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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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
Being in need does not mean you cannot make choices.
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.
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.
Let aid be a gesture of kindness and compassion, not an opportunity for marketing or scientific experiments.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The funny thing is, whatever America does - good or bad, people will complain. So what's the point of helping out?
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.
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?
Grant Regan, Sydney, Australia
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
24 Jul 02 | Africa
03 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
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