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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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  • I really wish US multinationals would stop pushing GE onto other countries.
    If they wanted to be nice they could have given normal corn.
    • Actually, normal corn is nearly non-existent in the US now and is rapidly being contaminated across all of North America. Pollen from the genetic crops is spreading far and wide.

      I liken some of Zimbabwe's worries to someone patenting a virus that infects all programs worldwide and then claiming rights to the infected programs. The bio industry has already gone after farmers whose crop was unintentionally cross-pollinated claiming that they did it on purpose. There are valid points in Zimbabwe's concerns.

    • by hlh_nospam (178327) <concealedhandgun ... inus threevowels> 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).

    • Read the rest of the article! In the US, GE corn is not separated from non-GE corn as it's collected for shipment and resale. To change this would require major changes in how corn is moved - not liley to happen before Zimbabwe needs some eats, if ever.

      The fact that we're not willing to pay $25 a metric ton is much more damning. I would hardly put it past Mugabe to play politics just for some good press internationally and domestically, but the request to mill the corn first really is quite reasonable from a lot of points of view. And frankly all the US doesn't seem to have a particularly good reason not to the mill the corn - our answer seems to be a patronizing, "well it's our corn so shut up and do what we say" answer, viz:

      At a news conference in Johannesburg on Friday, Roger Winter, USAID's assistant administrator for humanitarian assistance, suggested that Zimbabwe had little choice if it wanted to feed its people. "We have no substitute for that maize. That maize is what's available," he said.

      and:
      When India balked over a humanitarian shipment of gene-altered food, one U.S. official was quoted as saying, "Beggars can't be chosers."

      Take what positions you will about other US foreign policy actions, this just seems gratuitously obnoxious on our part, unless they really are trying to push Monsanto corn on everyone.

  • One other point regarding many patented "wheat products" - as a seed it is effectively infertile... any crop from it used as seed will never germinate, and if that cross-fertilises with an exising native strain, blammo!
    • by quintessent (197518) <my usr name on toofgiB [tod] moc> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:57PM (#3995775) Journal
      blammo!

      A bunch of corn will germinate that cannot reproduce, which it will pass on to its children, and so on, until the world is completely filled with infertile corn.

      Oh wait.
      • 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...
        • But are you? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sheldon (2322)
          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.
  • by Xerithane (13482) <xerithane.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 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.

  • If it is possible to supply third-world countries with food, but only of the genetically-altered variety, then perhaps we should genetically engineer the plants such that they cannot reproduce. This way, there is no fear of the plant spreading uncontrolably. I have no idea how difficult this would be, but it is definitely not impossible. No need to mill the corn, or handle it any differently from 'normal' corn.
    • Yah, then they end up having to buy ALL their grain from the industrialised West, and end up more in debt...
      • No, they already have their native breeds -- the issue is that the native corn may be mixed with the imported GE variety, resulting in all sorts of problems (IP issues, inability to import product into Europe, &c). If in the event of such mixing only the native corn were to grow/reproduce -- it wouldn't be a problem. A terminator gene is in this case a genuine solution.
    • by Local Loop (55555) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:11PM (#3995485)
      This is already being done, especially with test crops, or valuable strains. However, cross-pollenization is still a problem - normal crops can get tainted with engineered genes just by being planted nearby.
    • by Grax (529699) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:36PM (#3995644) Homepage
      Give a man a genetically engineered fish, he eats for a day. Teach him how to grow genetically engineered fish and then sue him for "stealing" your "intellectual property".

      Seriously, the jury is certainly not in yet on genetically engineered foods. It could be found to affect intelligence, safe reproduction, or cause cancer. Calling it "food" may be a bit optimistic.
  • 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 Local Loop (55555) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:05PM (#3995439)
    As usual, slashdot editors fail to see the larger picture.

    The problem here is not about patents - it's about
    Europe's refusal to import genetically modified food. Europe is Zimbabwe's primary export market.
    If Zimbabwe's crops were tainted, they could lose their primary source of revenue.

