ActionAid has said that its counterpart organisation in Uganda has apologised after a senior official at the African charity made comments about genetically modified crops that formed the basis of a front-page story in today’s Independent newspaper.
The paper’s story, run under the headline "The charity that spreads ‘groundless’ fears over GM", says that donors to ActionAid in Britain are "unwittingly funding an aggressive anti-GM food campaign in Africa that misleadingly warns famers that eating the crops could give them cancer".
It quotes Fredrick Kawooya, policy and campaigns manager at ActionAid Uganda, as saying that the organisation was trying to mobilise opposition to a proposed GM plant in the country.
"I am saying [to farmers] that eating GM food could potentially cause cancer," he is quoted as saying. The newspaper says h cites research – since retracted – that found some rats developed cancerous tumours after being fed GM food.
In a statement, ActionAid UK said that all 40 of the ActionAid country programmes, which operate as individual organisations under the global umbrella of ActionAid International, were asked last year not to take a position on the health effects of genetically modified organisms because the charity did not have the necessary expertise to make informed decisions.
"ActionAid in Uganda should not have told farmers that GM technology could potentially cause cancer," the statement said. "It was a mistake and was stopped as soon as The Independent phoned us last week.
"As a matter of principle, ActionAid is neither for nor against GM technology. We recognise that in some areas it has worked but in others it has not, and that context is everything. If country programmes decide to campaign against the introduction of GM technology, we ask that they do so through the lens of our expertise.
"That lies in tackling rural poverty through the promotion of sustainable agriculture. ActionAid works with tens of thousands of poor farmers worldwide in agro-ecology that encourages biodiversity."