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Starving Nation Turns Down Bioengineered Corn 868

Posted by michael
from the poison-pill dept.
The Washington Post has a story about Zimbabwe turning down shipments of genetically engineered corn, even though the country is experiencing a severe drought and starvation. Zimbabwe is afraid some of the corn will end up planted instead of eaten -- and growing patented corn is a no-no, of course! If the corn is planted even once, it may contaminate all future crops grown in those fields or any fields nearby, leading to huge lawsuits - and then the fields are contaminated, exacerbating the food shortage. So, starve or be bankrupted, and Zimbabwe appears to be choosing, "starve". Tons of ethical issues here, which have hardly been touched upon in the U.S. press.
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Starving Nation Turns Down Bioengineered Corn

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  • by Xerithane (13482) <(xerithane) (at) (nerdfarm.org)> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:04PM (#3995424) Homepage Journal
    It's a concern, but not the reason. RTFA.

    What the Zimbabwean government says they are afraid of is losing export business to Europe, which does not allow BE food. That, and the president is stupidly independant.

    The fact that everyone involved on the USA side says the IP concerns are stupid doesn't stop Slashdot's journalism.

    Some people have things against genetically altered food. For a lot of reasons other than the patents associated with them.
  • by hsmyers (142611) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:04PM (#3995429) Homepage
    Given the extreme rairity of any form of non-modified corn strains in the world, sort of makes you wonder what's going on here--or does planting only the best over 1000's of generations of crop, not count as a modification?

    --hsm
  • by akvalentine (560139) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:06PM (#3995443)
    Someone should as the people who are actually starving if they give a shit about patents (or even about the bioengineering).

    I doubt many of them would care about either one and just take the food.

  • Utterly insane (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tutal (512222) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:06PM (#3995444)
    I can't believe why there is such a big fuss over genetically altered corn. It does not pose any more risk to the soil than normal corn. If farmers would practice simple crop rotation, they would not need to worry about this. Also with corn prices so low right now they could import natural or genetically engineered corn from the US and Russia, both of which could feed the rest of the world.
  • by YuppieScum (1096) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:07PM (#3995457) Journal
    Yah, then they end up having to buy ALL their grain from the industrialised West, and end up more in debt...
  • Mugabe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Heynow21 (573910) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:08PM (#3995464)
    Concerns over bio-engineered corn may be the excuse he gives in public, but in reality he is using food as leverage over his political opponents. It has been reported that he has halted shipments of food into areas that did not support him in the recent elections. It also ties into his siezures of white owned farms. Apparently he is trying to starve his country.
  • by BigFire (13822) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:09PM (#3995473)
    The famine in Zimbabwe is mostly the creation of one man, el presidente for life Robert Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe tried to circumvant the constitutional limits on his terms by inciting black on white genocide. This has turn Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of the Southern African countries into needing to import food just to survive.

    Seriously, even if God should rain mana onto the starving masses, the problem is still there. I see no future for that country as long as the thugs are in charge.

  • Simple solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cachorro (576097) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:12PM (#3995487)
    Let them grind the corn into meal before shipment.

    Send me my 0.01% commission for saving the deal.

    You're welcome.

  • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:15PM (#3995510) Homepage
    Ideological distortion that benefits the left: "greed multinational corporations with their patents are causing African children to starve.

    Ideological distortion that benefits the right: "ignorant 3rd world government listens to tree-hugging granola crunchers and selfishly lets its own people starve."

    Ugly, complex reality: if Zimbabwe's own corn crop were adulterated with GM corn, they could lose their primary market for food exports, Europe, and then could end up suffering more down the line; if they get their local production back on track, the survivors would probably better off not having GM corn in the fields. I have always felt the complexity trumps ideology, and this is a classic instance of it.

  • by Jason Earl (1894) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:16PM (#3995513) Homepage Journal

    Exactly, Zimbabwe is turning down the food because they are using famine for political reasons. Generally speaking it is much more cost effective to starve your political opponents than to murder them outright.

    Slashdot has an axe to grind about Genetically Engineered Food, and so we get this article.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:23PM (#3995566)
    If you believe Monsanto's claims that they'll "adapt" their patent enforcement policies to "local traditions", I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

    No really. Since the "local traditions" in Africa involve murder at genocidal levels, I wouldn't doubt Monsanto's willingness to do just that...
  • by hlh_nospam (178327) <concealedhandgun@@@gmail...com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:25PM (#3995578) Homepage Journal
    There isn't any other kind. Corn as we know it today did not exist at all until it was selectively bred for several dozen generations. Prior to about 7000 years ago, there was no such grain.

    I realize, of course, that GE as used here means "trans-species", which is just a newer form of selective breeding.

    Corn is good for making farm animals gain weight very quickly. Works on people, too. In a way, the farm animals are lucky, because they are killed and eaten before they have a chance to develop heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and other maladies caused by excess carbohydrate consumption (especially grains, which were not parts of the human diet prior to about 7000 years ago).

  • The famine in Zimbabwe is mostly the creation of one man, el presidente for life Robert Mugabe.

    And another lesson that people could hopefully learn someday is that almost ALL famine is politically based, despite how much certain people want to blame "greedy capitalists who hog all the resources of the world".

