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Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Should southern Africa accept GM food aid ?
Southern African countries facing famine are declining food aid from America unless it is certified to be free of genetically-modified organisms (GMO).

Fears that African crops could be contaminated caused 10,000 tonnes of American maize to be refused by the Zimbabwean Government in June.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAid) says there is not enough GMO-free food available to keep a continual supply to southern Africa.

They also stress the food is approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency and is eaten by Americans every day.

Is America putting Africa at risk with donations containing GMO? Are famine-stricken countries justified in refusing it?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

The common thread in many of those opinions opposed to GM foods being sent to Africa is that there's a slight chance they may, possibly cause problems sometime in the future. So the choice is: die now or maybe in 20-30 years or maybe not. I know which I'd choose!
J Cahill, UK

I can see the issue here. Why has America chosen to give grant of GM foods rather than HIV/AIDS control drugs? Are Africans not dying in their millions from HIV/AIDS? Mugabe is right for refusing his countrymen and women to be used as human laboratories. I still remember when my parents were growing genetically modified grains (Sorghum)in the 60s. Today no high yielding sorghum, no traditional sorghum, only bare, trampled and eroded lands! America should keep its GM to itself.
Ruth Mohammed, Netherlands

A quick poll among the people who need that food would give you the obvious answer to this question

Mark Schofield, France
A quick poll among the people who need that food would give you the obvious answer to this question. Let's face it, starving people have very little choice indeed.
Mark Schofield, France

The leaders of starving African nations are caught between the rock and the hard surface. Should they accept GM food to save the lives of few of their citizens at the risk of ruining their agriculture forever? I have sympathy to both, leaders and the starving masses.
Lema M, Tanzania

The anti-GM propaganda spewed out by certain EU countries is nothing more than self-serving protectionism. We've all been eating GM foods for years (some might argue for centuries), and we seem to be doing very well with it. If African governments, keen to preserve their (higher) EU subsidies and grant-in-aid payments, bow to this kind of political pressure, be it on their heads. As for the EU, shame on you!
Mark M. Newdick, US/UK

So, man is at it again! For how long shall we keep on attempting to push the walls of nature and then the rubble ends up falling on our heads? GMOs are a violation of natural order and the whole thing will sooner or later teach the world a lesson. The fact that the US people (some!) are consuming GMOs does not make these alien products universally acceptable. I would rather starve for a while than allow my body to be used as an experimental substance.
Geogio Hayunga, Zambian in UK

Europe has created the bogus issue

Mark, USA
Europe has created the bogus issue that GM foods are poison and GM crops will destroy a safe and healthy food supply. They did this for the cynical reason that it was an effective protectionist tactic and created hysteria among consumers and environmentalists. Europeans are no healthier, safer from any diseases, or have a greater life expectancy than Americans do. People in the Third World would do well to ignore this European claptrap.
Mark, USA

Being in need does not mean you cannot make choices.
Draphes, Zimbabwean, in UK

I don't think GM food is the issue here. The world should encourage Mugabe to treat agriculture as a business and not as a political instrument. When that happens, there won't be need for any adulterated food in Zimbabwe.
Patrick Musa, Sierra Leone

Will the West pay for all the ecological damage that could ensue?

Shawn, Canada
Most of the comments so far have been about the safety of GMO for human consumption, but I think the real issue is the potential impact on the environment. In Canada, GMO canola plants are fast becoming a super-pest (they have been made resistant to pesticides), which take over plots of land where canola has never been planted. Others GMOs can wipe out insects somewhat indiscriminately over 50km from the plants themselves (they've been modified so that their pollen is an insecticide). Will the West pay for all the ecological damage that could ensue once these GMOs get released in Africa? Not likely.
Shawn, Canada

I think it is wrong to look at GM food just in the context of accepting food relief to bridge a season or two's food shortages. The real reason why countries ban GM foods is that nobody knows their effect on sustainable long term agriculture.
Jupiter Punungwe, Zimbabwean in Malawi

Let aid be a gesture of kindness and compassion, not an opportunity for marketing or scientific experiments.
Akemi, USA

What about ending the huge agricultural subsidies of the EU and US?

John G, London, UK
Never mind dumping Frankenstein food onto Africa. What about ending the huge agricultural subsidies of the EU and US and letting African agriculture compete fairly?
John G, London, UK

GM food is untested, unregulated and will not ease starvation. A change to the obscene international trade laws and redistribution of food will go a long way to helping poor nations improve their living standards. And the political will to promote democracy, rather than backing every dictator we think will serve our financial interests would be nice, don't you think?
Kaz, USA, via UK

I think these leaders are becoming as irresponsible. If they were really concerned about their people's lives they would have worked towards avoiding the famine instead of forcing them to prolonged civil wars. Their concern about GM food is a hypocrisy which may cause further damage to their people.
Anna, USA

They should stick to their principles

Peter, USA
I eat GM food all the time, drink bovine growth hormone milk and eat food with preservatives. This is because it is cheap to buy and I can't afford real food. I understand the desire of these people not to want it. It lacks flavour and who knows what it might do to their ecosystem? I think they should stick to their principles because this food may kill them worse than they are being killed already.
Peter, USA

I eat as much organically grown foods as I can, and don't consume GM products. That's a luxury I can afford. I am happy to pay the extra cost. The blunt reality is that the governments of nations whose citizens starving, would be well served to accept GM modified foods given as aid. GM foods are not poison.
David Goldman, USA

Stop making out the help is an attempt to poison everyone

Andrew Milne, UK
Stop making out that the offer of help is an attempt to poison everyone - it is the refusal of this badly needed aid which will do the killing. Those rejecting this offer will have plenty of food for themselves. Otherwise, they might respond to this situation with the level of urgency which it warrants.
Andrew Milne, UK

Western powers who supplied medicine as aid were using the African population as guinea pigs. Almost all contact with caring, civilised Western nations has hidden costs attach to it! It is understandable why Africans are so sceptical about US Genetically Messed up Food.

