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Food Fight: The Historical Roots of the GM Food Debate

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“U.S. Ready to Declare War Over GM Food,” threatened the headline that peered out from between the pink-tinged pages of London's Financial Times. It was January 2003 and the past six months had seen a vicious food fight take place on both sides of the Atlantic, with an unanticipated outcome. In the fall of 2002, six African countries had turned up their noses at food aid provided by the United States, suspicious of its genetically modified (GM) nature. Ultimately, five of the six nations had been cajoled into accepting the food aid, with some insisting that it be milled before distribution to prevent it from germinating and taking root to contaminate their fields. But Zambia—a small country centrally nestled in the heart of southern Africa—had held out and stubbornly said no thanks, even as U.S. officials condemned the rejection and accused Zambian leaders of crimes against humanity for allowing their citizens to starve.

By early 2003, focus on the African food aid crisis had died down, at least temporarily, and Zambia had found food from other nations to feed the country's hungry. But the Americans were still smarting from the rejection, and the administration of President George W. Bush now turned its ire on Europe, focusing on consumer opposition to genetically modified foods there, which had led the European Union to instigate an informal moratorium on approvals of new genetically modified imports. In response to Europe's insurgency over the GM food issue, Robert Zoellick, then the U.S. Trade Representative, had publicly referred to Europeans as “Luddites” and “immoral” and had accused them of steering starving Africans away from genetically modified foods.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 10, 2008

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