Letter: Food modification

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The Independent Online
Sir: Professor Dick Flavell, Director of the John Innes Centre, says that those who want the biotechnology behind genetically-modified food banned are "undermining the position of the starving people of Ethiopia" ("Genetically-modified food to hit shelves in the New Year", 20 November).

The connection between Ethiopia and biotechnology eludes me. Over 99 per cent of food in Ethiopia is produced by smallholder farmers who use mostly their own farmers' varieties for seed. As shown by the three preceding years of food production being sufficient for domestic consumption, with even some for export, it is clear that it was not poor seed, which biotechnology would presumably improve, but civil war and excessive and uninformed government regulation of farming, that was to blame for the decades of persistent starvation.

There are still hungry people in Ethiopia, but they are hungry because they have no money, no longer because there is no food to buy. Heavy unseasonal rains have ruined a lot of this year's harvest and food will probably be short in 1998. But even transgenic crops would have suffered under such heavy harvest-season rains.

Those who oppose biotechnology may be undermining transnational corporations, but certainly not the smallholder farmers of Ethiopia. I am Africa's spokesperson in the negotiations on a Biosafety Protocol and on the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources. I strongly resent the abuse of our poverty to sway the interests of the European public in the debate on the means by which transnational corporations keep themselves wealthy at our expense.

TEWOLDE BERHAN GEBRE EGZIABHER

Institute for Sustainable Development

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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