US told not to dump untested GM food in Sri Lanka

By Nadeera Seneviratne
Environmental Foundation Limited has urged the United States not to dump untested genetically modified food in Sri Lanka. In a letter addressed to George W. Bush, EFL has strongly condemned statements made by an official of the US Embassy on the GM ban in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Weyland Beeghly, Agricultural Counsellor for the US Embassy, New Delhi speaking at a press conference held at the American Centre on May 10 regarding the ban said that there is no scientific evidence to justify Sri Lanka’s ban. He said that only 4 per cent of US imports to Sri Lanka would be effected and was quick to assert that wheat, one of the biggest imports from that country, is not genetically modified.

EFL has stated in their letter that the statements made by the Counsellor were ‘totally unwarranted’ and have expressed their greatest dismay about the ‘way he had chosen to make his remarks’, which they describe as arrogant. EFL states that Director of the American Centre, Stephen Holgate’s threats to the effect that the Sri Lankan government would be taken to task by the WTO on the ban, are an infringement of Sri Lanka’s national sovereignty.

EFL further states that Mr. Beeghly is under the illusion that the Sri Lankan government are of the view that biotechnology is risky, ‘whereas many biotechnology methods have been used by Sri Lankan scientists at various levels for a long time’. EFL has pointed out that the reason the country is slow in adopting genetically engineering is because of the tight patent monopolies in the US that preclude the country from doing any research without infringing on the US patents.

The public interest organisation has strongly objected to Mr. Beeghly’s statement that there is no scientific evidence to justify the GM ban, stating that he is probably not aware of the precautionary principle, which is also a part of the Bio-Safety Protocol. EFL says that this is not surprising since the US is not a party to the Convention Biological Diversity from which the Bio-safety Protocol stems and that it is the ‘height of arrogance to even think that we should not take any line that is not to the liking of the USA’. EFL has reiterated the fact that the scientific evidence that GM Organisms are risky come from research conducted in developed countries in general and of the US in particular, which facts ‘a person of the calibre of an agricultural counsellor ought to know’.

EFL states that if the US wishes to protest against the GM ban, it has to do that with scientific evidence that such foods have been found safe, and point out that the US President would be well aware that such facts cannot be supplied. They say that if there are no strong research findings to show that GM food is safe, then the precautionary step taken by the government is justified. The letter has been signed by Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of EFL/Friends of the Earth Sri Lanka and has been copied to the US Ambassador in Sri Lanka and Mr. Beeghly.

The counsellor also said that 18-20 countries in the world grow GM crops apart from the US, but did not mention that these other countries account for just 26 per cent of the total. Mr. Beeghly also stated that the US has all kinds of GM food stuffs (unlabeled) in their markets, and that the US is not testing genetically modified organisms on poor populations of the developing countries. However, he did not record the heavy protests that have taken place in his country, and made no mention at all of the street protests against ‘Frankenstein Foods’ including during the WTO talks in Seattle.

Mr. Beeghly speaks of scientists being on the verge of creating a GM rice ‘enriched’ with vitamin A that would ‘save thousands of malnourished children. Mr. Beeghly does not mention the fact that this rice has extremely small quantities of vitamin A that would require more than double the daily intake of rice if a child or adult is to obtain sufficient quantities of the vitamin from that source, or that this technology is potentially dangerous.