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AGRICULTURE REPORT – September 17, 2002: Genetically Engineered Food Aid - 2002-09-13

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

A food crisis in southern Africa has added to the debate about the use of genetic engineering in agriculture. The United Nations says almost thirteen-million people in southern Africa need emergency food aid. U-N officials have urged other countries to provide food and money. The U-N said only one-fourth of the money needed to provide food assistance has been offered.

America’s top agriculture official reacted to the U-N report with a statement. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman noted that the United States is the largest provider of food aid to southern Africa. But Mizz Veneman said opponents of genetically engineered food have limited the ability of the United States to send food.

She accused them of providing "misguided statements about the American food system." She said the goal is to create fear. Mizz Veneman said the food the United States is offering is safe and the same food that Americans eat.

The American official did not name any organization in her statement. But her spokesman gave Greenpeace as an example. Representatives denied the charges.

Earlier this month, President Robert Mugabe announced that Zimbabwe will accept genetically engineered maize from the U-N World Food Program. This was a change in policy. But in Zambia, President Levy Mwanawasa has called genetically engineered food "poison" and "dangerous."

The Zambian government argues that such food could mix with native crops. It says a genetically engineered crop could threaten Zambian exports. European countries refuse genetically engineered food.

More than two-million people in Zambia need emergency food aid. The president says Zambia can produce enough food to last until December. In Malawi, President Bakili Muluzi said any genetically engineered food aid must be processed, to protect native crops.

Jacques Diouf heads the U-N Food and Agriculture Organization. Mister Diouf says he recognizes there are concerns about possible risks to the environment and to agriculture. But he urged southern African countries to consider scientific information. He says that, based on current knowledge, the food being offered "is not likely to present a human health risk."

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.