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VIDEO - Food Safety, Stigma, and the Food Trade: Yesterday and Today

22.nov.02, Justin Kastner and Christian Battista, Commentary and Video from the Food Safety Network

Zambia's refusal of genetically engineered (GE) food aid from North America signals yet another example of the effect stigma can have on the international food trade. Most food aid problems, such as those in Zimbabwe, are due to politics and unequal distribution. However, the case of Zambia demonstrates that food safety related stigma used by activist groups is equally troublesome. In a new web-based video, the Food Safety Network considers the case of Zambia and the century-old effects of stigma. CLICK BELOW TO SEE MOVIE.

22.nov.02, Justin Kastner and Christian Battista, Commentary and Video from the Food Safety Network
The European Union earlier this week made much ado about a potential new approach to labeling genetically engineered foods, one that could see the approval process initiated after a four-year hiatus.
The U.S. is not impressed. Canadians should be skeptical as well. The labeling proposals feature an Enron-like paper trail that will be expensive, ponderous, and do nothing to enhance the safety of the food supply. The U.S. is rightly considering challenging the EU at the World Trade Organization. Yet despite the conspiracy-minded meanderings of critics, the WTO actually has little power and is fraught with enforcement problems. The U.S. and Canada collectively won a WTO ruling against the EU going back to 1998, that found the EU practice of barring beef produced with the aid of growth hormones to be an unfair, unjustified trade practice. The EU shrugged its shoulders, bore the brunt of some retaliatory tariffs and things didn't change.
Or did they.
U.S. threats to challenge the EU on genetically engineered foods may have less to do with Brussels and more to do with countries like Zambia, where EU-style genetically engineered (GE) food restrictions have been adopted.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the theory -- one we have heard at meetings -- that the U.S. exposing WTO violations of the EU could be a down payment on other countries' compliance with WTO rules. In following this strategy, the U.S. has its eye on countries like Zambia, where the refusal of GE food aid from North America signals how a phenomenon--stigma--can disrupt the international food trade.
Most food aid problems, such as those in Zimbabwe, are due to politics and unequal distribution. However, the case of Zambia demonstrates that food safety stigma, especially when used by activist groups, is equally troublesome.
There are currently over 2 million people on the brink of starvation in Zambia. GE food aid from North America has been sent to Zambia, but the Zambian government has refused to distribute it because it is deemed unsafe. Meanwhile, people in North America and around the globe have been eating GE food for years without any health problems; why, then, would the Zambian government refuse it when it could help save its own starving people?
Several answers have been provided, but this is really a case of stigmata, a mark or token of disgrace, which, while not always undeserved, has served to unduly disrupt international trade ever since humans entered into the business of spreading rumors, making scientifically unjustified accusations, and spreading gruesome tales of disease. As rumors, accusations, and tales are passed from person-to-person, theories become absolutes, and fiction becomes fact.
How did 17,000 tonnes of North American food aid come to be refused? It all started with a study at Cornell University that claimed that pollen from a GE corn plant, Bt corn, was toxic to Monarch butterfly larvae. The study, which did not replicate the conditions in the field, involved force-feeding Bt pollen to the larvae. Despite its refutation by scientists and regulatory agencies worldwide, the Cornell study entered the rumour mill and, with the assistance of environmental activist groups using electronic media, has served to stigmatize GE food. One result has been Zambia's refusal of GE food aid.
If the US does in fact take the EU to the WTO, the case will necessarily centre on the EU's GE regulations. Indirectly, however, it will also be about stigma-fueled misinformation campaigns that, as in Zambia, can lead to ridiculous import restrictions.
In a new web-based video, Food Safety Network researchers Christian Battista and Justin Kastner consider the case of Zambia and the century-old effects of stigma. The five-minute video discusses the role stigma has played in Zambia's refusal of GE food aid and, by citing a late nineteenth century trade dispute over trichinosis, demonstrates that stigma is nothing new.

Related Files

Filename File Type File Size Date
food_safety_stigma_trade.movMOV File22.35 MB29.Sep.11