There is famine spread across Zambia; 3-million people, almost a third of the population, need Food aid. Zambia rejected genetically modified maize from the United States [the biggest donor to the United Nations World Food Program (WFP)], calling it ‘poison’, even though the estimated maize deficit in Zambia is 575000 metric tons, out of an annual consumption of about 10 million tons. After continued pressure from the media, public and others. Levy Mwanawasa, and his government, sent a group of Zambian scientists to Europe, The United States and South Africa to research genetically modified food (GMF). Based on the scientist’s findings, the cabinet decided to ban all GMF. The Zambian Agricultural Minister Mundia Skatana declared “in view of current scientific uncertainty surrounding the issue the country should refrain from actions that might adversely affect human and animal health as well as harm the environment.” Many Zambians are not concerned about the ‘unsafe’ maize and have looted the genetically modified maize warehouse on numerous occasions. In this essay, I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages concerning genetically modified food by looking at the opinions of pundits, politicians, economists and starving Zambians as well scientific evidence. In my conclusion, I will summarize the argument and offer my own opinion.
Many world-renowned activists like; Green peace and environmental hero Shiva have applauded Zambia for placing a ban on genetically modified food. By placing the ban on genetically modified food, Mwanawasa and his government have protected their country from the possible dangers of genetically modified food in the future. Many people around the world agree with Zambia; several polls indicate that a majority resists eating or buying genetically modified foods. for example the 1998 Time/CNN poll found that 58% of people would not buy genetically modified food, the 2001 Mellman-POS survey should that 54% said they would not eat genetically modified food. In the ABC news poll 57% said they would not eat genetically modified food 5% said that they would be more likely and 34% said that it did not make a difference. A poll published in an issue of the Newsletter of the International Society of Chemotherapy shows that 112 of the 198 experts, from around the world, consider the presence of the antibiotic resistant gene within Novartis genetically modified maize an unacceptable risk and recommend further risk assessment. I will look at the disadvantages of genetically modified food, to evaluate the advantages of Zambia’s decision.
This is however a difficult task because of the amount of research done and the many different results. Pundits also have many different opinions concerning the magnitude of the risk of genetically modified food.
Genetically modified food is new on the market so there is concern about the long-term effects because of the unintended effects of DDT and Chlorofluorocarbons. The first main concern for scientists is horizontal gene transfer (HGT), it is a term used to describe the possible transfer of genetic material from one species to another by means other than sexual reproduction, for example from maize to soil bacteria. According to ERMA “there is a risk but it is negligible.” The risk is however there that genetically modified food material exchange can take place between maize and soil bacteria. Risks like theses concern experts because; of new allergens that arise in genetically modified food for example a study by the University of Nebraska shows that Soya beans genetically engineered to contain Brazil-nut proteins cause reactions in individuals allergic to Brazil nuts. Scientists are also concerned that (HGT) and ‘selectable markers’ can effect the antibiotic resistance of crops. This can have negative effects in humans like; reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics and that antibiotic resistance genes produce enzymes that can degrade antibiotics. This will give the global community a problem of the same magnitude as Aids do deal with. Other problems like the enhancement of the environment for toxic fungi and the concentration of toxic metals can also affect our health.
(HGT) and the transfer of ‘selective markers’ are an environmental risk because it could produce a new strain of pesticide resistant bugs and diseases. This would be harmful to not only genetically modified crops but also all crops; the new diseases could wipe out existing crops and have an impact on the world food deficit, increasing famine. There is also the concern that the pesticide resistant gene will spread to weeds, which will invade agricultural land. Scientist also have fears about the safety of livestock and wild life feeding on genetically modified plants. According to the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), the gene can transferred from non-processed maize to bacteria that naturally live in the gut of farm animals. The concern is that this might allow gut bacteria to become resistant to antibiotic ampicillin, and that could lead to increased antibiotic resistance. Other risks include changes in herbicide patterns and squandering valuable pest susceptibility genes can damage our environment.
Social, Cultural and Economic Problems:
Many people are afraid that genetically modified food techniques create monopolistic practices. Cultural values will be threatened; many cultures believe that species are separate entities and that mixing these is unacceptable. Economic problems arise because first world countries that have genetically modified food technology, therefore have lower production costs, and cut the less advantaged third world countries further out of the market.
