the multinationals and the rest. Agribusiness is about profits first, and meeting people's nutritional needs second.
Thomas, Canada

The reality is that thousands of African children die daily from the effects of food insecurity. It is a high-minded luxury to condemn GM foods when they can save the lives of thousands. In a world with no absolutes we have very little choice but to accept GM foods, like it or not.
Robert McCarthy, Kenya

It is interesting that a lot of people make the case for GM foods on the basis of the large number of people dying of hunger everywhere. The fact is, however, that in most of these regions, there is a food shortage because of human factors such as corruption or inefficiency and not because of a lack of resources per se.

As consumers, we all have the right to choose what to eat and what not to eat and those of living in Europe and some other countries, should count ourselves lucky that governments here take these issues seriously. Bush's criticism may have had some meaning if it were not so obviously designed to protect US food business interests. For the US, the only principle at stake, as ever, is money.
R Roy, England (ex-India)

I think the EU should do what is right for Europe, period. As for the African famine - GM may be the best way to attack the problem. However, GM research has been going on for years with support from a number of US administrations, so to criticise only G. Bush is not fair.
Mike Daly, USA

All foods have become genetically modified over generations. The main difference in these instances is that these "new" genetically modified foods are in fact genetically modified seeds, the resultant plants will not produce fertile seeds. This means that the farmer will have to purchase seeds for successive crops from the seed manufacturers based in the USA. Mr Bush does not care about starvation in Africa. He cares greatly about those American companies who contribute greatly to the Republication Party in the USA.
Stuart Geoffrey, UK

Any country has the right to stop any US product it believes to be dangerous from entering its markets. The US cannot be expected to hold the high ground on what is acceptable as good food as it seems the country forgot what real/good food is a long time ago. GM crops are being grown in India - with the idea is would ease hunger - well according to the large multinationals. Farmers have found that growing the crops is not cheap and buying the "special" fertilizer is putting them into debt. Call me cynical but this is about business, not about feeding the starving.
Ajana, Hong Kong

Europe's caution regarding GM food is well founded. Nobody wants prolong pervasive hunger in Africa, but we cannot make them the guinea pigs for modified food product whose long term effects are not known. Not to mention Bush's possible motives of delaying a bolster to a failing American economy.
Alicia, USA

Every famine and food crisis in Africa has its own circumstances which have to be taken into consideration
D, Germany
The effects of GM foods and crops on the human body have not yet fully been discovered. So I think it is very correct in the interest of all people to be very careful about using GM foods and we should not send these products to Africa in the name of famine relief, when we do not want to eat them ourselves. The famine in Africa is not caused by the EU blocking efforts of genetically modified foods. And the famine in Africa will not be ended by US shipments of hybrid corn to Africa which the hungry farmers cannot harvest and use for planting in the next season, so they remain dependant on the next act of mercy by Mid-western farmers. Every famine and food crisis in Africa has its own circumstances which have to be taken into consideration for long-term and sustainable solutions.
D, Germany

EU bans GM foods and crops to protect its agricultural sector and exports. Its position in the light of hunger in Africa is simply immoral. EU excuses are untenable in view of hard core scientific evidence. What a shame!
Mirek, USA

I am a Zimbabwean living in Germany. European countries have governments and populations which are free, democratic, educated and generally well informed. It is the right of the people in Europe to be cautious about the so-called genetically modified crops and foods. It is also right for African Governments to be careful with not just GM foods but also new technologies in general. It has indeed been shown (and this in the United States) that some GM maize varieties do have negative effects on some insects. Open and constructive public debate on transgenic crops and foods is certainly necessary and healthy for us all, but at this moment there is no need for President Bush and the United States to force GM foods down our throats as if were geese. I think that these foods should be readily provided to those affected countries not just in Africa but anywhere in the world, but only if those countries accept these GM foods.
Samson Huni, Germany

Genetically modified food increases yield while reducing the cost of using dangerous herbicides and pesticides. It sounds like a good idea for a continent ravished by starvation and famine. Those opposed to GM crops should provide scientific proof showing, if any, the detrimental effects to humans or the environment. If no proof is available then saving lives now by providing GM food outweighs any "theoretical" argument against its use.
J McLaren, Australian

Since when was Mr Bush concerned about hunger in Africa? Who are the GM food providers? Mr Bush's buddies by any chance? If local farmers growing locally grown food get their crops contaminated by GM crops, will they have to pay for using these new varieties? And How? A lot more questions need to be asked.
David Fitzmaurice, New Zealand

I'm not sure if GM foods are completely safe but surely there is more danger from starvation and famine?
Brendan, Ireland

President Bush's call for Europe to open its markets to GM foods is purely based on economic gain for America. I am sincerely happy that so far much of the African continent has refused the US's GM seeds, because I see their acceptance of the seeds leading to further debt and economic colonialism. Keep your markets closed, EU, and keep the African continent and your people healthy!
Chris Porter, USA

No thanks Mr. Bush. Africans will not become guinea pigs for any American experiment. The Americans should find another means of solving the famine in Africa until all concerns raised by the Europeans are fully addressed .
Yaw Oware, Ghana

Bush's references to Africa are nothing but a cheap ploy to force Europeans to purchase genetically contaminated foodstuffs from American-backed international corporations. The people of Europe should be free to decide for themselves what kind of food they want to eat, and if President Bush really has Africa's well-being at heart then he will forgive the millions of dollars of debt that poverty-ridden African countries owe to the United States and its corporate agents.
Michal Zapendowski, USA

When the details of the GM crops theory are studied closely it is perfectly clear that this is all about controlling the food source and has absolutely nothing to do with alleviating famine at all. More devastating though will be the effects of altering the food chain in an irreversible way. In my view, those corporations/politicians involved will be guilty of a crime greater than anything in recorded history.
Linton, USA

Whilst I personally harbour little trepidation towards GM foods I can understand the concern. GM foods in and of itself is not really a problem, it is in how the corporations are trying to maintain control of their product that is problematic.
The United States claim to support a free market economy however it now wants to force feed GM foods to consumers who have actively stated that they don't want them for a variety of reasons. If US farmers want to sell abroad maybe they should grow something that the world wants, not just grow what ever they can get subsidies for and hope that the government can bully the world into buying what they feel is an inferior product.
Christopher Wick,USA

A lot of lies and scare tactics have been employed in Europe that have tainted and politicized what should have been a reasoned scientific debate. This issue is too important to the most vulnerable populations of the world to be taken hostage by hysteria, fear mongering and protectionism.
Tara, USA


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