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Feast or Famine?: The Politics of GM Food Aid in Africa

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On a frigid January evening in 2003, as a new year overshadowed by the looming threat of war got off to a tumultuous start, CNN's MoneyLine newscast began with the ominous lead “Stocks down again amidst uncertainty of possible war.” Suzanne Malveaux, CNN's White House correspondent, quickly launched into the heart of the matter: “The White House is engaged in a full-blown public relations blitz, trying to make their case not only to the American people but also to U.S. allies.” The report rolled on, dipping back and forth into the politically tricky issue of dwindling support and even outright opposition to war in Iraq from the nation's European allies. “France yesterday hinted it might use its UN Security Council veto against a UN resolution on Iraq. Germany's Gerhard Schroeder said flat out Germany will not vote for a war.”

The news switched gears at that point, warning of an Arctic air front paralyzing states in the north, denouncing the high cost of medical malpractice insurance, and debating whether the country should tap into its strategic petroleum reserves. Results from the previous week's viewer poll were announced: 78 percent of respondents thought American culture was declining, while a mere 7 percent attested to its ascent. And then, it was time for the current week's question: “Why do you think some African nations are rejecting genetically modified crops? Because of health concerns or politics?” the anchor bubbled out, apparently glad to turn away from the bad news at home and focus on someone else's more dire misfortune.

It wasn't exactly breaking news. Several months earlier, as a drought-plagued African harvest season had come to a close and food had been in short supply there, a slew of sub-Saharan African nations had raised objections to shipments of genetically modified food aid headed for their shores. While most countries had backed down, Zambia in particular had held out. Its president, Levy Mwanawasa, proclaimed such food aid to be “poison” that he would rather die than consume.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 10, 2008

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