Genetically modified (GM) food is food that has been altered at DNA level by genetic engineering with purposes of increasing food production and sources. GM organisms are also able to lower food production costs. Ever since its first introduction, GM food has been actively studied for its safety to consumers. Debatable topics have also been brought up regarding such issue even though there studies indicating that GM food is safe to eat as it will not introduce diseases such as cancers or allergies. As a result, in a study conducted in 2003, the researchers found that up to 35% of consumers refused to buy food that had been derived from GM organisms due to the belief that GM food was harmful to use . A recent research in 2017, after multiple comparisons of different aspects, pointed out that there was no potential harm from consuming GM food .
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Unfortunately, Zambia, an underdeveloped country in south-central Africa, let millions of its people suffer from severe hunger by refusing to be helped with GM food . The Zambian government, besides the doubt that GM organisms would introduce contamination to the country’s farm crop seeds, concerned that the GM food would introduce negative health effects to the population. The lack of food is only one of many problems that Zambia needs to face.
Other problems that the Zambian government needs to deal with are corruptions, the lack of natural resources to grow crops, and low productivity despite its rapid population growth rate . These problems combined undoubtedly contribute to food and nutritional insecurity. Nonetheless, the government keeps refusing to accept the GM food aid.
Besides the aforementioned problems, the iron triangle, the largest food aid donor in the World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations, seems to also contribute to the complication in the food insecurity in Zambia. The iron triangle refers to the administration of U.S. food aid which consists of three major stakeholders: nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), shippers, and agribusiness. The problem in Zambia became more complicated because of the imbalance in administration of the three parties leading to ineffectiveness and mistakes in food aid distribution. As a result, the administration was accused of using the aid system to benefit its own parties. In addition, WFP has no specific policy for food aid containing GM organisms . This further complicates the problem.
Simply speaking, the mission of U.S. food aid is to stop world hunger. Although the mission has been partly accomplished, it is still far from its original goals . The mission has been evaluated poorly due to impracticality and uncertain future. It has been hard to keep up with the set goals because many things change annually such as quantity, politics, and availability of food aid . Thus, a clear and effective policy for the iron triangle is one of the most important aspects to update to make the goals more realistic and achievable, and Zambia, as well as other malnourished countries, may benefit from such changes.
According to the case study, Zambia denied the food aid because of three root causes: skepticism about GM food, the imbalance in administration of the iron triangle, and unclear policy regarding GM food from WFP. Zambian government doubted that GM organisms would bring negative consequences. First, it believed that GM food would have harmful effects to its people as it would potentially cause allergies, cancers, and other diseases. Second, GM organisms would create an imbalance for the environment in the long run due to cross-contamination because GM organisms would eventually dominate over GM-free organisms. This domination would eventually cause a disparity in the ecosystem. In addition, Zambia and several other countries refused the food aid offer because they believed that the U.S. food aid had some shady policies which were used to mostly benefit the members of the iron triangle .
The most important problem is the policies of the U.S. food aid, especially within the iron triangle, which would not match the international policies. The second most important issue is the unclear policy regarding GM food from the WFP. However, as the largest donor, changes in policy of the U.S. food aid program will determine the actions of the WFP. The third most important problem that should be focused on first is the doubt of negative effects that GM food will bring. This doubt potentially comes from the lack of necessary education in Zambia. Nonetheless, for an excellent solution to stop the famine in Zambia and other southern African countries, a change in policy of U.S. food aid program should be the most needed.
There have been several attempts to solve the problem regarding the rejection of GM food aid. Specifically, in 2003, President Bush gave a speech to discourage the skepticism about GM food. Another effort to solve this issue was the proposal of purchasing food directly in Africa instead of having the food aid shipped from the United States to the African countries who were facing famine. Unfortunately, the proposal was eventually rejected .
A theoretical perspective that could be applied to a solution was the change in structure of agricultural industry in the United States so that the surplus production was essentially eliminated. With this change, the government could work on other methods that offered benefits to both the United States and malnourished countries in southern Africa .
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An alternative method proposed by Falkner and Gupta shed some light on this problem. The conflict between the United States and the European Union regarding biotechnology regulatory contribute mostly in the low acceptance rate GM food aid in many southern African countries. The United States leans towards permissive approach which encourages the use of GM food if there is no evidence of potential risks provided by scientific studies. On the contrary, the European Union leans towards restrictive approach which discourages the use of GM food because the risks are still unknown. The authors propose that the globalization of biotechnology should form an international convergence in regulatory of GM food by combining the permissive and restrictive approaches into new policies which can remove the conflict between the United States and the European Union .
The most practical recommendation was provided by Falkner and Gupta. First, the United States-European Union conflict in regulatory regarding GM food should be removed. Second, due to the globalization of biotechnology, a convergence in policies must be established. This convergence can be formed by funding more in scientific studies about biotechnology, especially in GM organisms. These studies would focus mostly on the harms and benefits of agricultural genetic engineering, and the new policy should be established based on these harms and benefits. In the fight of hunger and poverty specifically, these policies should boost up the acceptance rate of GM food aid in poor African countries .
Thanks to this approach, if the benefits outweigh the risks as results of the scientific studies, such restrictive attitude of the European Union can be removed. The convergence in policies also requires the United States to change its policy regarding GM food aid. Thus, the changes in policy within the iron triangle must also be made so that the act of donating GM food would benefit both the United States and the malnourished African countries. Notably, the change in attitude of the European Union alone will significantly convince the southern African countries, such as Zambia, to accept the GM food aid.
Establishing an Action Plan
Realistically, there are five specific steps which can be carried out in nine years to achieve the desired goals. First, the United States and the European Union must come to an agreement to mutually fund for scientific studies on the harms and benefits of GM food. This will take no more than three years. These researches can provide results by 2021 if the project starts in 2018. Second, in one year, both parties must modify their policies so that their ends meet; in other words, they must establish a convergence in policies by 2022. Third, both parties must present their new policies to the WFP of the United Nations by 2023. Fourth, the European Union must convince the southern African countries to accept the GM food aid by 2026. This can be hard to achieve as it requires time for people to understand the scientific evidence and remove their restrictive attitude towards GM food. Last, but not least, the United Nations must globally implement these policies as international guidelines for GM food aid by 2027.
In my opinion, the case of Zambia and GM food is very complex because we must consider all political, financial, and global health perspectives. This is a long-term plan which requires lots of resources. Nonetheless, Zambia and other southern African countries will no longer be malnourished once the problem is solved using the proposed methods.
Compared to Zambia, Vietnam, another underdeveloped country, is open-minded about GM food. As a result, although Vietnam is a poor and politically corrupt country, famine rarely exists thanks to its acceptance and expansion of GM organisms . The most significant contribution to its success is the clarity in its policies regarding GM food. Notably, this set of policies allows agricultural biotech companies from other countries to work in Vietnam so that both the people of Vietnam and these companies will benefit . As a result, Vietnam has established its own long-term nutritional security thanks to these policies.
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