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Zambia Faces Food Dilemma - 2002-08-28

Helping those who are desperate for food can sometimes be a frustrating experience. Our next story is about efforts to feed the hungry in Zambia. The United States has been sending food aid to Zambia and other countries in southern Africa where drought has brought famine. Despite urgings from the United Nations to accept the food, the Zambian government is one of several countries which has refused it because the food has been genetically modified. VOA-TV’s Melinda Smith explains.

They have nothing to eat at home. So they've come here because they've been told food is going to be given away; food from America. It’s inside, stacked, and ready to go. It’s been a long day for these people, seven hours, standing under scorching sun. There’s enough to give each family food for a month. People say they are starving. But there is no food available today, perhaps never. The Zambian government says it’s for their own good because the food is genetically modified and potentially dangerous for human consumption. Steven Grabiner, the man from the American Relief Agency, explains to Zambian officials that the food is safe, that Americans eat it every day. It didn't work.

“I'm not able to give you the maize meal today"

"I don't think they are trying to protect the people because people are dying right now. They are starving."

"We are not afraid. What we want is food today. And if we die tomorrow, no problem. What we want is food"

But Grabiner says he has no choice. He is a guest of the government, so he cancels the distribution.

"Well, to be frank, the decision perplexes me-borders on confounding me. As Americans, we've eaten food that's genetically modified."

This has enormous consequences for Zambia. There are two and a half million people at risk of starvation and the U.S. provides most of the food aid here. And most of that food is genetically modified. The argument in Zambia goes like this--the safety of genetically modified food has not been proved and if it’s allowed into the country it may contaminate the food supply. The government has promised that nobody will starve and that it will find non-genetically modified food to meet the crises in the coming months. But relief officials say by then it will be too late. This mountain of US food in one of Zambia’s biggest warehouses could do so much. But the government doesn't want it. One of the most difficult things for the hungry to face is that they know it’s there.