In the BBC article provided, USAid claims there is not enough GMO-free food available; this is also true for many Americans, who are likely unaware of exactly what they are eating. It is for US/Euro industry to alter their ethical practices to ensure proper development of safe nutritional alternatives... for their own people as well.
Alan, South Africa

GM food should be outlawed throughout the world

Peter, USA
I applaud Africa's rejection of genetically modified food. How courageous and inspiring! They say, "We would rather starve than eat your monopolising food." I think they've got the right idea. GM food should be outlawed throughout the world. Until it is we should all boycott it... even if we are starving. Kudos to the strong character of the Africans.
Peter, USA

Not a single starving African villager would refuse this food. Unfortunately they're facing a horrible death because their well-fed leaders desperately want to give the impression that they still have any authority left in this shameful situation.
Annie Hall, Belgium

The only reason we're having to eat GM food over here is because the government won't allow labelling for genetic modification on our food. If they did most folks wouldn't buy the stuff. The majority of us don't want to eat Frankenfoods any more than the rest of the world.
Sonrisa, Cincinnati, United States

GM food is better than nothing

Jeff, US
GM food is better than nothing. It looks like those African states are simply trying to use starvation as a weapon against their own people.
Jeff, US

For how long did Europeans eat mad cows and die before they finally made the connection? Nature takes aeons to modify and 'perfect' these genes. Tinkering with genes is bound to have some unknown results. Africans are right in viewing these donations meant to "save" us with suspicion. The assistance is definitely needed, however rejecting something that will ultimately only perpetuate Africa's dependence on the West is - it may not be obvious to most people - not the wrong thing to do.
B Chama, Zambia/Ireland

The funny thing is, whatever America does - good or bad, people will complain. So what's the point of helping out?
Joel, Rerykjavik,I celand

Let the starving masses vote

Greg Burton, USA
Let the starving masses vote on whether or not to accept GM food. Robert Mugabe's political refusal to accept the reality of Zimbabwe's plight is no reason to let his citizens starve. Mankind has been altering the genes of crops for millennia, if we can increase the yield of a crop, we can save lives now and bitch about the politics later.
Greg Burton, USA

The US would be putting them at risk by sending unground GMO maize. If it were ground so it couldn't be planted then maybe - just out of sheer desperation. Look at Mexico, where GM maize ended up for eating purposes, but since it was plantable some of it was planted. A very rich diversity of maize types from their original range is now threatened and the contamination may not be removable.
Schroe, UK

Genetically modified seed was designed not to be viable. So in order to sow crops, new grain would have to be bought from the same producer each year, producing a monopoly situation. This is very close to introducing food slavery. Or is it that untried and untested GM grain is being given a live field test?
Shaun, France

I know their motivation isn't altruistic

Grant Regan, Sydney, Australia
Shaun's comments hit the mark. In many cases, the seed for each year's GM crop must be purchased from the developer as many contain a terminator gene rendering them sterile, thus creating a cycle of dependency, risking food bio-diversity, and placing greater control of the world's food supplies in the hands of multinationals. Frankly, when these corporations come out and state that GM foods are in our best interest, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. I know that their motivation isn't altruistic.
Grant Regan, Sydney, Australia

It's only people who have plenty to eat who complain about such things

Marten King, USA
Nature has been genetically altering life on earth for eons, only more slowly. Now when scientists do it people scream to high heaven that our lives are in danger. Nonsense! It's only people who have plenty to eat who complain about such things. Put these same people in danger of starvation and they would be singing a different tune!
Marten King, USA

Marten King, USA: Nature has been modifying life for millions of years but man has taken leaps that nature would never take. GM food is being spliced with things in a way that could never occur naturally. We have cereal crops that have been modified to the point that they are totally disease resistant. But have extensive tests been made to ascertain any potential dangers of consumption of that foodstuff? How would we know if it had? Perhaps we have been eating bread produced from GM wheat for some time and didn't even know it.
David, Denmark

Many people in the West are suspicious of genetically-modified foods. America's insistence that Africans accept food that the rest of the world is suspicious of smacks too much of imperialism. Why should Africa be a dumping-ground for inferior drugs, shoddy products and genetically-modified foods? Does George Bush eat this garbage?
George Dash, Canada

Where's the ethical quality in helping someone avoid starvation by feeding them with something that may have terrible results in 20 or 50 years? The ends can't justify the means; in this case the means may be producing an even worse ending.
Mike Irwin, USA

No the US is not putting Africa at risk with gene modified foods; the Luddites of the world are going to starve little kids because of their stupidity.
Richard T Ketchum, USA

I find it odd that the food eaten by the Americans everyday is deemed not good enough for other people, particularly people starving to death.
Brian Miller, Utah, USA

What's the big deal here? The US is offering GM food and the Africans are refusing it. Case closed. Just because our EPA approves it doesn't instantly indicate that everybody on the planet should bow in deferment.
Thom, USA

Key stories

Horn of Africa

Southern Africa

West Africa

Ways to help



See also:

24 Jul 02 | Africa
03 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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