From Thu Jun 13 10:30:10 2002
Date: Wed, 12 Jun 2002 08:34:29 -0500 (CDT)
From: Mark Graffis <>
Subject: U.N. slammed for distributing GM corn in Guatemala
Article: 140156
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

U.N. slammed for distributing GM corn in Guatemala

By Greg Brosnan, Reuters, Wednesday 12 June 2002

GUATEMALA CITY—Guatemalan environmental activists slammed the United Nations Tuesday for distributing genetically engineered corn to drought-hit peasants in the Central American nation through its World Food Program (WFP).

Environmental group Madre Selva said U.S. laboratory tests on a sack of UN-distributed corn it acquired in eastern Guatemala detected genetically modified varieties, which some scientists fear could be unsafe for human consumption.

Genetic ID, the Iowa laboratory that performed the tests, confirmed to Reuters the sample contained three products engineered by U.S. companies but banned from use in the European Community, where opposition to so-called Frankenfoods is strongest.

Genetic ID Chief Executive Officer John Fagan said two were made to resist herbicides made by the same companies which could then be sprayed over fields without fear of damaging the crop, while the third contained a pesticide that killed certain bugs. They are completely unacceptable in the European Community, said Fagan. His laboratory mostly tests U.S.-grown crops to see if they are GM-free and therefore suitable for export to countries that ban the products.

No legislation against GM foods exists in Guatemala, and some scientists say genetic manipulation can ease hunger by producing new, more resistant varieties of crops with greater yields.

But critics warn GM products can contaminate nearby fields through cross-pollination and claim no one yet understands the possible long-term health risks from eating GM foods. We have the sack of corn sitting in our office with the U.N. logo on it, said Madre Selva spokesman Jose Manuel Chacon. They are using Central America as a guinea pig.

Lola Castro, acting head of the WFP in Guatemala, said the agency only distributed food also considered apt for human consumption in the countries that donated it but had no way of checking supplies for traces of GM crops. We have a lot of people to feed, she said, adding that the WFP had bought the tested sample from local suppliers but that the genetically modified corn had most likely previously been purchased from the United States.

The corn tested was destined only for human consumption, but Madre Selva said there was a danger it could end up growing in Guatemalan fields and pushing out local varieties.

Alex Gonzalez, the Guatemalan agriculture ministry official responsible for food security, said that while there was no proof the corn was not fit for human consumption, Madre Selva was dead right to worry about the possible consequences of growing it in the country. He said the government would further discuss the issue at a grains conference in Guatemala City later this month.