Row over relief

Published: Monday 15 July 2002

The United Nations has been condemned by Guatemalan environmental activists for distributing genetically engineered corn to drought-hit farmers in the Central American nation through its World Food Programme (wfp). Environmental group Madre Selva said us laboratory tests on a sack of un-distributed corn it acquired in eastern Guatemala detected genetically modified (gm) varieties, which some scientists fear could be unsafe for human consumption. These are banned from use in the European community. However, no legislation against gm foods exists in Guatemala. Experts are of the opinion that gm products can contaminate nearby fields through cross-pollination and there is still no understanding of the possible long-term health risks caused by consumption of gm foods. "They are using Central America as a guinea pig," said Madre Selva spokesperson Jose Manuel Chacon.

Although wfp officials said that the agency distributed food considered apt for human consumption, Madre Selva claimed there was a danger it could end up growing in Guatemalan fields and pushing out local varieties.

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