  • by antirename (556799) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:29PM (#3995609)
    Ok, let me repeat: If they're starving, how the hell do they export food? With all of their problems, does anyone really think that they will have a surplus anytime soon? Remember, this is the country that just confiscated all of the farmland and ran off the only people able (at the moment) to make that land productive. Food EXPORTS should be the last thing that they're worried about at this point. Mugabe isn't really all that rational, and this is a good example. It has very little to do with GM food, and everything to do with a megalomaniac who hasn't done anything for the people he rules.
  • by Blitter (15795) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:29PM (#3995610)
    Intellectual property and genetic engineering is a red herring here. This is a weak excuse by a despot who is benefiting from a famine he is both helping to sustain and working to worsen. Robert Mugabe banned white farmers from growing food in the middle of a famine -- what are the odds he will allow imported food to pick up the slack? It's just a happy coincidence for Mugabe that he can use this issue to flex his muscles against the US, Canada, the European Union, Australia, and New Zealand, all of whom have allied against his government for stealing the recent election. This famine gives Mugabe an excuse to maintain a state of emergency, giving him additional emergency powers, including tight control over food distribution. Who's getting food distributed to them? Hint: not the regions where Mugabe's political opposition is strong.

    Famines happen, but actual starvation generally only happens when its in a tyrant's political interest for certain people to die.

    ----------

  • by MrGrendel (119863) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:32PM (#3995621)
    The fact that everyone involved on the USA side says the IP concerns are stupid doesn't stop Slashdot's journalism.

    And from the article:

    Pending changes in international trade rules, backed by the United States, could preclude farmers from saving the patented seeds from biotech harvests for replanting in following years, a practice vital to many subsistence farmers who cannot afford to buy new seed every year.

    "If these crops get in, then farmers basically lose their rights to their own agricultural resources," said Carole Collins, senior policy analyst for the Washington-based Africa Faith and Justice Network.

    Doesn't sound to me like everyone from the USA side says IP concerns are stupid. There were a number of people (Americans) quoted in the article who said that the Zimbabweans are rightfully concerned about future lawsuits brought by US corporations if cross-pollination occurs. Now, who is it who needs to RTFA?

    And what in world do other people's opinions have to do with Slashdot's right to point out interesting stories? I don't care if everyone in the world disagrees, if the slashdot editors (or anyone else) feels they have something to say, they should say it.

  • by maetenloch (181291) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:34PM (#3995636)
    The problem here is not about patents - it's about Europe's refusal to import genetically modified food.

    The real problem is that Zimbabwe is currently run by an incompetent kleptocrat. For the last few decades all modern famines have been man-made, in that sufficient food was available to feed the starving populations but was prevented from reaching them for political reasons q.v. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, etc..

    The current food crisis in Zimbabwe is especially ironic given that it has some of the most fertile land in Africa, and used to be known as the breadbasket of the continent. It takes a unique kind of government to run a country like that into the ground. Turning down free food as people in the country starve due to IMO purely hypothetical concerns about contamination would seem to be the height of poor governance.
  • by Bozovision (107228) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:36PM (#3995645) Homepage
    For /. readers who have no idea what a Zimbabwe is...

    Zimbabwe is a country towards the bottom tip of Africa. It's above South Africa which is the Southern most country.

    Nominally it's a democracy - a long and vicious war was fought against the colonial-style white dominated government to gain democracy. However the winners, lead by Robert Mugabe, crushed any opposition soon after independence in a terror campaign involving at least tens of thousands of murders.

    In recent years another generation of oppostion has arisen. Mugabe is still president; he recently won an election that was marred by intimidation, the large-scale use of terror as a political weapon and the persecution of the opposition. Despite this, and huge electoral fraud, the opposition hold a significant number of seats in parliment.

    One of Mugabe's chief tactics in the recent election was to support land reform. Even after more than 20 years of indepence, white people still own most the farmland in Zimbabwe. Mugabe supported a campaign to drive farmers and their workers off their land, and the government has passed laws to seize farms from their owners which are now taking effect. Many of the farms seized have been re-distributed to members of the government. (Corruption is rife; amazingly president Mugabe was the winner of the first lottery [bbc.co.uk]!) As a consequence, Zimbabwe which previously had an agricultural surplus (agricultural produce was one of their major exports), now has a huge deficit.

    Whilst the drought is a regional problem, a huge amount of blame can be laid directly on Mugabe. His farm policies and use of terror have hugely exacerbated the problem, his war in a neighbouring country has wiped out the Zim dollar and made it impossible for Zimbabwe to afford to import food. In a saner world he would be standing trial on many counts.

    Readers should take the claims of not wanting to use genetically modified wheat because of contimination with a whole shipload of salt. Nothing that he or the Zimbabwe government says can taken at face value; you can only judge by his actions, which speak nothing about caring for his nation.

