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Transgenic food aid
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Environmentalists denounce the donation of genetically modified food.

Food containing genetically modified ingredients was donated to alleviate hunger in Nicaragua, according to environmentalists who are calling for the suspension of food aid involving genetically modified products.

The food and grain were provided by the World Food Program (WFP) to combat severe malnutrition resulting from a drought that destroyed much of last year’s harvest in Central America (LP, Aug. 20, 2001). WFP officials say that 700,000 people in the region are going hungry and at least 6,000 children are at risk of dying because of lack of food.

Nicaragua has the highest malnutrition rate in Latin America, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, which reported that 31 percent of the country’s 5.2 million people suffer from poverty-related malnutrition. The highest rates are in rural areas.

According to two nongovernmental organizations in Managua, the Humboldt Center and the Health Information and Consultation Service Center, tests showed genetic modifications in samples of corn and soy flour and seed corn.

The flour was donated by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the seed corn came from Germany, according to Nicaraguan environmentalists. They said that the results of the Humboldt Center’s tests were confirmed by a US lab.

Neither the WFP nor USAID denied the report. One USAID source, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the agency could not guarantee that donated food was not grown from genetically modified seeds, because US grain mills are not required to separate transgenic and conventional grains.

"The government of Nicaragua is aware of this. We’re not hiding anything," the source said.

The United States donated nearly half of the food provided by the WFP, according to a WFP source, who said, "We don’t separate the food by country of origin. The donations come from many different countries."

Much of the food aid that reaches Nicaragua is distributed to infants, children and women, according to Víctor Campos of the Humboldt Center, which is affiliated with Friends of the Earth International.

"It’s unacceptable that Nicaraguan children are eating transgenics when several baby food companies in the United States and Europe carefully avoid putting such organisms in their products," Campos said. "They’ve taken advantage of our very vulnerable situation to send us products that children in developed countries don’t consume."

Concern about transgenic corn in Nicaragua comes shortly after an uproar about alleged contamination of traditional varieties of Mexican corn. A study published last November in the British journal Nature reported that Mexican corn had been genetically contaminated (LP, March 25, 2002).

Although the study was later questioned by a review panel that also published its findings in Nature, environmentalists are worried because the samples gathered in the original study came from a part of Mexico that is considered the epicenter of corn diversity. Environmentalists blamed the contamination on corn imported from the United States, where nearly 40 percent of the crop is genetically modified. — IPS

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