The U.S. government and multinational corporations have capitalized on African nations’ voids in regulatory frameworks to push genetically modified (GM) crops, standing to gain lucrative corporate profits while decimating food sovereignty, a new report states.

Released Monday from the African Centre for Biosafety and commissioned by environmental network Friends of the Earth International, Who benefits from GM crops? The expansion of agribusiness interests in Africa through biosafety policy (pdf) looks at how U.S. interests have used the mantra of addressing food security to push these crops despite local opposition.

“The U.S., the world’s top producer of GM crops, is seeking new markets for American GM crops in Africa,” stated report author Haidee Swanby. “The U.S. administration’s strategy consists of assisting African nations to produce biosafety laws that promote agribusiness interests instead of protecting Africans from the potential threats of GM crops.”

That opening exists, Friends of the Earth explains, because most African nations don’t have biosafety laws on the safe handling of GM crops (or GMOs), and such laws can be crafted to either promote the crops or to promote a rigorous safety assessment of them.

But “the U.S.A. stance is that GM crops offer important technological advances in agriculture that can significantly increase crop production and that they pose no risks.” So when representatives of U.S. interests offer assistance, it is to “craft [regulatory systems that] are most likely to have an absolute minimum of regulation, creating attractive environments for agribusiness investors.”

Another part of the “strategy has been to pursue the development of strong intellectual property rights regimes, in order to give investors confidence with respect to returns on their investments,” the report states.

One example noted in the report is an initiative called the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project (WEMA), which is implemented in South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Monsanto has partnered with the initiative, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation have pledged $47 million for it.

It is is ostensibly aimed at boosting food security with drought- and insect-resistant maize, but the report says Monsanto is using the project to do field trials and ultimately gain approval of a new maize, rather than taking the standard commercial route for approval, thereby paving the way for new markets for the crops. The report also points to questions about the efficacy of the drought-resistance trait.

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