- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

JOHANNESBURG U.S. AID Administrator Andrew Natsios accused environmental groups yesterday of endangering the lives of millions of famine-threatened Africans by encouraging their governments to reject genetically modified U.S. food aid.
"They can play these games with Europeans, who have full stomachs, but it is revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake," Mr. Natsios said in an interview.
Mr. Natsios did not name specific groups, but other officials indicated he was infuriated by the activities in Zambia a country he had just visited of groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
"They are using big-time, very well-organized propaganda the likes of which I have never seen before" in 12 years of American-led famine-relief efforts, said Mr. Natsios, who could not persuade the Zambians to accept U.S. food aid.
"The Bush administration is not going to sit there and let these groups kill millions of poor people in southern Africa through their ideological campaign," Mr. Natsios said on the sidelines of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.
The American aid chief, touring two of the seven southern African countries hit by severe food shortages, had just arrived from Lusaka, Zambia, where he failed to persuade President Levy Mwanawasa to accept American corn.
About 17,000 tons of American corn, about 30 percent of which was grown from genetically modified corn seeds, is sitting in storage in Zambia.
Officials said Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, other pressure groups and a Jesuit priest have been intensively lobbying Zambia and other regional states not to take the corn. According to Agence France-Presse, Mozambique also has reservations about accepting genetically modified corn from the United States.
The United States insists the corn is safe, but the environmental groups say it could cause dangerous mutations if it grows alongside the local varieties. They have also told Zambian and other African leaders that it could endanger the health of those who eat it.
Zimbabwe recently refused modified U.S. corn on the grounds that farmers might plant some of the seeds, which would in time cross-fertilize with the country's native corn. That, in turn, would jeopardize the country's future food exports to Europe, which only allows a handful of genetically modified crops.
A deal was struck under which the U.S. corn was given to the government to be milled ensuring that it could not be planted while an equal amount of native corn was given from government storehouses to private relief agencies for distribution.
Zambia, meanwhile, faces the risk of famine affecting 2.3 million of its citizens as a result of a regional drought and reduced imports from Zimbabwe, where the drought problem has been compounded by the seizure of white-owned farms.
An estimated 13 million people face famine in southern Africa, and 300,000 people could die of starvation in the next six months, according to World Health Organization statistics. Earlier this year, the World Food Program appealed for $507 million to feed more than 12 million people in the region.
Mr. Natsios said he told the Zambian leader yesterday that he would phone him every time a shipment of corn arrives at an east African port to see whether he has changed his mind about taking the corn. He also said he has offered to send U.S. scientists to Zambia to teach them about biotechnology.
Clearly angry, the USAID administrator said he would "go on the offensive" to discredit the international advocacy groups who, he said, were endangering millions for ideological purposes.
U.N. officials have also pleaded with the Zambian government to reconsider its position. The World Health Organization said there is no evidence that such food is dangerous, while the WFP's director, James Morris, said there is no way his organization can feed Zambia's hungry without genetically modified food.
At a separate news conference, Mr. Natsios blamed Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe for the deteriorating situation in that country and said large numbers of people were likely to starve there without a change in the government's policy.
Mr. Mugabe has ordered or permitted the seizure, sometimes violently, of white-owned farms across the country by poor blacks as well as by many of his relatives and associates. This has led to a sharp drop in food production not only at home but for export to neighboring countries.
"We are very, very alarmed about what is happening in Zimbabwe. The wrong policies are in place, and things are sliding fast," Mr. Natsios said.
Zimbabwe was not on Mr. Natsios' tour, although more people are at risk there than in all the other affected countries combined. He said his harsh criticism of the country and its government has made him unwelcome there.
Mr. Natsios in the past has blamed Mr. Mugabe for causing the famine.
"If I could create a series of policies to make a famine, they'd be the ones that Mugabe has made," Mr. Natsios said. "He is making his own famine."

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