Friends of the Earth Are Not Friends of Hungry Africans

Just as the US Department of Agiculture has ruled that a biotech variety of rice is as safe to eat as conventional rice, the so-called Friends of the Earth (FOE) are trying to frighten African governments into refusing shipments of rice from the United States. FOE periodically launches anti-biotech disinformation campaigns in poor developing countries. FOE rolled out its latest low-down lying deceitful campaign in Africa. In this case, local FOE activists are demanding that Ghana and Sierra Leone recall rice imports from the US because they are "contaminated" with a harmless herbicide resistance gene.

One overwrought FOE anti-biotech activist  Arthur Williams declared,

“We are shocked that unapproved genetically modified long grain rice has been sent to our country [Sierra Leone] through food aid channels. We are a nation just recovering from years of civil war and now to attack us in this manner is now making our people once more vulnerable."

Attack? Sending perfectly safe food is not an attack. The FOE anti-biotech campaign is a scientifically unjustified attack on poor hungry people. Shame on the Friends of the Earth! Shame!

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  • ||

    But at least the hungry won't get any harmful effect from GM foods while they starve to death.

  • ||

    um Ron,

    I RTFAd both articles, and I noticed that LLRICE601 was not approved until late this month. Am I reading that right?

    But LLRICE601 was being distributed pre-approval to humans months ago. Allegedly illegally. Was it really illegal?

    The FOE argument is that humans were being used as unknowing experimental subjects. And that is wrong.

    Now that unregulated untested organic food is going around is another issue all together...

  • ||

    unapproved genetically modified long grain rice
    Unapproved by whom? Who approves food shipments to Sierra Leone? I'll approve it. Will that settle everything?

  • ||

    RTFA

  • ||

    Sam-Hec,

    If that is directed at me, I RTFA that was just a press release written by Henry Neondo. I am not clear on who needs to be approving food shipments to Sierra Leone. Can they not determine for themselves what food they will accept? Can you ATFQ?

  • thoreau||

    Long, long ago, when Native Americans were selectively breeding corn, there was probably some idiot who said to the geeks of the village "Hey, man, I'm not eating that stuff. I'm only eating the all-natural stuff."

    And the geeks, being the ancient equivalent of scientists and genetic engineers, said unto the idiot "Fine, then you can starve this winter."

  • ||

    You know what would be fun if you were one of these companies selling GM stock? See if you could modify something like corn or apples or potatoes back to its 'natural' size, that is before selective breeding when agriculture was invented thousands of years ago. Then point out to all the organic food types that these absolutely miniscule 'natural' fruits and veggies are actually what they should be eating.

    I think the real PR problem with GM foods is primarily semantic: food just isn't something you engineer. But at the end of the day splicing a gene for parasite resistance into some cereal is no more a case of genetic engineering than banging someone because they're hot. Really, if you think about it.

  • ||

    Highnumber,
    to paraphrase a certain movie...
    "It's not about the food, it's about who you can trust."

    Allegedly American farmers were given seed for which they were not informed was as yet unapproved GE Rice. (Not yet approved by the FDA.) This was then shipped to unwitting starving people in a mass unconsented experiment. Noone was actually harmed by the harmless grain.

    However the trust with American agribusiness was/is lost. Put a price on trust.

  • ||

    I stopped trusting the FDA long ago. I guess we're even then.

  • ||

    Yeah while I dont likethe FDA either, I am not sure they were even the problem in hs case.

    Frankly Sierra Leon et al desrves to eat crow for not taking responsibility for their own problems.

    Granted the stupdi subsidy structures in the West don't help any.

  • ||

    Arthur Williams declared,
    "We are shocked that unapproved genetically modified long grain rice has been sent to our country [Sierra Leone] through food aid channels.


    Arthur Williams? It doesn't sound like a native African name, does it? As much as I like to coin new terms, carpetbagger, rabble rouser, and dumbass buttinski, all seem to fit perfectly well.

    Please, somebody describe their diet that doesn't include genetically modified foods. Any product that did'nt exist 8,000 years ago is off limits. BTW, that precludes long grain rice, wheat and corn from an "unengineered" diet.

    Friggin' neo-luddites. To paraphrase, "We love the poor so much we'll starve them to protect them." Has Arthur Williams of the Friends of the Earth (but not of the People of the Earth) ever gone hungry for a few days with no assurance it will end? I'll wager not.

  • biologist||

    the administration's tenuous grasp of scientific fact and reality in general makes me suspicious when they claim it's "safe to eat".

    genetically modified food isn't just food that's been selectively bred, although the term sounds descriptive of that condition. genetically modified food involves moving entire genes between different, often completely unrelated species. IIRC, some people have had adverse reactions to BT corn-derived products. the usual skepticism about the government's claims seems to be lacking here.