Mwanawasa and his government have been seriously scrutinized by United Nations food aid organizations, biotechnology experts, and there opposition party in Zambia, because of there decision to ban genetically modified maize. Dean Kleckner, chairperson of Truth about trade technology and former president of the American farm bureau had this to say in the wall street journal ” we’ve been eating this stuff for years, and there is not a shred of scientific evidence showing that biotech foods are anything but perfectly safe to eat. The Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency regulate the genetically modified foods – and each has endorsed then fit for the market. The American Medical Association, the National Academy for Sciences and the World Health Organization have signed off as well.” The American dietetic Association, the Society of Toxicologists and 19 Nobel Prize winning scientists also support the genetically modified food movement. Kleckner adds, “So do we care about hungry people or are we all just politicians? In Africa, governmental organizations such as the Organization of African States (OAS) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) reject genetically modified food even if it means starving their own people.
Zambia is worried that accepting engineered products might harm budding European demand for its produce, in particular organic vegetables.” Alex Avery, director of research and education at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Food issues and genetically modified proponent called the green movements concern about genetically modified food safety “baseless”. He added, “It is irresponsible to let people starve to death in order to avoid hypothetical health risks that have never been demonstrated, not even a skin rash, from foods that have undergone more safety testing than any foods in history.” Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace, who left the group in the 1980s because he viewed it as to radical, called environmental activists who oppose to genetically modified foods “crazy.” He added, “It’s based on an ideology that is so far from being based on science and logic. It is crazy how it’s actually become so deeply embedded within the media. The environmental movement has got people so freaked out that they are allowing people to starve to death then feed them genetically modified foods.”
As you can see from the above graph, you can see that the majority believes that genetically modified food can produce benefits in the future. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, genetically modified foods can create countless advantages. It stated, “U.S. farmers can pocket as much as an extra $1 billion, while cutting pesticide use, if an array of biotech crops currently being developed is approved by the regulators and adopted by farmers. They reduce the pressure to turn wilderness into farmland and provide hope that we can keep up with the nutritional demands of a hungry and growing world.” Mwanawasa and his government’s integrity is being questioned because of his decisions even though floods and droughts have left millions of people in desperate need for food aid, but so has politic malfeasance. According to a recent report by Transparency International, Zambia is the second most corrupt country in Africa.
After researching this project, I have to disagree with the Zambian cabinets decision to reject genetically modified food, some might say my view is shortsighted because of the possible future dangers, but I think they should let the starving masses decide if they are willing to take the risk of possibly endangering there health. The Zambian government does not have to plant genetically modified crops, thereby reducing the environmental danger. All the risks are ‘unlikely,’ ‘negligible’ and ‘theoretical’ therefore there cannot be any major risks. The fact that scientists and scientific groups of the highest caliber offer there full support to genetically modified food research also makes Zambia decision even more alarming. To let 3-million people starve to death, because of ‘negligible’ risks does sound rather suspicious, and leads one to suspect ulterior motives.
Ingerstam, B.1999. ‘Genetically modified food in Europe.’;http://www.konsumentamverkan.se/english/campainhs/gmo/fischler.html;(9 April 2003).
Lott,J.2002.’Zambias blunder’ in Business day (online edition). ;http://www.bday.co.za/bday/content/direct/1,3523,1228352-6078-0,00.html; (9 April 2003).
Keeton, C. 2002. ‘Genetically modified food aid rejected’ in Business day (online edition). ; http://www.bday.co.za/bday/content/direct/1,3523,1212456-6078-0,00.html.; (9 April 2003).
Keeton, C. 2002. ‘Food shortages have hit the rich and poor alike’in Business day (online edition). ; http://www.bday.co.za/bday/content/direct/1,3523,121243456-60743-0,00.html.; (9 April 2003).
AgResearch, 2000. ‘Problem with genetically modified food.’ ;http://www.agresearch.co.nz/scied/search/biotech/gene_gmocons.htm.; (9 April 2003).
Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) ; ERMA New Zealand. 2002. ‘Additional questions about genetically modified (GM) maize inadvertently grown by Pacific Seeds.’ ;http://www.maf.govt.nz/biosecurity/imports/plants/papers/gm-seeds/gm-seeds-faq3.htm.; (9 April 2003).
Union of Concerned Scientists. 2002. ‘Ecological Risks of Engineered Organisms.’;http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_environment/biotechnology/page.cfm?pageID=335 ; (9 April 2003).