    Furthermore, Zimbabwe is willing to accept the corn if the US will agree to mill it before shipping. The additional cost of milling is minimal, but is not covered by the aid package. Classic snafu.
    • No doubt. The notion of a biotech/agribusiness corp suing some poor Zimbabwe subsistence farmer for patent infringment is comical. Can you say judgement proof?
      • 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.
    • 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 ceejayoz (567949) <cj@ceejayoz.com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:14PM (#3996106) Homepage Journal
        exactly - imagine if the USA took away all the land from the farmers who are running everything quite well and producing much much more than we need, and gave it to the inner-city folks who don't know jackshit about farming. That's what Mugabe has done.
        • 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.
        • by jafac (1449) on Friday August 02, 2002 @01:45PM (#3999938) Homepage
          um - why don't we call a spade a spade here. Because the race issue IS important.

          The current farmers happen to be white - people who have farmed this land for generations. Dutch and English colonists.

          The people Mugabe is handing the land over to, are black natives. All in the name of "Kicking out the colonialist european white" people who have so obviously made Zimbabwe into the economic powerhouse it is today (well, 5-10 years ago, anyway).

          This is racial payback for the civil wars that were fought decades ago, and attrocities supposedly committed by mercenaries hired by the white farmers at that time.

          The problem is - you throw out the racial issue, and look at the situation rationally, Mugabe is getting rid of the country's most valuable resource - experienced farmers! Does it matter if they're black or white? I suppose it does to the black people, but these white farmers were born in Zimbabwe - their parents were born in Zimbabwe - it makes no sense to play the race card, or be jealous of the success of these people. But Mugabe is doing it, because his grip on power relies on paying the corrupt government that does his dirty work - in effect, he's not really in control, it's his cronies, who are happy to pay their henchman with stolen land.
    • Mugabe at Work (Score:5, Informative)

      by agutier (471583) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:34PM (#3995640)
      Also, keep in mind that Mugabe ordered a halt to the winter wheat harvest in June. This is part of a plan that will redistribute 95% of commercial farmland. Some 60% of commerical farms, 2,900 farms, where ordered to halt work. This was done during a food shortage, with the country on the brink of salvation. The plan is redistribute the commecical farms from white to black ownership. In practice, the land becomes gifts for Mugabe's cronies. Cereal production has fallen 67% since 1999-2000 accoridnig to the World Food Program, and will certianly tumble further.

      Rather than looking for grand conspiracies by US firms to starve Zimbabwians, look at the corrupt government of Robert Mugabe. It seems unlikely that someone who has wrecked such havoc on his nations agri-business would be interested in protecting his crops for the European market. If he is, then its the nature of the dictator to set absurd priorities.
    • by wdr1 (31310)
      As usual, slashdot editors fail to see the larger picture.

      I don't think this is fair.

      It's really only a few, most notably these days Michael. Usually quite uninformed, but not afraid to speak loudly about it. I wish Slashdot would fire him. (Related note: anyone else notice Timothy seems to be getting better. Maybe it is worth while giving honest, non-flaming criticism?)

      Furthermore, Zimbabwe is willing to accept the corn if the US will agree to mill it before shipping. The additional cost of milling is minimal, but is not covered by the aid package.

      As the article states, the milling is actually a significant added cost at an additional ~25% increase. (The corn is estimated to be worth $95/metric ton. To mill it would be an additional $25/metric ton.)

      I think the article is a little skewed. The United States is the one making a very large donation to a poor company for almost no (if any) self-benifit, yet it is painted as the bad guy for not agreeing to mill the corn as well! Note that is the EXACT SAME CORN you get in the grocery store. I.e. we're not subjecting Zimbabwe to a lower standard than we place on our own people.

      If Europe wants to continue to claim to be concerned about the world as well, yet also wants to push back on genetically modified foodstuff, would it be so hard for multiple countries to kick in 25% of the United States donation and pay for it be milled (and thus eliminate the chance that they will be sold genetically modified corn)?

      -Bill

      • by Dr Caleb (121505) <thedarkknight AT hushmail DOT 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.

  • 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)
    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.
    • Re:Utterly insane (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MAXOMENOS (9802) <maxomai@nOSPAm.gmail.com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:55PM (#3995760) Homepage
      The main problem that I see is one of IP rights.

      Let us suppose that I am growing 'normal' corn while my neighbor grows GE corn. Let us also assume that I make a habit out of saving 5-10% of my crop for replanting three years later, after a year of soybeans and a year of alfalfa, and that my neighbor is on a similar schedule.