  • ||

    Ron, you have misrepresented the African's position. Their complaint is not that they won't eat GM food, but that its seeds will inevitably mix with their non-GM varieties, making it difficult if not impossible to sell to Europe.

  • ||

    I'm no scientist, but if it's just some possible food allergies, is that really a huge deal? People are already allergic to certain food.

    I'm pretty sure we haven't been doing the gene splicing thing with crops for a very long time, but is there any evidence that a GM food has caused anyone to die or that it harms versions of itself that aren't GM?

    But really, if people need food, especially if they're on the verge of starving, what is worse, having a few people go through adverse reactions wouldn't be a horrible trade-off imo.

    Finally, I think that most people who are against GM food are the kind of people who don't have to worry about going hungry, which rubs me the wrong way, too.

  • ||

    "IIRC, some people have had adverse reactions to BT corn-derived products. the usual skepticism about the government's claims seems to be lacking here."

    I am sure the people of Sierra Leone, where the GNP is about $200 a year, will so appreciate the concern of some fat, dumb and happy western liberal over their alergic reactions to their food aid.

  • ||

    Lowdog,
    as JeffG points out the GE rice seemed to be (or was feared to be) contaminating local fields in Africa. Such contaminated crops can't be sold abroad to Europe, or anyother enviroweenie land, as they will not trust any such crop grown there. So it's not a matter of starving, but of trust. Trust is needed to ensure future commerce and so escape poverty.

    well that and beating enviroweenies over the head...

  • ||

    The trouble is that the GM issue is manufactured by the E.U. as an unofficial agricultural protection. Instead of putting a tarrif on imported agricultural goods (which might violate trade agreements), you declare a foriegn food to be "contaminated by GM" and ban it, or a foriegn food to be from a country, where that country may have possibly inadvertantly allowed GM foodstuffs within its borders as "contaiminated by GM".

    "Friends of the Earth" is a puppet group for the European agricultural lobby.

  • ||

    Arthur Williams? It doesn't sound like a native African name, does it? As much as I like to coin new terms, carpetbagger, rabble rouser, and dumbass buttinski, all seem to fit perfectly well.

    Well, Sierra Leone was founded by the Brits as a place to settle emancipated slaves from the New World, so I'm not too surprised that some Sierra Leoneans should have English names. Rumor has it that the same phenomenon has been observed in Liberia.

  • ||

    How much food aid has the Friends of the Earth provided to starving people? Does anyone have statistics or a website that delineates this?

  • ||

    J sub D,

    Be fair! They call themselves "Friends of the Earth," not "Friends of the People."

  • biologist||

    hey, John, why bother with facts, when ad hominem arguments are so compelling?

  • ||

    genetically modified food isn't just food that's been selectively bred, although the term sounds descriptive of that condition. genetically modified food involves moving entire genes between different, often completely unrelated species. IIRC, some people have had adverse reactions to BT corn-derived products. the usual skepticism about the government's claims seems to be lacking here.

    No argument here, but that's not the issue with groups like Friends of the Earth. Their objection is that such food is not "natural", not unsafe.

    In short, it's a religious objection, not a scientific one, rather like Jews or Muslims objecting to food that has been prepared with pig fat. Organic/natural foods are the new Kosher of modern Gaia worship.

  • ||

    Somebody help me out. I went to the Friends of the Earth web site, and I could not find a page explaining why genetically modified/engineered foods are objectionable. Anybody find their page that explains their position?

  • Ali||

    Hey, biologist, could you link to some of the incidents/studies you have gotten your information from? "Adverse reactions" doesn't tell me whether people have died from modified foods, or whether they've had reactions like I have to crustaceans (ie, temporary throat-tingling and closing up), or if the reactions are as mild as a headache. I'd be a lot more sympathetic to the FoE's cause if I knew that people had died from eating genetically modified foods. I Googled the question, but only found personal websites with no citations for their claims.

    Thanks!

  • ||

    Interesting, isn't it, that many of the same people who hysterically oppose genetically engineered foods, despite decades of testing with no demonstrated ill effects, also assert that asking any questions whatever about genetically engineering humans themselves is some form of primitive Luddism or a mere expression of religious repression? And that these people count themselves among the "reality-based community?"

  • ||

    Leftists are incredibly hypocritical people who invariably succeed at little other than worsening the quality of life of others.

    Read how the biggest story of the last 15 years is the stunning defeat of socialism.

  • ||

    genetically modified food involves moving entire genes between different, often completely unrelated species.

    Let's bust that myth right there. The only time "genetically modified food involves moving entire genes between different, often completely unrelated species" is when univerisities train biologists to genetically modify crops. They use "completely unrelated species" so that the students can easily identify the gene splices. Otherwise, such a spliced crop has no value. LLRICE601 contains a protien that resists an herbicide so that farmers can apply the herbicide and increase crop yields. Don't expect any hippopotamus genes in LLRICE601.

