- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Are European officials and prestigious science journals truly applauding one of the world's bloodiest dictators for rejecting food aid for his starving people just because some of the corn may be genetically modified?
We're talking about Robert Mugabe, the so-called president of Zimbabwe, who used mobs to strong-arm his way to recent re-election and who has virtually destroyed his nation's economy with graft and violence. Mr. Mugabe was recently invited to bask in anti-biotech virtue, as though he were protecting his people from real danger, by refusing donated U.S. corn in the middle of a desperate southern African drought.
Millions of Zimbabweans are at risk of starvation from a combination of drought and Mr. Mugabe's policies. The drought has dried up the traditional farmers' staple corn crop, as it periodically does. Zimbabwe cannot afford to buy imported corn, as it usually does, because Mr. Mugabe turned loose mobs of "guerrilla veterans" to oust the white farmers from Zimbabwe's commercial farms. The high-yield commercial farms (and their tens of thousands of black employees) used to produce the high-quality tobacco that earned most of the country's foreign exchange. This year, Zimbabwe can neither grow corn nor buy it.
The U.S. corn being offered as food aid is the same corn that Americans themselves have been eating in their corn flakes and tortilla chips with no ill effects. The United States has no other corn to offer, because America does not segregate biotech commodities from conventional ones. (Three U.S. government agencies must be satisfied with the crops' safety before the seeds can even be planted.)
America donates about two-thirds of the food aid offered in the world, and is offering corn to Zimbabwe. It has also offered free grain to Zambia, which is being urged to reject it by European activist groups. Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland accept U.S. corn with no apparent concern.
Europe has surplus grain, and allows its consumers to believe the mostly American biotech commodities should be feared, even though no health or environmental threat has ever been documented. Europe is not offering its non-biotech wheat as food aid, nor has it offered to buy conventional corn to save Africa from the supposed ravages of genetically engineered seeds.
"I think is it absolutely irresponsible, unless they put their money where their mouth is and come up with non-GM food," said one aid official who asked not to be named. "I don't have the nerve, heart or soul to deny, as a precautionary principle, food to people who are hungry right here, right now."
When African people are starving, here and now, can the journal Nature truly be claiming that America is betraying them by offering the same food we eat? Are the activists truly willing to work in favor of mass starvation for others over the "precautionary principle" that says we should never permit any new technology henceforth, because no scientist can ever prove that any technology is so safe it won't cause even a skin rash?
Why should we expect anti-science activists to develop qualms of conscience now, just because a few million women and children are starving before their eyes? After all, millions of Africans and Asians have been dying of malaria for decades, while many of the same activists blocked the safe and cost-effective indoor use of DDT to repel and kill the mosquitoes. The activists tried to block biotech Golden Rice, developed to save millions of Third World kids from death or blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency. Animal rights campaigners continue to destroy medical research facilities and researchers' lives, endangering tens of millions of people in the long term to "protect' a few white rats who are alive solely for research use. (No labs, no white rats get fed.)
Zimbabwe proves again that the activists don't care about real people losing real lives to real food shortages. They cannot be entrusted with a real world.

Dennis Avery is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis and a former senior agricultural analyst for the State Department. Alex Avery is research director of Hudson's Center for Global Food Issues.

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