Beyond the Environmental and Health Debates discussed on our Issues page, a lot of the ethical issues associated with biotech come from interactions with poor nations and the third world. Many nations are easily swayed by such political groups as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and may be hesitant to adopt technology that may have been portrayed as "risky."


"They can play these games with Europeans, who have full stomachs, but it's revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake."

-Andrew Nastsios, about the actions of environmental groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth


GM crops in the third world- a humanitarian lifesaver or  capitalist“recolonization” attempt?

Scientists have always looked at GM crops as having the potential to stop malnutrition and hunger in the third world and improve the lives of farmers and consumers everywhere. Why, then, are certain governments hesitant to accept GM crops? Should we force this technology on a government not willing to accept it?

Africa, 2002: A famine had hit Africa, leaving thousands without food on the edge of starvation. The United States took notice, sending in large amounts of corn to countries most affected, including 17,000 tons to Zambia. However, this corn never reached the hands of starving Zambians. The government of Zambia refused to accept the corn because 30% of it was genetically modified.

Why, in times of famine, would a government deny its people of food generously donated by other nations?

The government of Zambia had been influenced by radical environmental groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. These groups had worked to convince the Zambians that GM foods were a threat to their agricultural market- if these GM crops found their way into the food supply, the EU may refuse to accept Zambian exports. This argument doesn't make much sense, as Europe was not importing any African corn at the time. 

Should we force these technologies on such nations? Does GM pose a threat to poor countries?


Blocking an important technology?

Back in 1999, the British group Christian Aid argued that transgenic crops should be kept out of India because they "allow such efficient killing of weeds that they will 'remove one of the few cash-earning employment opportunities for women,' namely, walking down crop rows stooped over to yank weeds'" (Fumento 258) Citation 5

However, as some farmers pointed out, saving time and effors with transgenic crops could improve the quality of life for many poor famers. "We can attend to other things besides staying out in the field," said a South African farmer to a researcher for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications. 

Proponents of biotech look at the efforts of such groups to keep GM crops out of third world nations as another "crusade" to "save souls." The idea goes back to the "White Man's burden" of the past century. 

Said Indian-born UCLA professor Deepak Lal, "Opposing access to ag biotech for developing nations is not the only goal of these groups [opponents of GM], but it's an important one." 

Added Dr. Florence Wambugu, "Those who protest biotech do so with a full belly." 

Citation 5

In the Zambian case, the groups responsible for swaying the government were accused of endangering the lives of many starving Africans by Andrew Nastsios, administrator of the US Aid for International Development. Said Nastsios about environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, "They can play these games with Europeans, who have full stomachs, but it's revolting and despicable to see them do so when the lives of Africans are at stake."


Should the US and or UN have forced the Zambians to accept the crops, as a humanitarian emergency? The answer is hard to know. 

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