  • logic||

    First of all, the FDA is fine. It is in a tough situation of wether or not to pass something.
    Second of all, why in the world would we send food to a nation if it is exporting food of that same crop? (probably same crop to mix up seeds) That sounds like goverment beuracracy and stupidity.
    Third, why are they exporting food if they can't feed themselves, they need to reassess their values.
    Fourth, it didn't hurt anyone,it was probably safe, if it had had caused injury it would have been the worse case of PR ever in the history of the world for the US, the agencies monitoring it, and the company who made it.
    Fifth, if you are not giving an alternative to the GE food, then shuttup

  • logic||

    Victor ERimita had a great comment

  • ||

    One clarification needs to be made about agricultural subsidies and where the stupidity lies in the world. The European Union accounts for 90% of all agricultural subsidies in the world. The reason African governments are prone to resist GM food aid is because it is banned in European markets. So, whether we are talking about long-grain rice in Sierra Leone or corn maize in Zambia and Zimbabwe; the obstacles to feeding the hungry there are EU subsidies and (conveniently protectionist) EU junk-science.

  • ||

    Why should anyone be surprised by this. The same Eco-nuts that are freaking about the rice are, along with other eco-groups, the ones that persuaded many African nations to halt the use of DDT for mosquito control. This makes the argument against the genetic altered rice moot. The good people of Africa may likely die from malaria long before they get around to starving to death.

  • ||

    Sam-Hec: if a country can't feed themselves, what the bleep are they doing exporting food in the first fragging place?!?!?

  • ||

    logic & SDN

    The reason some nations that import food are also exporters is that they can buy more of what they need by producing the higher value crop than they could produce of the lower value crop.

    cf: Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage.

  • biologist||

    mishu, your comment is a non-sequitur. from what species did the herbicide resistance gene come? you haven't supported your premise that my statement is a "myth". BT corn, on the other hand, is corn that has had a gene from a species of bacterium spliced into it (BT = Bacillus thuringiensis). bacteria are pretty distantly related to corn plants. different kingdoms.

    Ali, I thought I heard it on a news report, not a study. I'm not that type of biologist. I also googled it, but couldn't find it. perhaps my memory is faulty, or there was a scare that didn't come to anything. I'm not saying they shouldn't eat GMO corn or rice, I'm saying people should be given full disclosure about their food so they can make informed decisions. also, I'm surprised at the lack of skepticism at government claims of safety with regard to the libertarians here.

    logic | November 27, 2006, 5:41pm | #

    Fifth, if you are not giving an alternative to the GE food, then shuttup


    how about non-GE food? and a dictionary?

  • ||

    Um. IF the rice being sent to Africa as food aid, is for human consumption can it sprout? All the rice I've gottten at the store has had some or all of the bran and other layers removed. This would mean that it would be darn near impossible to use as seed and therefore couldn't "contaminate" the food crops there. (IOW, the contamination issue is a red herring.)

  • Thomas Paine\'s Goiter||

    Um. IF the rice being sent to Africa as food aid, is for human consumption can it sprout? All the rice I've gottten at the store has had some or all of the bran and other layers removed. This would mean that it would be darn near impossible to use as seed and therefore couldn't "contaminate" the food crops there. (IOW, the contamination issue is a red herring.)

    DING DING

  • ||

    I personally know several "environmentalists" who really would like people to starve, the more the better. They don't care what happens to "people they don't know", because there are "too many people anyways".

  • ||

    I'm surprised at the lack of skepticism at government claims of safety with regard to the libertarians here.
    I will speak only for myself, but perhaps this is how some others feel, as well:
    I have not heard a convincing argument for opposing GMOs. Others have argued that we cannot trust that it is safe, because the gov't has not approved it. Now we can say, but yes, yes, they have approved this particular rice. I do not put more weight on gov't claims of safety. I put less weight on them, but I do not discount their findings out of hand.
    My impression is that a population looking for food aid needs food more than they need worries instilled by eco-luddites who cannot be bothered to make it plain what scares them about GMOs. The closest I can find to an explanation of why the "Friends of the Earth" believe GMOs are bad is a position paper entitled "Hidden Uncertainties." If the title of the paper itself doesn't make it clear that they will never accept GMOs, here's some of the paper:

    The public face of the European Commission…
    "..no GMOs are allowed on the EU market unless they have been proved to be completely safe."
    Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, 10 March 2006.1
    "GM sweet corn has been subject to the most rigorous pre-marketing assessment in the world. It has been scientifically assessed as being as safe as any conventional maize. Food safety is therefore not an issue.." David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, 19 May 2004.2


    They immediately follow the "public face" of the European Commission with

    but behind closed doors, a different story:
    "It is apparent from the scientific advice now before the Panel, that there is no unique, absolute, scientific cut off threshold available to decide whether a GM product is safe or not (the risk assessment end point)."
    "on the basis of existing research…it is impossible to know whether the introduction of GM food had had any human health effects other than acute toxic reactions.
    European Communities submission to World Trade Organisation dispute panel, 28 January 2005.3


    Color me unimpressed. The European Commission said in two press releases that they don't know of any problems with any GMOs, then in another, obviously public forum, not "behind closed doors," but not in the plain language of a press release, says that GMOs haven't shown any problems, but if they are to be scientifically rigorous, they must admit that they cannot know everything.

