Tony Hall, the US ambassador to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), takes no prisoners, judging by his recent furious attack in Brussels on the Zambian president, Levy Mwanawasa. Addressing a press conference in the Belgian capital on Zambia's rejection of American-supplied Genetically Modified (GM) food aid, an indignant Hall intoned: "The world needs to put pressure on the leaders in the region that are turning this food down saying that it is poison.
"We even had some food inside Zambia that had to go out, perfectly good food, food that is eaten by Americans every day, and even by South Africans. Leaders who deny food to their people, whom they in fact starve to death, should be held responsible for the highest crimes against humanity, in the highest courts of the world."
Hall cannot countenance the Zambian government's decision last November to turn down 15,000 tons of US-supplied GM maize, which President Mwanawasa controversially described as "poison". The decision was made on the basis of studies done by (according to the Zambians), Dr Marc Lappe, a world renowned scientist, who concluded that concentrations of compounds that protect against heart disease and cancer were lower in GM soyabeans than in traditional strains.
Other studies, according to the Zambians, had also indicated that GM foods had lower nutritional quality and also represented a danger in terms of antibiotic resistance in animals and human beings.
But Hall was adamant that the EU should send "very clear signals" that American GM maize was not only good but also very safe. "This is a disaster in its making. There is food in the area [Zambia] that needs to be eaten, and should be allowed to be eaten," said Hall.
Whether they like it or not, according to Hall, Zambians will have to take the American GM maize if they want to escape famine, adding that "it was almost impossible to get other food in time over there." He then complained that the Europeans were not too enthusiastic about the American view on GM food. In December, the American newspaper, Minneapolis Star Tribune, had quoted a representative of the US Mission to the EU as saying that the Europeans were partly blameable for Zambia's rejection of America's GM maize".
But the EU commissioner for co-operation, development and humanitarian assistance, Paul Nielsen, accepts no such blame. "We are approaching a point where I would propose a deal to the Americans," Nielsen said at a press conference on 20...