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Friday, September 30, 2011

Starvation: Now or LaterA look at the GM food crisis in Zambia

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Table of contents


The Situation


What would happen if they chose GM?


What will Zambia lose


Write my Essay on Starvation: Now or LaterA look at the GM food crisis in Zambia




Foreign Pressure against GM 4


The wrath of Biotech companies 4


Health risk? 5


What Happened in the end 6


Bibliography 8





Starvation Now or later


The Situation


It is said to be the worst food-crisis in the last decade. Around 15.5 million people in danger of starving in Southern Africa and to 4 million in Zambia alone. 8% of people in Zambia have no food or have been reduced to eating wild plants, cattle or even their dogs. But, there is a way out. USAID chief Andrew Natsios has said that the US is willing to donate 70%, or 500 000 tonnes, of the food needed to feed the starving people of Zambia, with Europe making up the rest of the donations.


This then seems like an easy and rather fast way out, but it is not the case. Zambia banned US food aid and has stopped handouts of food that has already been delivered to Zambia. One might ask, why would a country full of starving people with no money say no to free food? The answer is quite simple, and rather complicated at the same time The free food is GM. Zambia found out that the US aid contained Genetically Manipulated corn and soybeans. This might seem like a rather trivial matter if your country is starving, but accepting the GM food aid could have even more dire consequences for Zambia. In the meantime the US and WFP (World Food Program) are trying to pressure Zambia into accepting the aid, which is just creating more problems for the Zambia at the end of the day.


What would happen if they chose GM?


Well, if one only looks at the perks that GM has to offer there really is no reason for them to refuse, or so it would seem. If they had chosen GM then this is most likely what they would get


Genetically Manipulated produce offers many advantages over normal grains, etc. They are resistant to disease, insects and produce higher yields on smaller plots. The most important factor however is that they need less water. Some biotech companies also say that GM grains have more nutrients and are safer for consumption than normal grain (African Business, 0040). This is however under debate and is a point that cannot really be proved or disproved.


So, Zambia lifts their ban on GM foods they will receiver all the aid they need and their people will no longer starve. The US has already agreed to give Zambia 70% of the food they need and then the rest of their needs will be filled by Europe. Another thing that the Zambian government have to consider is that all the food is not GM, only the corn and soybeans form the US are genetically manipulated. All the food from Europe and the rest from the US are completely natural. The problem for Zambia is that the only way they are going to see the unmanipulated food is if the accept the GM foodstuffs as well. The UN response to Zambia has been blunt It will have to accept modified food products if it is to receive any aid at all.


What will Zambia lose


This is then what Zambia will have to do to receive food. They are, in a manner of speaking, giving up their sovereignty. Because, if they want aid they cannot choose what they want, where it comes from or what is in it. Their sovereignty has already been affected, after Zambia banned the handout and transport of GM grain, the WFP was caught on 0 August 00 handing out GM corn to villagers. The WFP undermined the government’s decision and therefore the States authority has been affected. This is also what would happen if they accepted the UN offer, because they would not have a choice of what food their country got or where it went.


Jason Lott who is affiliated with the bioethics department of the Witwatersrand University said “In Europe people have a choice. If they don’t want to eat GM foods, they can eat something else. In this part of Africa, where people are dying of hunger, there is no something else.”(The Weekend Australian, 00). It would seem that what the world is telling Zambia is that beggars can’t be choosers. But all beggars can still have some dignity.


Foreign Pressure against GM


The question still remains; will GM solve all Zambia’s problems? Muffy Koch a spokesperson for South African Biotechnologies said that GM grain was the answer to Africa’s food crisis. Subsistence farmers can increase their yields many times over by using GM grain. This is however one of Zambia’s biggest fears and one of the biggest reasons that they banned GM grain. They are afraid that the villages might not eat all the grain that they are given, but that they will plant some of the GM grain. There is then a possibility that cross pollination might take place and their normal export grain could become contaminated. This might seem like a rather small problem, considering the fact that people are starving. The problem is in fact very large, in Europe GM foods are categorised as “Novel Foods” and law strictly regulates the marketing and distribution of such foods. Supermarkets in Britain and all over Europe have also joined ETI (The Ethical Trading Initiative). They are concerned with enforcing ethical as well as food safety standards on the African horticultural industry, especially focussing on Genetically Manipulated products.


The US has told Zambia that they could simply test their export foods to make sure that it is GM free, if they are worried that it will affect their trade relations with the EU. But, testing for GM products can be extremely hard, because some products, like oil derived from soybeans do not contain DNA and can therefore not be tested. Another problem is that Zambia do not have the technology or scientists to perform tests like these. And, even if it could be done elsewhere some EU governments and Supermarket chains have threatened to boycott imports to and from countries where GM grain has been accepted and might have been planted and thusly contaminated other produce. GM foods grown in Zambia will also stop aid from EU countries that do not want to import GM grain and are ethically against Genetic Manipulation.


The wrath of Biotech companies


There are also other fears concerning the planting of GM grain. The Biotech companies that produce GM grains have patented their products. Most of these products are licensed for one crop only. This is mainly to stop cross-pollination and mutation in the crops if the first year’s crop is planted again. These mutated crops can be very dangerous and there is no telling what the side effects from consumption of mutated crops might be.


Zambian Scientists went to the US and EU to study the effect of growing GM foods. After their return they stated that Zambia does not have the necessary safety policies or biotechnology to deal with cross-pollination and mutation and that the Government should uphold their decision.