      Let's start in 2000 with both of us planting corn. My corn has no GE genes in it; my neighbor's corn has some GE genes in it, which are covered by patents held by Frankenfood Inc.. That year some pollen from my corn invades my neighbor's field and vice-versa. Come harvest time, I harvest my corn and my neighbor harvests his. I save my 10% for replanting, and in 2003, I plant partially GE corn. My corn is now covered by patents held by Frankenfood Inc, unbeknownst to myself.

      Have I invaded on Frankenfood's patent?

      Do I owe Frankenfood Inc. royalties on their IP?

      If so, do I owe them in 2003, when I use the seeds; or do I owe them in 2000, when I first harvested and sold those GE seeds to the general public?

      Let's suppose that the cross pollenation occurs over long distances .. that the GE corn was grown in Zimbabwe and that my corn is grown in Chile, but that the cross-pollenation happens anyway due to a jet stream. Zimbabwe has a royalty-free license to use Frankenfood's GE corn. Chile does not even use Frankenfood's GE corn. Do I still owe them royalties?

      Can they get an injunction ordering me not to plant my corn or to destroy a corn crop that I've already planted? Can they back it up with guns if I refuse to obey?

      Can they sue my country under NAFTA or GATT and bankrupt the treasury?

      These are the kind of issues that I think people are worried about.


    • 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.
  • Politics of Famine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dictator For Life (8829) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:06PM (#3995449) Homepage
    Given that Rhodesia was a net exporter of food, and at one time was the so-called "breadbasket of Africa", I think we may safely conclude that Zimbabwe's food issues are largely political in nature. Killing your farmers does not encourage agriculture, for instance.
    • by Jason Earl (1894)

      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 NearlyHeadless (110901) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:37PM (#3995656)
      http://www.economist.com/world/africa/displayStory .cfm?story_id=1201137 [economist.com]
      Economist.com | Zimbabwe

      Zimbabwe

      From breadbasket to basket case
      Jun 27th 2002 | HARARE
      From The Economist print edition

      Faced with famine, Robert Mugabe orders farmers to stop growing food

      Get article background

      JUNE in Zimbabwe is midwinter, but because of the country's subtropical climate, its commercial farmers can grow food all year round. Right now, they should be tending the winter wheat, which is usually ready for harvest in September or October, and preparing their fields for warm-weather crops, such as maize, the national staple. But President Robert Mugabe has commanded them to park their tractors and stop farming. With half the people in Zimbabwe on the brink of starvation, this is, even by Mr Mugabe's standards, an exceptionally bad idea.

      From June 25th, some 2,900 white farmers, whose farms have been earmarked to be seized and given to blacks, were legally obliged to cease work. Those who continue to plough, weed and scatter seeds face jail terms of up to two years. Generously, the government said it would allow them to continue living in their homes for another 45 days, but then they must leave. In theory, they are permitted to take their portable possessions away with them, but in practice, police and ruling-party militiamen at roadblocks often prevent them from escaping with anything too valuable. Mr Mugabe's cronies, relatives and assorted mobsters covet their pick-up trucks and threshing machines.

      Continued ...

      • by Drogo Knotwise (587556) <drogo_knotwise&yahoo,com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:26PM (#3995907)
        If only Rob Mugabe at least was willing to give the farms to any blacks. Instead, he's only giving them to the members of his ethnic background (there are several (black) ethnic groups in Zimbabwe).

        Another reason why farming has been hit badly is the fact that a lot of the farms, their fields and their crops were burned by Mugabe's youth leagues and "war veterans."
        • by Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:44PM (#3995995) Homepage
          he's only giving them to the members of his ethnic background (there are several (black) ethnic groups in Zimbabwe). [emphasis added]

          If I had a "+1 insightful" to hand out right now, this post would get it....

          The modern world's conception of "race" is entirely broken, in my opinion, and is nothing more than a superstition at this point. From a genuinely biological point of view, there are probably quite a few different "races" of dark-skinned individuals [in the sense of mostly-geographically-defined, genetically distinct populations]...but the modern conception just lumps them all together as "black" or "African". (A lot of people would probably lump indigenous Australians into the "black" category on the shallow basis of "they got dark skin and curly hair", despite the fact that, as I understand it, they're more asian/polynesian in reality...)