  • Stupid fears (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alcimedes (398213) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:40PM (#3995681)
    ok, a few things. first, any company that GE's food products does one thing first of all. make them sterile!!
    what the hell is the point of creating a great strain of a plant that someone only has to buy once. much better to have agricultural assurance ;) have to buy every year or you grow nothing!
    on top of that, the fear of GE crops for the most part is unfounded and ignorant.
    for example, BT corn was given all sorts of crap for possible killing monarchs. however, it was basiclly unfounded [foodsafetynetwork.ca] paranoia based on one crappy study that was completely worthless. (the scientist himself said it was pointless to draw conclusions from, his first test was just to see if Bt would do anything)
    on top of that, no one seems willing to accept the fact that if the corn didn't have Bt in it already, farmers would just be spraying the corn with pesticide. which do you think is worse, a perfectly targeted weapon or one of spray and pray?
    by putting the Bt straight in the corn you keep it from getting to beneficial insects, from running off the plants when it rains, and you don't have to keep reapplying it any time a new infestation occurs
    as a whole, GE plants cut way back on dangerous pesticides, and are likely much better for people overall
    the only thing better, IMO than GE plants would be pure organic grown plants. problem with them is that yeilds are so low you can't support the population on them.
    i used to work at a bio research facility, and i can tell you right now the shit they spray on the plants that you eat is waaay worse than anything they're trying to put straight into the plant.
    and if you think that 2 second rinse job you gave that fruit or veggie before you ate it cleared it all off, you're delusional.
  • by protohiro1 (590732) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:41PM (#3995685) Homepage Journal
    The ACTUAL ugly complex reality, as posted elsewhere: Rober Mugabe is using this as an excuse to justify starvation as a weapon. There is no reason for starvation in Zimbabwe, most fields are unplanted. The president has forbidden farmers on landed marked for "redistribution" to grow food, and is almost certainly preventing food from reaching opponents. Paranoid lunatics should not be allowed to run countries.
  • two bullies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dr. Awktagon (233360) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:41PM (#3995688) Homepage

    Interesting.. as some posters have pointed out, Zimbabwe's government is a bunch of thugs. But in America, the corps are the thugs:

    [Monsanto] has used private detectives to identify and prosecute U.S. and Canadian farmers it suspects of saving patented seeds...

    The article then mentions how Monsanto says the "policy would be adapted to accommodate local traditions in other countries". I'm not a farmer, and I'm certainly not a modern farmer dealing with this patent nonsense, but it strikes me as pretty damn fucked up that saving food seed from year to year is now illegal and considered a quaint "local tradition" in a few backwards third-world countries.

    Though I suppose they should be thankful that King Monsanto is merciful enough to "accommodate" this "local tradition" of growing plants from your own seed. As soon as Zimbabwe is finally paved over and the shopping malls put up, we can revert back to the usual policy.

    When will the "intellectual property" madness stop?

  • by protohiro1 (590732) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:45PM (#3995707) Homepage Journal
    Zimbabwe is not Somalia. It was not long ago an agricultural powerhouse. The "family farms" were enormous plantations that made profits selling most of there grain. The point slashdot missed is that this has NOTHING to do with genetic modification. It has everything to do with the fact that Mugabe doesn't want any aid, because starving people do what he wants them to.
  • Re:Mugabe at Work (Score:2, Insightful)

    by protohiro1 (590732) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:49PM (#3995731) Homepage Journal
    Someone mod this up! I am getting sort of irritated at the ignorance displayed around this article. People seem to think that since Zimbabwe is in africa it must be filled with poor farmers, growing just enough to feed their families. Until recently it was more like the american midwest, huge commercial farms growing grain for sale and export. The poor farmer was supporting his family on his wages, not his grain.
  • by slashdot_commentator (444053) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:57PM (#3995778) Journal

    The issue about GE corn is not about risk to the soil. The issue is

    1) If planted, its GE genes will contaminate the native corn, making it unsellable in places where GE crops are banned. (Europe)

    2) GE crops are patent protected. Already, one farmer in Canada has been sued for growing crops that contain the GE gene, who didn't purchase the seed from Monsanto. 10 years down the line, it could mean Zimbabwe could not have an agrocultural industry. Its a choice between starve now, or starve later.
  • by delfstrom (205488) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:59PM (#3995785)

    "Genetically modified seeds imposed on farmers in developing countries trigger famine and social devastation"
    Sowing the Seeds of Famine in Ethiopia [globalresearch.ca] by Michel Chossudovsky, Professor of Economics, University of Ottawa

    The above article shows exactly what happened when Ethiopia accepted GE grains from the U.S. It's a must-read for anyone involved in this current discussion about Zimbabwe. Self-appointed 'president' Robert Mugabe isn't going to let others have all the fun of ruining the peasant economy; he'd rather do that himself.

  • by Dr_Marvin_Monroe (550052) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:05PM (#3995814)
    I really dislike the idea of the people starving, but if they accept this food, they are destined to become slaves to the "Intellectual Property" slave owners of this century....quoth the article...

    "Some biotech advocates are criticizing the Zimbabwean government for balking at the humanitarian assistance, saying President Robert Mugabe seems to care more about his political independence than his citizens' lives."

    Of course they're going to say that....they're shills for the biotech industry.....this same scenerio happens with software too (insert un-named company) donates so many liscenses to third world country A. Country A is now on the hook to make the payments for upgrades, keep other software out or be forced to return "gift"...we all know the drill.....on President Mugabe's part, it seems clear that he's interested in not having to make payments for this "product" into perpetuity....allowing something like this to start is equivalent to selling yourself into indentured servitude. So really, his choice isn't quite as clear, and it's not really about HIS independence as much as it is about the independence of Zimbabwe...if he accepts, his citizens become slaves to the west FOREVER...

    I wouldn't be surprised if there is "diplomatic" pressure to accept the corn too, something like "...if you want us to approve your loan from the WMF, you'd better accept this generous offer." Nothing bothers the biotech people like customers that don't want their product....they give it a bad name....again, quoth the article...

    "That response has fueled suspicion among some observers in the United States and Africa that Washington is using the food crisis to get U.S. gene-altered products established in a corner of the world that has largely resisted them."

    EXACTLY RIGHT!....for two reasons, 1)get the public to accept a genetically modified product and break down their resistance to it and 2) to extend some level of "Intellectual Property" control over the continent of Africa! Remember the uproar over South Africa's plans to copy AIDS drugs without royalty? Handled by quiet dealings on the part of the drug companies, the issue got swept away by the lawyers...can't have anyone breaking step with "World Intellectual Property" laws....

