Ethiopia Biodiversity Law Threatens Food Aid Shipments
02 November 2009
Ethiopia is reviewing a newly-passed law that could restrict imports of
food aid at a time when millions of its people are suffering from
severe malnutrition. VOA's Peter Heinlein in Addis Ababa reports on
the unintended consequences of a regulation designed to protect
Ethiopia's parliament passed the
Proclamation on Bio Safety with little notice on the final day before
its summer recess in July. There was no debate, and no dissenting
|A dry corn field in Ethiopia|
The proclamation gives the Ethiopian Environmental
Protection Authority power to block the import of GMOs, or genetically
modified organisms. The idea was to protect the country's diverse life
forms against genetically engineered seeds and grains that some
scientists believe may pose health hazards.
But EPA regulators soon realized the proclamation also covers the vast majority of the food aid Ethiopia receives.
the country in the third year of a drought, authorities have just
issued an appeal for more aid to feed 6.2 million severely malnourished
Member of Parliament Bulcha Demeksa says lawmakers approved the Bio Safety Proclamation without realizing its consequences.
do not think the parliament understood it. Because everybody knows
that food from Australia and Canada, all of them are produced with
genetic engineering, and to say we do not want food from these
countries is not tenable, it is not intelligent," Demeksa said.
The United States is by far the largest food-aid donor to
Ethiopia. At the moment, the U.S. Agency for International Development
has 300,000 metric tons of commodities such as wheat, corn-soy blend
and vegetable oil on the way to meet the country's urgent needs.
USAID Country Director Thomas Staal says he has
received assurances from Agriculture Ministry officials that the law
will not be an obstacle to getting aid to needy Ethiopians.
gotten assurances from them that it's not going to stop our food aid,
it's already en route, some of it, and we're working with them trying
to provide them input into what we're bringing in, and they're looking
at their rules, and there's going to be a number of directives that
will sort of roll out this law and those directives are still under
discussion," Staal said.
In a telephone interview,
Ababu Anage, head of the Ecosystems Department of the Environmental
Protection Authority defended the law as necessary to protect human and
animal health. But he said enforcement of the new law is still a
subject of negotiation.
"We are not
saying we will not [permit] any GMOs to this country. We need
the GMOs, but we should give emphasis on the bio safety aspect of it," Anage said.
USAID's Thomas Staal says he has emphasized to Ethiopian officials that all American food aid meets U.S. health standards.
we do not think it causes any problem with the environment here, and
not to people's health or safety. We do not bring in food that we do
not eat ourselves in America. And second, we would not bring in any
food here that would be unhealthful to the Ethiopian people," said Staal.
year, the United States donated close to $700 million worth of food aid
to Ethiopia, or 80 percent of the total the Horn of Africa country
But many see the aid as
inefficient. A U. S. Government Accountability Office report suggested
more than 40 percent of the cost of the aid goes for transportation and
other overhead costs.
In a speech to parliament last month,
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi criticized what he called the
'food aid industry'. He accused 'industry actors' of deliberately
inflating the number of Ethiopians in need of aid, and suggested their
motive is more about profit than about saving lives.