Greens angered over C4 claims they 'caused starvation'

Daniel Howden,Africa Correspondent
Saturday 06 November 2010 01:00

A Channel 4 documentary accusing the green movement of causing mass starvation in Africa by getting it wrong on genetically-modified food has been attacked as "malicious" and "ridiculous" by farm groups on the continent.

"What the Green Movement Got Wrong", broadcast this week, by the same channel that aired the hugely controversial "Great Climate Change Swindle" suggests that the Western green consensus against GM foods had impoverished the southern hemisphere.

"The programme suggests that were it not for the external pressure of northern environmental organisations, Africans would be happily eating genetically modified foods by now, and hunger would be a distant memory," said a statement from the African Biodiversity Network. "We oppose these ridiculous and malicious claims."

Several groups including Greenpeace, which called the documentary "comically misleading" and one of the programmes contributors, Adam Werbach, have suggested they may complain to British regulator Ofcom.

A storm of similar complaints followed the screening of the "Great Climate Change Swindle" when Ofcom ruled in 2008 that the channel had breached section seven of its code by failing to inform participants the programme was polemic.

Global feelings run high over the claims and counter-claims made about GM crops with agribusiness and biotech firms promising their products can end hunger, while their opponents portray them as "Frankenstein foods" that will enslave local farmers and wipe out indigenous seed varieties.

The documentary shown on Thursday saw a procession of dissident greens such as Stewart Brand admit they got it wrong on genetically-modified foods and, in the case of Mark Lynas, on nuclear power. But some of those interviewed have since complained that the project was hijacked by new producers and its content transformed into a narrow polemic.

A spokesperson for Channel 4 said the production reflected debate in the green movement and denied deceiving Mr Werbach: "It was made clear that the different titles for the project at the outset were working titles.

"There was no intention to deceive him, the final title was only chosen and confirmed at the time of billing."

The UK broadcast has provoked fury among some of the leading voices in the African agricultural sector.

"It was an insult to the very people it purports to care about," complained Zachary Makanya who heads an ecological land use group in Kenya. "The programme did not include Southern farmers' voices, and implied that Africans do not have the intelligence to think for themselves."

The GM debate has been particularly intense in Africa which was largely left behind by the so-called "Green Revolution" that fuelled increased yields off the back of scientific breakthroughs made by Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug. Before his death last year Dr Borlaug complained that Western-led anti-scientific NGOs were holding back scientists' ability to solve food insecurity.

In the opposing camp, organisations such as the UN's environment programme based in Nairobi have produced their own research suggesting that organic practices can have better impact on African harvests.

Mr Werbach, a US-based business and environment author, was one of the environmental thinkers interviewed in the documentary who later tried to withdraw over concerns at the direction it was taking.

On his blog yesterday, he objected to being cast, "As one of a handful of lifelong greens who now had come to believe that the environmental movement had gone terribly wrong and was, among other sins, causing mass starvation through its actions."

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