    If they really wanted to give a "gift," they would also lift the IP restrictions on this corn...forever...so the people of Zimbabwe would not have to worry about this....then they could just eat in peace.

    --"it's a trap! it's a trap!..that's MY individual fruit pie!"--Benny Hill
  • by God! Awful (181117) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:06PM (#3995823) Journal

    and what was the human lifespan 7000 years ago - they were lucky if they made 30.

    I believe this kind of thinking has been widely debunked. Mean lifespan != median lifespan != typical lifespan. If you have a high infant mortality rate, that can really skew your average, even though most adults will live to a relatively old age (except in very warlike societies). It says in the Bible that man shall live for 3 score and 10 years, and that was written several years ago. Take a look at some modern "primitive" societies, such as the Inuit or historical accounts of isolated tribes. They all had plenty of tribal elders.

    -a
  • Re:Figures (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doomdark (136619) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:10PM (#3995838) Homepage Journal
    No. Despotism, not socialism. Mugabe is an ex guerilla leader who won just one election somewhat cleanly when Zimbabve (ex-Rhodesia) got rid of its white minority government. Since then he's been one of more infamous african tyrants.
  • by fishbowl (7759) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:16PM (#3995865)
    Until 1960, American cars had chrome. They had chrome everywhere you could put chrome. They had chrome around the windows, long, wide solid strips of chrome all around the body outlines, big solid chrome hubcaps, chrome grilles, chrome!

    A large part of that chrome came from Rhodesia, which is, guess where?

    Civil unrest in Rhodesia led directly to shortages of chrome, and American cars suddenly had far, far less chrome in 1961 than they did in 59-60.

    The country hasn't had a minute of peace since then. In the last few decades, Africa has basically fought World War III, in both political and sociological terms.

    The only explanation I can find for the perception gap is that, while most people in the Rhineland were light skinned, most in the Congo basin are dark skinned.

    Seriously, a full scale war has been fought, and tyranny won, and the west doesn't give a f?ck.

  • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@@@earthlink...net> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:33PM (#3995931)
    Whether they are concerned or not, they *ought* to be. US companies have a very bad track record here. I may hate MS, but I must admit that they haven't been among the worst of the US companies, especially if you live in a foreign country.

    I'm sure that there are local political reasons. There always are. That doesn't make the worries less reasonable.
  • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@@@earthlink...net> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:46PM (#3996001)
    I have no idea as to whether the excuse of "concern about proprietarily modified genetic grains" was anything more than a political cover. If it isn't, it *should* have been.

    There are quite legitimate ground to distrust the commercial seed cartels, and you can phrase them in terms of economics, politics, or just plain survival. They have nothing to do with how good the products are. What they have to do with is the techniques used by the corporations to maintain control of "their property".

    If Zimbabwe is using this legitimate reason as a political smokescreen, that doesn't change the fact that it is a legitimate reason.
  • by leonbrooks (8043) <SentByMSBlast-No ... .brooks.fdns.net> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:48PM (#3996009) Homepage
    ...and you're not an economist?

    In 2002, I plant natural corn, using seed kept from last year's harvest. My neighbour upwind plants GM corn bought from Monsanto. During the year, pollen from his corn blows across my field. My harvest at the end of the year seems normal, but in 2003, 1/3 of the corn I plant does not grow, and a small percentage of what does grow produces grossly deformed kernels which I cannot sell, and would have to locate and remove by hand if I wanted to make my massively reduced corn crop saleable.

    Note that, not including the cost of removing deformed kernels, my costs have not changed but my take is down 30%. If my margin was 20%, I just made a minus 10% profit that year. Since it's not economical to hand-pick deformed kernels, I just made considerably less.

    Oh... wait...
  • by ceejayoz (567949) <cj@ceejayoz.com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:20PM (#3996125) Homepage Journal
    "abuse of" generally meaning "having any", of course
  • by thales (32660) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:21PM (#3996131) Homepage Journal
    An AC Wrote:
    " The fact is that that the Ku Klux Klan is European-American civil rights advocacy organization."
    Among other drivel

    ROFLMAO,
    The Klan Was a Racist Terrorist organization that dominated Southern US Politics during the period just after the US Civil War, and after it's revival from the early 1900's to the 1950's.

    The Current Klan is a shell of it's former self, and is mainly a racket where a few con artist leaders bilk White trash out of money in return for giving them somebody to blame for being failures. The Myth of the Klan is kept alive by the con artist Grand Dragons and leaders of the US Civil rights movement who find the pathetic remnants useful for fund raising.

  • by Qrlx (258924) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:25PM (#3996143) Homepage Journal
    All the fuss is because if the trojan corn somehow gets planted and grows, then that represents unlicensed used of the product and Zimbabwe's corn can't be sold because the crop was "stolen" from Monsanto or Ortho or whoever's GM seeds it came from.

    Even if the corn manufacturer didn't come after them for theft, Zimbabwe still wouldn't be able to sell ANY of their corn to countries that don't accept GMO food becuase they're very picky about tiny amounts of contamination. It's kinda like to be "organic" fruit or the fields have to have been free of pesticides for thee years -- only then do they say it's organic. Before that it's transitional.

