Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

GE Food is Dumped as Food Aid

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 13: The False Promise of Genetically Engineered Foods > GE Food is Dumped as Food Aid


3 sacks labelled "maize."

Many countries do not allow GE foods to be grown or brought into the country. But even in these countries, GE foods may find their way into the food supply. In poor countries, one way GE foods get into the markets and fields is through food aid.

When countries face severe hunger, they often receive aid in the form of grain from the United Nations or from individual countries. Countries where GE grain is produced often give it as food aid. This forces farmers, hungry people, and their governments to choose between GE foods and starvation.

But sometimes, even in the face of disaster, governments take a stand. For example, Zambia and Zimbabwe were offered GE maize as food aid in the winter of 2002, a time of severe famine. Zambia refused the GE food aid. After their decision, foreign donors supplied Zambia with cash to buy food from other countries in Africa that had produced extra food. Some European countries, where GE food is illegal, responded by offering food aid free of GE grains.

The government of Zimbabwe also felt the pressure of many hungry people. Zimbabwe accepted the GE food aid, but only after making an agreement that the maize be milled so it could not be planted later and cause future problems.

Community seed savers

Sacks labelled "Rice. Contains genetically engineered ingredients."

Around the world, communities are responding to the threat of GE crops. Some people demand that governments label GE foods so they can avoid buying or eating them. Others refuse to allow GE crops to be planted in their regions. Many communities have returned to the ancient practices of seed saving and community seed stewardship.

Community seed stewardship is when communities take control of the seeds they have, save a variety of seeds to plant in the future, and keep careful records of these seeds. In this way, communities keep important seed resources alive and protect biodiversity. Also, they can prevent outsiders from claiming ownership over their traditional seeds.

Governments can and should maintain national seed banks to make sure there are plenty of different crops, and to prevent varieties of each plant from growing scarce or disappearing. Keeping control over the seed supply is essential to food security and food sovereignty.

Villagers organize a seed swap

The people in the Mexican village of Vicente Guerrero were worried about losing their traditional seeds. Older people in the village remembered when there were many different kinds of maize and even more kinds of beans. Now there were only 2 kinds of maize and 4 kinds of beans. They knew that seed companies were making new kinds of seeds that could be used for only 1 year, or needed expensive chemicals to grow. So the villagers decided to do something.

The villagers invited people from the region to a big party, and asked everyone to bring food to cook and their favorite kinds of seeds. People would trade seeds with each other, cook meals with their favorite crops, and tell stories about where these crops came from and how they grew. The meeting was called a seed swap.

Some farmers arrived with varieties of maize and beans that others had not seen in many years. They gave away seeds for others to plant. That year there were 5 kinds of maize and 8 kinds of beans at the seed swap. By the next year, news of the seed swap had spread throughout the region, and farmers brought seeds even the grandparents had not seen since they were children.

Villagers gather for a seed-swap party.

After a few years, the village had collected over 20 kinds of maize and over 40 kinds of beans. The variety of plants makes sure that some maize and beans will grow every year, because some kinds grow best on dry hillsides, others in wet valleys, and others grow well on flat land, and so on. Many people in Vicente Guerrero started planting these crops, and now the villagers do not fear losing control over their seeds. By eating a variety of plants, they have also improved their diets.

Now other villages in the region are having seed swaps, and many old crops are coming back. The farmers in Vicente Guerrero say planting the old crops not only improves their food security, it also gives them a great reason to have a big party!


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