          The point being that racism is stupid not ONLY because "it's intolerant" but because the distinctions defined by "race" in the modern world just plain don't make sense....

          To get slightly back on topic, This makes Mugabe possibly even WORSE of a racist than the KKK, which, as far as I know, accepts ANY "white race", not just certain subsets....(I could be mistaken about this - I'm not exactly an expert on racist groups...)

      • 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.
  • 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.
  • Figures (Score:5, Interesting)

    by _UnderTow_ (86073) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:09PM (#3995469)
    the president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe is the same guy that told his people that it was OK to kill white farmers and take their land. He also rigged the last election to keep himself in power. I'm not suprised that he'd ignore the starvation of his own people to show the world how 'powerful' he is.
    • by Bastian (66383)
      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.
  • by Disevidence (576586) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:09PM (#3995471) Homepage Journal
    On the subject of patented crops, only.

    I find it quite disturbing that African Countries are prepared to starve their people, rather than contribute money to big overseas giants. This must speak volumes about the problems with patented crops.

    Food should never come patented, as it is THE basic necessity of life. What next, patented water?

    While Mugabe's regime is corrupt to the core, and the government bought this on themselves, there should be no excuse for forcing third world countries into a subservient like existence, where they have to pay multinationals for their basic food.

    Get rid of patents on food. The companies deserve to be paid for advancing food technology and supply, but this isn't they way to go about.

    (Disclaimer: Yes, i have read the article (it was on Fark the other day), and yes, it's only meant to be used for feeding, but that doesn't mean it will be.)
    • Don't be so gullible. It isn't about patents or about the European grain market. Those in power in Zimbabwe are using famine as a weapon of mass destruction. You can bet that their supporters will have plenty to eat, but their opponents will not. If the people starving were able to receive aid then the government would have to spend money to kill them.

    • Get rid of patents on food. The companies deserve to be paid for advancing food technology and supply, but this isn't they way to go about.
      So just how do these companies end up getting paid for their efforts. I mean, if a genetic research corporation can double the amount of corn per acre with no bad side effects, that's worth a considerable amount of compensation isn't it?

      So, in order to pay for the cost of this research and, what the heck, even make a buck or two, what ways can this fictional company hope to receive compensation? They could lobby various governments to tax their citizens to pay for the research, they could attempt to sell the seeds at a higher cost than regular seeds, or they could patent the process and then sell licenses to produce the new grains.

      The tax option is used, but it generally doesn't come anywhere close to paying for the research. Not only that but people are constantly complaining about taxes and these kinds of taxes are ripe for corruption and pork-barrel politics. Not exactly a great path to travel.

      If you simply produce and sell the grains at a premium then it won't be long before your competition gets a stock of seeds and begins producing their own supplies to sell. The problem here is that the research company used a lot of money in developing the seeds, while the company that sat on its butt didn't spend dollar one. So the first company needs to recoup expenses and can't lower prices on the food, but the second company can sell them at normal prices without going broke. No company will do research under these conditions, so no research will get done and no improved grains will be made.

      The last option is patenting. If you patent the genome which you created (remember, this now is not a grain found in nature - it is something INVENTED), you can then protect the patent and make sure that no one is undercutting you. You can then sell the seed at a higher cost, due to its higher production potential. You can't ask an arm and a leg for the grain, if you do so then the higher production will be offset by the cost of the seed.

      Overall, I would say that it is just fine to patent a new grain that you have genetically engineered. I do think that these patents should be given short time limits, be strictly monitored, and that the requirements for granting be stringently reviewed. In other words, ideally these patents should be difficult to obtain and last just long enough for a company to make back its investment plus a bit more.
  • 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.

    • 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 MtViewGuy (197597) on Friday August 02, 2002 @12:50AM (#3996966)
      AMEN!!

      In the great famines of the 20th Century, just about all of them have been caused NOT by bad climate conditions but by war, political action or poor government decisions.

      I can cite the following examples:

      The Ukraine (1928-1933). The creation of collective farms by force and Stalin's extreme demands on food production essentially sent all of the agricultural production and then some out of the Ukraine with tragic results. Some 14,000,000 people died from the starvation caused by this policy.