    Now, I have strong feelings about GMO foods. It's one thing to cross this rose with this rose and make a new rose. It's something else when you splice a gene from a salmon into a strawberry. Maybe it's no different from a functional biology perspective but to me, selective breeding is very different than molecular level manipulation of DNA.

    The other thing is: how do we know this stuff is safe? Who tests it? What is so wrong with non-GMO food that it's reached the end of its useful lifespan and needs to be "overclocked" to provide any value?

    And this whole concept of the "terminator" seed, one that only grows once, and the seed it produces is sterile. I don't think I'm being alarmist whey I say I'm very concerned about those kinds of seeds being introduced in the wild. Who is to say it wouldn't cross-breed with "normal" plants and keep them from reproducing? Don't many of the variations in life around us stem from mutations or genetic mishaps of one form or another?

    If you want me to believe that GMO food is just fine, then I need to see empirical data. Show me leukemia rates for children who eat "normal" crops and ones who eat GMO. No such studies exist, to my knowledge. I'm not going to just take the word of the salesman that the product is safe, and the USDA shouldn't either.
  • give or teach... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ZoneGray (168419) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:32PM (#3996165) Homepage
    Give a man some corn, and you feed him for a day. Teach him to plant it, and you'll be feeding him for 25-to-Life.
  • by uncoveror (570620) <webmaster AT uncoveror DOT com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:34PM (#3996173) Homepage
    I can not belive this! Mill the God Damn corn so they will be able to eat it! They cannot just allowed genetically engineered frankenfood to be planted. All the reasons they cite are valid. The idea that a living thing such as a corn plant can be patented, and therefore, someone's intellectual property is a crime against nature. Making crops that only grow once so farmers must buy new seeds each year is so obscene that I think my brain will melt if I think about it any more. "Beggars can't be choosers" is the battle cry of self-serving horn tooters who think throwing away their garbage at a Goodwil or Salvation Army center is giving charity, and of bastards with ulterior motives who are doing a disservice with their Giving.
  • by Dr Caleb (121505) <thedarkknightNO@SPAMhushmail.com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:50PM (#3996244) Homepage Journal
    The United States is the one making a very large donation to a poor company for almost no (if any) self-benifit,

    Which United States do you live in? Last month at the G8 summit, the topic of discussion for the second day was to be aid for Africa, and investment in Africa. All Pres. Bush wanted to discuss was getting support from the G8 to bomb Iraq into a new stone age.

    Prime Minister Cretien commited to $150 million in aid and development, plus increasing trade with Africa, but Bush wouldn't commit to anything.

    The PM doesn't want to give them the proverbial fish, he wants to teach them to fish, and promises to buy those fish later. Sending these people corn won't solve their problems (corrupt governments), there needs to be a long term solution, which the U.S. won't commit to.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:57PM (#3996281) Homepage Journal
    This is just more Robbie Mugabe genocidal paranoid maniac horseshit. He's already ordered the army to STOP people from farming and harvesting because he wants to take the industrial farms away from their owners and give them to his cronies in some kind of deluded Marxist land distribution scheme. He doesn't want the corn because he doesn't want to feed his own people so they will rise up and support him in his war against the farm owners.
  • Re:two bullies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dillon_rinker (17944) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:12PM (#3996354) Homepage
    I point a gun at you and tell you to give me your money.

    I hire a lawyer who convinces a judge to tell you to give me your money or a man with a gun will come and point it at you until you give me the money (police, contempt of court, prison).

    Civilization is very nice, because we don't walk around with guns in our faces most of the time. HOWEVER, it is important to realize that we have merely put some buffers up and we are still under the control of people with guns and the people who control them.

    The gloves may be velvet, but the fists inside them are still iron.
  • by mentin (202456) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:13PM (#3996358)
    >Ugly, complex reality: if Zimbabwe's own corn crop were adulterated with GM corn, they could lose their primary market for food exports, Europe, and then could end up suffering more down the line; if they get their local production back on track, the survivors would probably better off not having GM corn in the fields

    Well, this is a complex Zimbabwe's reality.

    US's reality is simple: US can pay to mill this corn, which costs only a fraction of corn's price that US already paid. This will display that there are no intentions to made Zimbabwe dependent on US GM'ed corn, make everybody happy and remove any complications. Is it a complex reality? Why US does not do it?

    Makes me feel Zimbabwe did the right choice.

  • by g4dget (579145) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:23PM (#3996405)
    Genetically engineered foods are Western luxury items--tomatoes that stay fresh forever, blemish-free fruits, fortified this-and-that. Genetic engineering does nothing to address fundamental issues of poverty and hunger in the world; if anything, it makes things worse because it increases the investments farmers need to make and their dependence on imports paid for in dollars for their production. In fact, we have already raised agrigultural productivity tremendously but not achieved any significant reductions in world hunger. When hunger is reduced, it's because countries address their political and social problems.

    I don't know enough about this situation to be able to say whether this is a reasonable decision in the short term or whether it will condemn millions of people to starvation. If it's the latter, I think we are morally obligated to donate food products, not give these people loans.

    In the long term, one way or another, poor nations must eliminate their dependency on food imports. They need to address their internal social and political problems, they must work on infrastructure, commerce, and population planning. And they need to develop crops domestically that work well within their countries.

  • by El Camino SS (264212) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @10:45PM (#3996509)
    The time that Mugabe will accept the corn is when the other people that he intends to starve out are all dead. Does anyone honestly think that a man that is forcing farmers out of their homes and stealing all of their equipment has any morals enough to pay for GE corn later? Hell NO.

    This is a starvation tactic.

