Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth: The Case of Zambia’s Refusal to Accept American Food Aid
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Consider food. What it is? At its most basic, it is something we collect and consume to survive. It can be very simple – a grain, a tuber, or an animal. Often, however, food is quite complex. One reason for this complexity is that food is an important part of culture. Another reason is that the production of food includes different processes: planting and harvesting, storage, distribution, preparation and disposal. As production expands - from providing for the household to providing for central markets and again to exporting to an international market - safety issues and complexity also expand1. At each step, new issues may emerge; issues associated with both the safety of the production process and of the final product. In addition, at each link there are potentially new actors who may both affect and be affected by these processes and their products; new actors with potentially different interests. Underlying any definition of food then are particular actors’ interests in framing just what “food” is and is not and delineating how it can and should be used. These interests can include new ways of using food, a new technology used in its production or other interests entirely - such as interest in the environment. Food, then, is not merely an objective, static thing, defined and used in the same way by all consumers. If it were, regulation of it would be relatively straight-forward. Instead, food and food regulation have the potential to change and to awaken strong feelings and emotions in producers, consumers and other stakeholders. Food, then, is not only complex, it is also value-laden. In order to understand and address food issues, we need to capture and incorporate these aspects of food. We need to include complexity, change and values about food in both our study of it and when designing a policy approach. This is not a traditional scientific approach; an approach that strives to be objective and that divides problems into small, independent pieces. While such a view of food and food safety has provided much insight, it has also contributed to development of diverse regulatory systems to address different aspects of food. These systems do not necessarily create a neat, unified regulatory harmony. The reason is simple: multiple arenas are used by diverse actors in attempts to promote their own interests (Bergstrøm 2005; Fowler 1994; Wiber 1993). Rather than harmony, this has the potential to create conflict. With respect to food, two important areas leading to conflict are food trade and food safety. These are addressed in local practices, national regulation and international agreements, including those within the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The main focus of this paper is to consider these issues with particular emphasis on development, more specifically development in Africa. The example chosen illustrates the diverse interests of central actors and their differing ways of framing their interests. It is the case of Zambia and its refusal of American produced, genetically modified (GM) maize2 during the food crisis in 2002. It is not the intention of this paper to provide a full account of the case. Rather, the example has been chosen to highlight the complexity of the issue, the integration of values and science, and the multiple rule regimes potentially applicable to those identifying themselves as stakeholders in the case.