      China (1921-1949). The factional fighting of the warlords, the fighting between the Communists and Nationalists, and the Japanese invasion of China resulted in many millions of Chinese starving to death because food could not be grown and distributed under war conditions.

      China (1958-1963). The ill-advised Great Leap Forward resulted in poor agricultural policies that led to massive crop failures and near-starvation for much of the country.

      World War II (1939-1945). It was only the Marshall Plan that saved Europe from starvation due to the complete loss of means of food production and distribution throughout much of Europe. A similar plan saved Japan from the ravages of the war.

      Africa (1960s-today). The departure of the colonial powers resulted in the rise of civil wars, tribal warfare and despotic regimes that often used control of food production and distribution as a weapon. No wonder we had cases of famine on an unbelievable scale all over Africa since the 1960's, with the mass starvation in southern Sudan and in Zimbabwe being the latest examples.
  • Simple solution (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cachorro (576097)
    Let them grind the corn into meal before shipment.

    Send me my 0.01% commission for saving the deal.

    You're welcome.

  • Hey, Mugabe is just doing what he does best, creating a crisis. Zimbabwe went from a net food exportor to famine, in record time. Never mind the GM food, Zimbabwe wouldn't need to import food if not for Mugabe's draconian, and racist, "land redistribution" [africaonline.com] policies.

    Like most African food crises in the last 50 years, this one is caused by politics.

    Derek

  • When I saw the headline to this article yesterday, I was shocked and outraged too. We all know Mugabe is a pretty bad guy, but he does have a point. Zimbabwe wishes to export corn to Europe, and if they cannot guarantee that it is GM-free, they have lost a major chunk of their exports for some time to come. Is it better to (possibly) prevent some starving now and make future despair and poverty more likely? Stalin chose to starve his people and took a medieval society and created a country capable of defeating WWII Germany (with a little help.)

    So blame Europe, fate, and a cynical, Machievellian leader, not insanity for this one.

  • Actually... (Score:2, Redundant)

    by jayhawk88 (160512)
    ...the more likely reason the grain was refused is that the Zimbabwe government is currently on a militaristic campaign to take land away from white farmers and give it to black ones as part of a Land Acquisition Act. President Mugabe can use the starvation of his own people to further cast blame on the white farmers and rally more support for the governments policies. Pretty good K5 article on the whole situation here [kuro5hin.org].

    Please note, also, that I'm not trying to make commentary on whether land distribution in Zimbabwe is right or not, only on the methods used by the government to achieve that end.
  • Wide scale irradiation would seem to be cheap and sterilize the corn, no? Also, couldn't they just mill the damn stuff? Hard to grow something from seed when it's been pulverized to powder. There has to be more to it than this.
  • They are starving due to "drought and political mismanagement". In other words, they don't have enough food to feed themselves. However, the food that could feed them is not politically correct in the EU, therefore they couldn't sell it (or its proginy if planted) in Europe. So, they would rather let half their population starve rather than at some point become the breadbasket of Europe... now it's all making sense! The government doesn't want to feed their people, they want to resell the food and buy new cars, if you're really cynical. If you're not then this makes very little sense. Starve or not? I bet the people that are starving (as opposed to the people making the decisions) would have a very different take on this if they were allowed to express it.
  • 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.

    ----------

  • Mother Jones had an article last June about the same problem with GM (genetically modified) crops, this time happening in Oaxaca, Mexico, where corn originated. The government is trying to silence scientists sounding the alarm. -- http://www.motherjones.com/magazine/MJ02/seeds_con troversy.html
  • 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.

    • by Drogo Knotwise (587556) <drogo_knotwise&yahoo,com> on Thursday August 01, 2002 @08:43PM (#3995987)
      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.

      LOL. Chief tactics? His "chief tactics" were:
      • electoral fraud (a car accident a week before the election involving a government vehicle left the neighboring ground strewn with thousands of votes for (surprise!) Zanu-PF's very own... Robert Mugabe!)
      • forced adherence to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party (barricades run by youth leagues would stop drivers on major roads, check their Zanu-PF card, and beat up everyone without one)
      • manipulation of the electoral booths (the pro-MDC (opposition) areas (mainly big cities) had to turn away thousands of voters each because there wasn't time for them to vote in the alloted time frame)
      • intimidation, harassment and "disappearances" of MDC candidates and voters (entire villages were rased because of pro-MDC tendencies)
      • laws prohibiting free press
      • laws prohibiting manifestations against the President.