    Not accepting the corn kills his opponents. His cronies own all of the farms... so they'll be fed just fine.
  • by marm (144733) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @11:34PM (#3996724)

    The European Union has rejected genetically engineered food based not on any reliable scientific studies but on public and political pressure from small special interest groups.

    Yes, and they are right to do so. Perhaps this has become an unfamiliar concept in the US, but by and large democratic governments are supposed to listen to their citizens. A large majority of EU citizens do not want genetically modified food, and there is no economic reason to do so - the EU already produces far more of most foods than it requires to feed itself. So much so that in fact the EU spends a lot of money paying farmers NOT to grow certain crops - because some countries within the EU are more efficient than others, and having massive surplus generated by these countries would kill agriculture in some of the less-efficient EU countries. Using GM crops to increase yield would only exascerbate this problem. Perhaps you think this is a stupid idea and that the free market should sort it out, but most Europeans would disagree - national identity is a key issue within the EU, and part of that national identity in most countries is being able to feed your own population. In addition, since most of the GM crops developed so far are US in origin, use of GM crops widely would change the balance of trade negatively. Instead of the seed company->farmer relationship being entirely intra-EU trade, it changes to a drain of money from the EU to the US. So both the EU agriculture and financial bigwigs are against it, because it would cost them more money.

    Because of this slightly funny way agriculture works within the EU, gains in yield from GM foods would be unsellable, and since the GM seed is more expensive, and is a recurring expense due to the inability to use saved seed, GM crops actually end up in less profit for the EU farmer, who is on average quite poor anyway. So the farmers are against it too.

    There is also the cross-pollination problem, as illustrated by the Canadian farmer that some other have written about, who suffered exactly this problem. Once GM crops are established in an area, it becomes impossible for non-GM crops of the same species to grow in that area without becoming 'infected' by the genes of the GM crop. The GM seed producer can then clamp down using patent laws and extract money from farmers who weren't even growing the GM crop in the first place - because patented genes from the GM crop end up in the genome of non-GM crops. It could become an effective non-governmental 'tax' on all EU farmers, and worse, chances are it wouldn't even be collected by an EU company but rather a US one.

    The fact that most EU consumers would rather die than eat genetically modified food is helpful to EU farmers and ministers in banning widespread use of GM crops and keeping the ban in place, but it's not the key issue here.

    It isn't that the EU is behind in genetic research and is playing Not Invented Here - after all, 1/3 of the human genome project was done in the UK, not to mention that the structure of DNA was discovered there too. The EU could develop its own GM crops, which would sidestep some of the issues but not most, and indeed it is and has. But still the ban on commercial GM agriculture remains, so these crops remain research tools, and have met with fierce opposition wherever they have been test-planted.

    Has there been ANY reliable scientific study relating ANY harmful effects to bio-engineered food?

    As far as I'm aware, no, not directly. However, research in this area is still young, and more importantly, mostly corporate-funded. It's the same kind of situation as with the pharmaceutical industry - we ingest these substances, so we'd better make damn sure they're safe, yet most of the research is funded by the companies that want approval. I shouldn't have to remind you that the pharmaceutical industry managed to get things like thalidomide on the market, and no-one had any credible evidence (that hadn't been suppressed) against that for several years after it was available on the market.

    It was interesting to read that somehow two extra genetic fragments that shouldn't have been in the genome of the Monsanto GM soybeans ended up there [guardian.co.uk]. Are we really sure we know all the knock-on effects? What else was missed? What if those genetic fragments had coded for a protein that switched off one of the human body's immune responses to cancer, or were themselves carcinogenic? Unlikely perhaps, but it took 3 years after commercial growing of these crops had started for the discovery to be made. Are you willing to take the risk, just so some company you've never worked for, never met anyone from, never bought anything from and which could well not even be in your own country or continent can make a few extra dollars for their shareholders?

    Perhaps the general mistrust in the EU of genetic modification is due to other food safety scares like BSE, caused by considerably less obvious tinkering than with genetic modification, but with the same aim - increasing efficiency and yield. The US hasn't had to deal with a food scare of similar scale, which is perhaps why the US public are so dismissive of the dangers. From an EU perspective, it seems the US consumer simply doesn't care what they eat, as long as it's cheap. The widespread use in the US of growth hormone to fatten livestock is another example of this, but this too is banned in the EU and repugnant to EU consumers.

    There are indirect environmental reasons to dislike some GM crops too. As an example, take Monsanto's GM soybeans, which are resistant to the Monsanto weedkiller Roundup (glyphosate). Here is a product that is designed to encourage use of Roundup and to allow farmers to spray willy-nilly without worrying about the effects it will have on their crop. If this doesn't mean farmers end up using more weedkiller than they would have done with a non-resistant crop, I'll eat my hat. The farmers are supposed to do this - it maximizes their yield. Goundwater contamination beckons...

    As an EU citizen, I am very glad that the EU has rejected genetically modified food, and I am glad that Zimbabwe has taken the same viewpoint, whatever I may think of their political leadership. GM foods are being used as a tool of economic imperialism, encourage environmental bad practice, encourage patent system abuse, are insufficiently tested and understood and simply aren't necessary. Chalk up another one on the US image problem score board.

