Third world rejects GM

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD'S hungriest nations have resolved to oppose genetically modified foods. A senior Ethiopian government official last night told the Independent on Sunday they were "absolutely united" in resisting US plans to "decide what we eat".

Dr Tewolde Gebre Egziabher was speaking after last week's talks collapsed in Cartagena, Colombia, following the United States' accusation that the developing countries were endangering free trade. An international treaty to regulate trade in GM produce had been discussed by 132 nations.

The revolt may surprise many in the West, who associate Ethiopia with severe food shortages. Biotechnology firms have consistently argued that GM crops' increased resistance to parasites and disease makes them valuable to the third world.

Dr Egziabher, the senior third world negotiator at the talks, said third world resistance to the imposition of GM crops was growing. Last week the government of Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, the country's second largest soya-producing region, said it would ban the planting of GM beans produced by the US giant Monsanto. And India's Supreme Court stopped trials of GM cotton.

The third world's tough stance undermines the biotech companies' justification for GM crops - that they will help end world hunger; Dr Egziabher said instead they could worsen the plight of the hungry.

The developing countries insisted the US ship GM foods separately from normal ones, and seek their "prior informed consent" before exporting. But the US and five other exporting countries - including Canada, Australia and Argentina - fear third world countries would boycott GM produce.

n This week, Jack Cunningham, Cabinet "enforcer", will go before the Commons Environmental Audit Committee to explain the Government's handling of the GM controversy.