If Americans need another reason to intensely dislike certain European governments that undermined American policy to liberate Iraq from the mass murderer Saddam Hussein, here is one. Those same governments are not only opposing the sending of donated American bioengineered food to starving African nations, they are spreading disinformation and lies so that African governments will not accept any.
In a May 21 speech to graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., President George W. Bush "outed" the Europeans when he accused them of perpetuating starvation in Africa by lying about biotech food and subsidizing their agricultural exports, thus preventing poor nations from developing their own crops. The United States has filed a lawsuit with the World Trade Organization, complaining about the European moratorium on bioengineered crops.
Former Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio), who now serves as the U.S. ambassador to the U.S. Mission to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome, tells me, "Any leader who denies food to their people and they die deserves to be brought up on charges of crimes against humanity in the world's highest court."
Hall, who championed the cause of the hungry in Congress with mixed results (his Congressional Hunger Commission was eliminated a decade ago, and Hall went on a 22-day hunger strike to get it reauthorized), says that the European media are helping to spread fear and lies to African nations so that they refuse our food aid.
Among the myths being spread are that Americans won't eat the bioengineered food they want Africans to eat. Not true. Hall says 80 percent of the U.S. soybean crop and 38 percent of the corn crop are now biologically engineered. "Whether it's corn-on-the-cob, soy sauce, canola cooking oil or Fritos, we have been consuming bioengineered foods regularly since 1996 . all with no ill effects," says Hall.
Another myth perpetuated by Europeans and their media is that biotech foods have not been adequately tested for safety. Hall says, in fact, foods that come from commercially produced bioengineered crops in the United States "have met rigorous safety standards - the most rigorous in the world."
What about the charge from Europeans and their media that this isn't really about the hungry but about enriching multinational companies and the biotech industry? Hall says food research has been a collaborative effort of land grant colleges, private foundations and some corporations, much of which is directed at helping poor nations with starving people feed themselves. Why would other countries oppose such a magnanimous humanitarian effort unless their own greed got in the way?
While the United States is preoccupied with terrorism and the relatively few who have died from it (compared to the toll taken by starvation around the world where many live on $2 a day and one of three children is affected by malnutrition), a different kind of terrorism stalks the poor nations of Africa. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has raised our awareness with some profound and timely columns from poor African nations.
In a May 23 column, Kristof wrote, "In the best of circumstances, about 100,000 boys and girls . will die of malnutrition-related ailments this year in Ethiopia. If the drought continues and the West doesn't provide more assistance, the number of deaths will rise to several hundred thousand more."
There may not be much that can be done about the drought, but there is plenty that can be done about starvation if the Europeans will stop lying about biotech and their media will report the truth.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick wrote in the May 21 Wall Street Journal that European food policy in Africa is having a "dangerous effect." He said, "some famine-stricken African countries refused U.S. food because of fabricated fears - stoked by irresponsible rhetoric - about food safety."
President Bush should continue to shame the Europeans and force them and their media to confront the consequences of what they are doing in Africa. As Hall suggests, this is nothing less than genocide, and there are laws against such things and consequences for breaking them, aren't there?