  • by Bastian (66383) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @11:49PM (#3996769)
    I admit, I think destroying your own agricultural capacity is a pretty dumb way to keep people fed, but I can understand the reasoning for not allowing GM corn into the country. There /have/ been problems with GM crops that are engineered to be unable to reproduce cross-pollinating with normal crops, producing a second generation of said crop with the gene that keeps them from reproducing properly. Should corn that has been modified to carry genes like this make it into Zimbabwe and be used as seed corn, Zimbabwe could go from little food to no food in a few growing seasons.
    Since biotech firms aren't always very forthcoming about the products they make, I think I'm going to have to say that Zimbabwe's fear/paranoia is not unfounded in this case.

    They're still blathering idiots for destroying most of their agricultural infrastructure, though.
  • Re:Stupid fears (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chris Johnson (580) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @11:49PM (#3996770) Homepage Journal
    I'm sorry, but you are uneducated.

    pesticides cost MONEY. They are part of the problem- what makes them necessary is the pushing of high yield crops on the Third World. Without that, farmers grow low yield, inefficient crops with substantial diversity, subsisting off this behavior. The West comes and sells them high yield crops. Hell, these companies (like Monsanto etc.) will go in and play villagers videos and stuff, they'll do anything to sell their product. Then, surprise! You need to spray with pesticides as you're now growing a monoculture Western-style. Guess what? You need irrigation! You need to invest in the infrastructure all of a sudden. How? Die. (that may not seem like a logical answer, but third world farmers DO NOT HAVE irrigation or money to buy pesticides and crop dusters. So the crop fails, and they die.

    It is wrong of you to view indigenous subsistence farming through such a Westernized set of blinders that you're automatically assuming they have freaking crop dusters. What is up with that? Or are they subhuman because they don't have garden freaking sheds with plant sprayers in them? Is it a case of make them farm like Americans or kill them off? That's the effect.

    This is why so much of the world hates my country. We have a tendency to steamroller anything else without even paying attention or noticing. You do realise that people lived by subsistence farming in the Third World thousands of years ago? Oh my, look at that low efficiency of that crop yield. They'll all starve unless we rescue them! And then they better be GRATEFUL! *spit*

    Sorry. Not your fault really- you weren't to know- but this is not the first time I have listened to, and understood, the concerns of agricultural interests elsewhere in the world. Read some of the links other Slashdotters have posted. For instance, I knew Western high-yield farming decimated India's agriculture and destroyed farmers, but I wasn't aware until today that we're doing the same thing in Ethiopia- last I heard that name, it was over famine relief efforts (probably caused for political reasons) and by now our actions have gutted Ethiopia's ability to feed itself even in the absence of political treachery.

  • by sheldon (2322) on Friday August 02, 2002 @12:20AM (#3996881)
    inner-city folks?

    They could give it to the suburban folks and they still wouldn't know what end of the cow to milk, much less how corn is grown.
  • Why Blame Mugabe? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 524287 (595937) on Friday August 02, 2002 @12:37AM (#3996932) Homepage

    Why are so many slashdotters keen on blaming Mugabe for this famine?
    • Is Mugabe the President of Swaziland?
    • Is Mugabe the President of Lesotho?
    • Is Mugabe the President of Malawi?
    • Is Mugabe the President of Zambia?
    • Is Mugabe the President of Mozambique?
    • No, Mugabe is the President of Zimbabwe, only one of many countries in Southern Africa faced with famine.
    By the way, other sources report [allafrica.com] that a settlement has been reached between Zimbabwe and the United States. Let's hope they get it milled and distributed ASAP.

    On a lesser note, nobody has pointed out that Africans prefer their own varieties of maize to American maize because American maize makes lousy nsima (nshima in Shona). Crosspollination is a real concern for everybody, not just the exporters. If the US intends merely to provide assistance, they should just go ahead and mill the stuff. Or send rice.
  • But are you? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sheldon (2322) on Friday August 02, 2002 @12:42AM (#3996945)
    Your website seems to indicate you've spent the last 20 years working on computers for small business interests.

    I'm curious what your background is to know whether I can trust your statements.
  • Re:Stupid fears (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChannelX (89676) on Friday August 02, 2002 @01:00AM (#3997001) Homepage
    ugh. so many things to comment on and so little time..
    ok, a few things. first, any company that GE's food products does one thing first of all. make them sterile!!
    False
    on top of that, the fear of GE crops for the most part is unfounded and ignorant.
    Actually its well -founded because nobody has done enough research yet. I'm glad you just want to believe what Monsanto and like companies tell you. However those companies also had us believe DDT was OK. I'd rather have a lot more research done thank you.
    on top of that, no one seems willing to accept the fact that if the corn didn't have Bt in it already, farmers would just be spraying the corn with pesticide. which do you think is worse, a perfectly targeted weapon or one of spray and pray?
    I'd rather chose neither way. There are other concerns about Bt-corn besides Monarch butterflies.
    as a whole, GE plants cut way back on dangerous pesticides, and are likely much better for people overall
    Neither you nor any of the companies producing those plants know enough to make that judgement.
    the only thing better, IMO than GE plants would be pure organic grown plants. problem with them is that yeilds are so low you can't support the population on them.
    You are misinformed and totally incorrect. Studies have shown that equivalent yields of organic produce can be grown. And funny enough those are the kinds of plants we relied on until after the 1950's or so. The problem with US agriculture is the reliance on monoculture. That is why so many sprays have to be used, etc. If we let nature do what it does best we wouldn't have a large dead zone in the gulf of Mexico (caused by fertilizer, etc run-off).
    i used to work at a bio research facility, and i can tell you right now the shit they spray on the plants that you eat is waaay worse than anything they're trying to put straight into the plant.
    oh but Monsanto, etc insist its all safe! Just like giving cows anti-biotics and growth hormone injections make no difference (except that is bogus....it does make a difference). I'll tell you what...humans would be far better off if more of use would realize we are not disconnected from nature and act appropriately. Monoculture is not how it should be done.
  • Catch 22 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by southpolesammy (150094) on Friday August 02, 2002 @01:17AM (#3997060) Journal
    This is an elaborate catch-22 that the US has set up to make Mugabe look bad no matter which way he decides to go. Without delving back into Mugabe's internal policy regarding starving out his opponents, consider this scenario.