There are also fears that the American Biotech companies will demand payment if their products are planted and regrown in the recipient nations, they also fear that they might be sued for breaking the one year license on the products.


This situation has also ricochet back to the US where environmental companies have accused the US Biotech Companies of exploiting starving people for political gain.


Because of these fears all GM food that is already in the country and that is being transported across Zambia has to be ground so that it cannot be planted and cross-pollinate, or worse mutate.


Health risk?


That is then one of the two major reasons why Zambia banned the import of GM products. The other reason and the one that was focused on by the media is that the Zambia government fear the GM food will be a health risk.


The President, Levy Mwanawasa, said that the food was “toxic” and that he would rather let the country starve than feed them “poison”. This has however been one of the harder arguments to prove. The country does not have the necessary resources or scientists do deal with this problem. They also don’t have the money to pay for large scale testing to be done in other countries. The US has tested and assured them that the GM food is safe; it is however understandable that Zambia finds it hard to believe the same country that is trying so hard to force the GM food on them.


The British Medical Association (BMA) has also backed and in a certain degree influenced Zambia’s attitude towards GM foodstuffs because they fear the effects of the antibiotic-resistance the genes in GM crops offer. The President said that if the food is found to be safe they would use it, but until that is the case the ban will be upheld.


Charles Riemenschneider, director of UN food and agriculture, told the press that the think the food is safe. This was however not very comforting for the Zambian government. They also went on to tell the Zambian government that Americans have been eating GM foods for years and there has been no noticeable side effects. Compared to the immediate danger of starvation, the long-term risks seem, to the UN, to be a small risk to take.


However, the effects that GM grain had on Americans cannot be compared to Zambia. In the US, people eat corn maybe once a week, but in Zambia, they eat corn three times a day, seven days a week. Problems might arise that were not foreseen in the US where the consumption is much lower.


Dr. Obed Lugu from the University of Zambia fears that the country is to poor and do not have the facilities to deal with health problems that might arise from the consumption of gm foods.


What Happened in the end


In the end, the President knows that if he does not accept GM food now, his people could starve, but he also knows that if he accepts he is starving them in the years to come.


Zambia has pinned its hopes on grain that has been planted on commercial export farms and which will now used internally. Lugu also said that the US should rather give them money the way most EU countries have done, so that they can buy what they really need. Zambia also accepted GM aid in the end, but only gave it to refugees in the country and on the condition that it be ground.


In the end it is also very hard to determine how bad things really are in the country, since the President has threatened to arrest any government deputies who talk to the press about the situation and plight of the people.





175 words


Bibliography


Coghlan, A. 00. ‘GENETICALLY modified foods; ZAMBIA’. New Scientist. Vol. 177 Issue 80, p4.


du Venage, G. ‘Against the grain’. The Australian. AUG 1, 00, p.6.


Economist. 00. ‘Better dead than GM-fed?’. Vol. 64 Issue 80, p76.


Freidberg, S. 00. ‘Cleaning up down South supermarkets, ethical trade and African horticulture’. Social & Cultural Geography. Vol. 4 Issue 1, pp7-17.


Lyden, J. 00. ‘Analysis Zambian reluctant to feed its starving people genetically altered corn from the US’. All Things Considered. SEP 1, 00.


Muula AS, Mfutso-Bengo JM. 00. ‘Risks and benefits of genetically modified maize donations to southern Africa views from Malawi’. Croatian medical journal. Vol. 44 Issue 1, pp. 10-6.


Nevin, T. 00. ‘The GM conundrum’. African Business. Issue 80, p40.


Quinn, A. 00. ‘Disease fuels Africas food crisis’. Toronto Star. Nov 8, 00, p.5


Stuart L. 00. ‘Grappling with GM conundrum’. Toronto Star. Nov 10, 00, p.5


The Times. 00. ‘Means to measure famine in Zambia’. Feb 0, 00, p.1.


Womens International Network News. 00. ‘ZAMBIAS GOVERNMENT REFUSES GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD AID’. Vol. 8 Issue 4, p6.


Bibliography


Coghlan, A. 00. ‘GENETICALLY modified foods; ZAMBIA’. New Scientist. Vol. 177 Issue 80, p4.


du Venage, G. ‘Against the grain’. The Australian. AUG 1, 00, p.6.


Economist. 00. ‘Better dead than GM-fed?’. Vol. 64 Issue 80, p76.


Freidberg, S. 00. ‘Cleaning up down South supermarkets, ethical trade and African horticulture’. Social & Cultural Geography. Vol. 4 Issue 1, pp7-17.


Lyden, J. 00. ‘Analysis Zambian reluctant to feed its starving people genetically altered corn from the US’. All Things Considered. SEP 1, 00.


Muula AS, Mfutso-Bengo JM. 00. ‘Risks and benefits of genetically modified maize donations to southern Africa views from Malawi’. Croatian medical journal. Vol. 44 Issue 1, pp. 10-6.


Nevin, T. 00. ‘The GM conundrum’. African Business. Issue 80, p40.


Quinn, A. 00. ‘Disease fuels Africas food crisis’. Toronto Star. Nov 8, 00, p.5


Stuart L. 00. ‘Grappling with GM conundrum’. Toronto Star. Nov 10, 00, p.5


The Times. 00. ‘Means to measure famine in Zambia’. Feb 0, 00, p.1.


Womens International Network News. 00. ‘ZAMBIAS GOVERNMENT REFUSES GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD AID’. Vol. 8 Issue 4, p6.


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