Click here for more current events lesson plans matched to national standards.
How to use this story in a classroom...
High Tech Foods A report of the debate about the safety of GM foods. 04.04.00
NewsHour Extra: The Immigrant Experience A Zambian student's new life in America. 12.12.01
International Food Fight The French and British food debate continues. 11.10.99
Food Crisis in Zambia Posted:12.18.02
President Mwanawasa of Zambia has refused international food aid even though many in his country are starving.
Zambia, a landlocked nation in southern Africa, has suffered from severe drought for two years and is unable to feed many of its people. Yet, the country continues to refuse food aid from the international community.
More than 2.9 million people need food aid, according to the World Food Program, the United Nations agency that fights global hunger. But in August, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa rejected the corn offered to the county because he says it is poison and poses health risks to his people.
Genetically modified food
The corn in question is genetically modified (GM) maize, mostly donated from the United States. Genetically modified food contains genetic material from another organism. That material has been added to the crop to add traits that the crop did not originally possess, such as resistance to insects or tolerance to drought.
Critics of GM foods say the technology is untested and the long-term effects unknown. In addition, they fear that GM crops will infect a nations native crops, causing later problems. Many critics of GM technology are in Europe, where many GM foods are prohibited or require special labeling. President Mwanawasa has said that he does not want the introduction of GM foods to hurt his export trade with Europe.
The European Union issued statements in November saying that scientists have not found evidence of harm to humans from genetically modified foods. They also said that trade with the EU would not be negatively affected if Zambia accepts the GM food aid.
Zambia's GM food concerns
The World Food Program, which distributes the food aid, says that they wont force Zambia to accept the shipments but they cant guarantee replacement of the corn with different food. They fear that many people will die if they dont receive food. They also worry that people will riot if they do not get the food, which has already been sent to the country and is rotting in storage.
Zambia based its rejection of the genetically modified food on its own scientific report on the food's possible effects on the health and economic welfare of the country. Their report concluded that there was insufficient evidence to show the safety of GM foods. But some critics of the report, including the opposition political party, say that it is inaccurate.
And while scientists debate the research, Zambian myths about the effects of GM food continue to spread. Some believe it makes women infertile, while others think it infects people with HIV/AIDS.
Other countries in the region that need food aid but dont want GM foods are accepting the corn after it has been milled -- a process that prevents the planting of the GM corn seeds. Zambia has rejected this offer. However, Zambia has allowed the milled corn to be given to Angolan and Congolese refugees in camps within the country.
The GM food debate
Many international organizations such as Food First, a research and policy group, have criticized the international community for offering the GM food. They believe that it puts Zambia in an impossible position of having to accept food that the U.S. cannot sell to Europe and Japan or having to refuse international assistance, which it needs.
They also criticize the use of GM seeds, saying the system forces poor farmers to become increasingly dependent on multinational corporations. They recommend the purchase of non-GM foods from other developing countries.
Other human rights groups in Zambia say that the rejection is unrealistic. They believe that Zambia should accept the corn if it is milled.
The debate within the country cuts across political and class lines. Refusing GM foods was popular with the urban elite who saw the issue as a test of national strength. Hungry villagers, however, wanted the food aid, but lacked the political power to accomplish this goal, according to foreign diplomats in the country.
-- By Annie Schleicher, NewsHour Extra
Copyright © MacNeil-Lehrer Productions All Rights Reserved