WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has slipped a controversial ingredient into the $770 million aid package it recently proposed to ease the world food crisis, adding language that would promote the use of genetically modified crops in food-deprived countries.
The value or detriment of genetically modified, or bio-engineered, food is an intensely disputed issue in the U.S. and Europe, where many countries have banned foods made from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
Proponents say GMO crops can result in higher yields from plants that are hardier in harsh climates.
“We certainly think that it is established fact that a number of bio-engineered crops have shown themselves to increase yields through their drought resistance and pest resistance,” said Dan Price, a food aid expert on the White House’s National Security Council.
Opponents say GMO crops can cause allergies, illnesses and unforeseen medical problems in those who consume them. They also contend the administration’s plan is aimed to help agribusinesses such as Monsanto, which manufactures genetically modified seeds.
“This is a hot topic now with the food crisis,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association. “I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that genetically engineered crops – they may do a number of things, but they don’t increase yields. There are no commercialized crops that are designed to deal with the climate crisis.”
Bush proposed the food package two weeks ago as aid groups and the U.N. World Food Program pressed Western governments to provide additional funds to bridge the gap caused by rising food prices. The aid must win congressional approval.
It would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to spend $150 million of the total aid package on development farming, including the use of GMO crops.
The U.S. is already the U.N. food program’s largest donor, providing nearly half of the help the group receives from governments. It gave about $1.1 billion to the WFP in both 2006 and 2007. Overall, the WFP provided $2.6 billion in aid in 2006.
The U.N. estimates 852 million people facing a food emergency daily.
In April, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested at a Peace Corps conference that “we need to look again at some of the issues concerning technology and food production. I know that GMOs are not popular around the world, but there are places that drought-resistant crops should be a part of the answer.”