  • ||

    "the administration's tenuous grasp of scientific fact and reality in general makes me suspicious when they claim it's "safe to eat"."

    The Junk Science Community's tenuous grasp of the scientific process and reality in general makes me suspicious when they claim it's "not safe to . . ."

    The Left's tenuous grasp of reality makes me tune out anytime they begin a statement with "the administration . . ."

    "some people have had adverse reactions to BT corn-derived products."

    Lots of people have adverse reactions to virtually every type of food.

  • ||

    The "completely safe" argument is bogus.

    Nothing is completely safe. If the EU had been around in 1600, they'd have had to ban imported sugar because of the deleterious health effects.

  • ||

    "how about non-GE food? "

    Well, no kidding. Isn't that what the whole GE-issue is about? Non-GE isn't getting the job done.

    "and a dictionary?"

    Don't sentences start with a capitalized letter?

  • ||

    That people had allergic reactions to pest-protected bt corn is a myth (or perhaps disinformation) that sprung up during the Starlink "crisis." See Center for Disease Control's findings with regard alleged allergies here.

  • ||

    I see a lot of carping over how the concern is not safety to consume but of exportation to Europe.

    1) If its safe enough for starving Africans to eat then it should be safe enough for Europeans. After all theres plenty of Africans in Europe. To believe otherwise is foolish.

    2) Europeans putting up trade walls to fish for votes is not a basis for humanitarian aid decisions. The Europeans will have to do what they have to do to protect their people while we have to do what we have to do to protect starving people.

    3) If they had food to export and people are starving why the hell is the rest of the world lending a hand?

  • Nancy Reyes||

    Actually, old news.
    Last year, when lots of people lacked food in Zimbabwe, Mugabe refused aid because it might be contaminated with this. Indeed, he used this excuse to hold back greatly needed aid brought up from South African churches:LINK1, LINK2,
    LINK3 (the convoy from RSA was eventually allowed in).

  • ||

    Is this one of those outfits that think that about 4 billion people should die in order to make things better for the earth?

  • ||

    It's people! GM corn is people!

  • ||

    Just out of curiosity is most of the scientific community, or at least scientists working in this area, backing GMOs? How do they respond to the argument about the danger of GM crops crossbreeding with other crops? How do they respond to the other arguments concerning GMOs? Can anyone supply a summary?

  • ||

    "Sam-Hec: if a country can't feed themselves, what the bleep are they doing exporting food in the first fragging place?!?!?"

    To expound on what Aresen said, coutnries like Sierra Leon need to establish their place in the markets. That place can get kicked out from under them at great social costs if somehow the quality of their future crops were compromised.

    GE contamination, now matter how irrational the protectionist EU laws regarding it are, can undermine years of work in establsihing their place in the markets. Potentially triggering more civil wars.

  • ||

    Somehow this seemed relevant---


    In Foreign Affairs, Nancy Birdsall, Dani Rodrik, and Arvind Subramanian on economic devlopment:

    The contrasting experiences of eastern Asia, China, and India suggest that the secret of poverty-reducing growth lies in creating business opportunities for domestic investors, including the poor, through institutional innovations that are tailored to local political and institutional realities. Ignoring these realities carries the risk that pro-poor policies, even when they are part of apparently sound and well-intentioned IMF and World Bank programs, will be captured by local elites.

    Wealthy nations and international development organizations thus should not operate as if the right policies and institutional arrangements are the same across time and space. Yet current WTO rules on subsidies, foreign investment, and patents preclude some of the policy choices made, for example, by South Korea and Taiwan in the past, when rules under the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, were more permissive. What is more, new WTO members typically confront demands to conform their trade and industrial policies to standards that go well beyond existing WTO agreements. The new Basle II international banking standards, better fitted to banks in industrialized nations, risk making it more difficult for banks in developing countries to compete.

    To be sure, not all internationally imposed economic discipline is harmful. The principle of transparency, enshrined in international trade agreements and many global financial codes, is fully consistent with policy independence, as long as governments are provided leeway with respect to actual policy content. A well-functioning international economic system does need rules. But international rules should regulate the interface between different policies and institutional regimes, not erase them.

    http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20050701faessay84410-p0/nancy-birdsall-dani-rodrik-arvind-subramanian/how-to-help-poor-countries.html

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