    If he accepts the grain, he becomes seen as hypocritical by his people by admitting that there is a food shortage while at the same time he is telling his own people to stop farming. Additionally, if he accepts it, it sets up the US to be able to make him do what they want, lest the food shipments stop. Shant bite the hands that feeds, you know...

    If he declines the grain, he sends a message that the country's situation is fine, and when the Zimbabwean people begin to starve in mass numbers, he will be labeled as a blundering fool, a ruthless dictator, and as a person who the world can not trust. It sets him up for failure in this case as well.

    This is a carefully crafted ploy by the US to use Mugabe's own policies against him. They are forcing him to either change his ways or to send his country into mass starvation by way of politics. Either way, this is a brilliant move by the US in the chess game between these two countries.
  • by PhunkySpace (588253) on Friday August 02, 2002 @01:50AM (#3997146)
    Also, since Prez Bob is using the famine as a hands-clean way of political "cleansing" (most of the aid is being directed to members of his political party only, those who voted against him are left to starve), there's a vested interest letting the situation get as bad as possible as quickly as possible. That way they can be rid of those troublesome democratic types that don't support him, and get back to normal as soon as possible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 02, 2002 @02:30AM (#3997232)
    Zimbabwe refused to accept *whole* grain. The U.S. refused to supply processed grain which would have fed people but not risked imposing GM on the country by stealth.

    To claim that Mugabe has refused the grain is misleading.

    The refusal of the U.S. to provide processed grain says as much about the aims of the suppliers and their attitude towards the starving population of Zimbabwe as it does about Mugabe.
  • Jefferson (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crucini (98210) on Friday August 02, 2002 @02:46AM (#3997255)
    "Pollen drift is a real problem, especially with maize," Harl said. "It places these countries in an extremely difficult position."
    This reminds me of Jefferson's famous letter [uchicago.edu]:
    ...but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it.
    So the same arguments Jefferson makes against intellectual property in general apply especially to this corn. And:
    That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.
    Substitute "genetic materials" for "ideas" and you have an accurate description of the problem with patented genetic materials. It seems that since it is natural for plants to cross-pollinate, the farmer should not incur an additional burden of protecting his fields from "encumbered" pollen.
  • by bowls (203057) on Friday August 02, 2002 @02:56AM (#3997276) Homepage
    Zimbabwe have a record of developing crops to meet their climate. Wheat in particular. Crops just do not grow once planted they have to be suitable for the climate. Most the GM designs so far do not meet the needs of countries outside the developed world. No doubt some used in australia may. Either way I would bet zimbabwe have devloped their own strains of maize for their environment, just importing things ad hoc is normally bad news.
    Most anglers in the states ae begining to realize this now due to the snake fish infecting lakes and eating everything in sight. Australia have very strict import requirements to stop pests entering. The same goes for crops.
    The maize is GM and may reduce the amount grown, since it may not be adapted to the climate. Low water. low nutrients. Where as Zimabawean strains of wheat are designed to make the most of this.
    Also GM crops have a tendency to cause resistancy to infections and investations grow. This would hit those farmers that do not use GM doubly hard.
    THis would be bad for zimbabwe.
    IN china were they have llet GM cotton grow for over a decade there are very mixed reports of its effects. The scientists on the ground tend to say that the yeilds are dropping from the records as resitance among the infections/investations has grown. Also over bugs have grown hardeir as well, affecting other crops as well (they had to compete with these attacking the cotton). THos not on the ground tend to refute the claims. The net effect is that current GM methods look like they will not very effective.

    One post here about Ethiopia woes due to IMF and USa interference is stunning. Sell your grain stores that save guard u from famine and then have reimport the lot when famine stikes a year later. IMF and USA enforcing free market polices that further there national interest when the those that they enforce them on are not an economic threat is confounding.
  • Re:Stupid fears (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mpe (36238) on Friday August 02, 2002 @04:45AM (#3997475)
    pesticides cost MONEY.

    If farmers can afford some, but not enough, they may simply breed pesticide resistant whatevers. That's assuming that pesticides designed for use in the US and Europe are actually much use in the first place.

    They are part of the problem- what makes them necessary is the pushing of high yield crops on the Third World.

    But only high yield if they are farmed in a specific way, otherwise they can wind up being no yield.

    Without that, farmers grow low yield, inefficient crops with substantial diversity, subsisting off this behavior.

    Only low yield by the standards of western agro-business. Most likely the best yield they can get. Farmers, left of their own devices, will seek to improve their crops and farming techniques.

    You need to spray with pesticides as you're now growing a monoculture Western-style.

    With a monoculture it only takes one thing to go wrong and you can have no crop at all. The something which goes wrong might be a minor mistake by the farm worker or the wrong type of weather.
  • by commodoresloat (172735) on Friday August 02, 2002 @05:40AM (#3997582)
    Paranoid lunatics should not be allowed to run countries.

    Exactly. Unfortunately, nobody else wants to run countries.

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