An ethical evaluation of the Zambian Government's decision on genetically modified maize
Chomba, Malulu Annette
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This study is an ethical evaluation of Zambia’s position on genetically modified (GM) maize which was exported to Zambia by the United States of America (USA) through the World Food Programme as food aid. This followed food shortages after the country experienced partial droughts in 2001/2002 agriculture season, which led to widespread crop failure. After consultations with relevant groups, the Zambian government decided against the use of GM maize because of the potential harm to humans and the environment that was associated with it that called for caution in dealing with the issue.Proponents of GM maize argued that GM maize would have been an immediate solution to save people from starvation due to food shortages and that GM maize seed, if planted, would increase maize yields and subsequently food security. The opponents of GM maize argued, however, that such maize had potential harmful effects for the health of human beings and the environment and therefore supported government’s decision to reject the GM maize. The study applied five ethical approaches in evaluating the decision of the government, namely, the common good, the right to safe food, the dignity of human life, the autonomy of every nation, and the justice/fairness approach. Informed consent and the precautionary principle were also applied. The objective of the study was therefore to review the debate regarding government’s position on GM maize that was donated to Zambia by the US government through the World Food Programme to supplement food shortages experienced by communities and households affected by droughts following a drought period of the 2001/2002 agriculture season that had affected their crop yields and resulted in hunger and vulnerability.The methodology involved qualitative methods with an ethical component. Primary data was collected through formal and informal interviews with members of staff and students from major institutions of learning, research institutions, government departments and some civil society organisations. Secondary data was collected through relevant literature from books and the print media. While arguments in favour of GM maize need to be given due consideration, the arguments against were found to carry greater weight. The major findings of the study include the fact that the USA government did not seek Zambia’s permission before exporting the GM maize to Zambia, that GM maize would carry undue risks to human health and the environment, and that alternative approaches were available. The ethical evaluation concluded that the government was justified in banning GM maize. It was recommended that proven conventional plant breeding methods to develop varieties of crops with resistance/tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses should be promoted. Despite that Zambia is not practising biotechnology in its plant breeding programmes, there are proven conventional plant breeding approaches that have and continue to be applied to develop high yielding varieties of food crops with tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses which are contributing to the country’s food security. These, coupled with sustainable agriculture practices, can improve yields to ensure food availability and food security.