      In the end, the "land reform" was only an (unsuccessful) PR stunt. In the end, most people didn't like it, because either they didn't believe in property theft, or else simply because the only people benefitting from it were Mugabe cronies, whose votes didn't have to be won.
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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.

      • Re:Stupid fears (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mpe (36238)
        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.
    • Re:Stupid fears (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ChannelX (89676)
      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.
  • If a choice between dying and paying, (let them try and sue a poor starving farmer (isn't worth the court costs)). It sounds like another oportunity for open source, open sourced GM foods to feed the world. How does one prove that you are using GM corn??? All life (by the theory of eveolution is a mix of parents, all food is crossbred to gain benificial characteristics, i.e. all tomatos were small and not particularly tasty, but with crossbreding they are now, small, large juicy, meaty etc... GM is only the manual version of random selection. So once the GM corn is planted in a field with other corn species won't it cross and become a hybrid of the native/GM???? This is all kinda mute as if the people are starving they aren't targets for payments. The other simple solution is the grind the provided corn a meal or flour, which is what the poeple would probably do to eat it anyway. This doesn't have as long a storage life, but if you are feeding the starving how long does it need to last anyway??? I have never understood this patenting of living things (DNA, plants etc...) they don't invent, they just mix existing materials which would in general mix on a random basis in the environment anyway. There are some extreme cases where a fish gene is placed in a plant but for the most part that is rare. I can see that the food companies have the right to charge more for a optimized product but once they have sold/provided the material they shouldn't have any rights to future use and if thats what they want then they should make the equivalent of seedless grapes that don't reproduce just provide a single harvent and not generate seed.
  • 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.

    a) Plant patents pre-date genetic engineering: much of the none-"GM" corn they are receiving will have been grown from patented seed.

    b) "GM" corn (maize, in Europe) varieties are hybrids. The seed companies do not need to file lawsuits to protect their patents as hybrids do not reproduce themselves. The yield from planting the donated "GM" corn would be extremely disappointing and the problem self-limiting.

    c) The putative lawsuits would have to be filed in Zimbabwe. I doubt that they would get far.
  • 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?

    • Re:two bullies (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ainsoph (2216)
      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.


      Smartest thing I have heard in weeks. I hope you get modded up to the moon.
      • Re:two bullies (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dr.Dubious DDQ (11968)

        You know, MOST of the biotech/corporation-bashing that goes on here is of the knee-jerk variety and irritates me greatly, but I actually agree with this one....

        Personally, i think the doctrine of "first sale" ought to apply to "patented" organisms just as it does (or at least, is SUPPOSED TO) to other things encumbered by the "intellectual property" label.

        Hmmmm....though would that mean that the farmer's sale of the seeds is a "public performance"?......

        (Side question - how much longer before the first of the GM plants' patents expire? Can't be long now, can it?....)

  • by fishbowl (7759) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @07:59PM (#3995784)
    Whoever said that either gets all his news from ESPN, slashdot and the onion, or else they have selective filters that shelter them from news about Africa.
  • 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 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.

  • 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@@@uncoveror...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 Freedom Bug (86180) on Thursday August 01, 2002 @09:54PM (#3996260) Homepage
    In 20 years time, the anti-GM people will have 'won'. Automated genetic sequencing will allow standard Mendellian techniques to be much more precisely targetted.

    Before GM, researchers irradiated a bunch of seeds to induce mutation, then planted them. Then cross-pollinate plants with interesting characteristics. Rinse and repeat.

    With gene sequencing and modelling software, the cycle time can be reduced (ie, you don't have to grow the corn to see how it will turn out). Whammo, GM without GM.

    Of course, it's actually worse, because they're be undesired mutations in the crop as well as the ones they were trying to induce. But they'll be able to sell it as "organic' GM free.

    Humans have been doing GM work for 10,000 years now. There is no such thing as wild corn, for instance. The scientific method did much more to improve the rate of change than tools like genetic modification.

    Bryan
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder. -- James H. Boren

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