Cablegate: Results Report: August 30 Interactive Dialogue

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. This program was extremely useful and successful --
one of the best interactive programs we have had. U/S
Larson's hard-hitting yet respectful exegesis on the
biotech issue was absolutely on target. We were
particularly impressed with Larson's quick and thoughtful
reaction when one of our panelists tried to inject out-of-
context information into his comment/question. U/S
Larson's firm but polite clarification of the real issue at
hand, the complete absence of scientific evidence that
biotech maize carries health risks, was perfect.

2. Our audience of about 30 included journalists, a
representative from the Zimbabwean Ministry of Agriculture,
a representative from one of Zimbabwe's leading seed
companies, agricultural researchers from the University of
Zimbabwe, an official from the Zimbabwe Bureau of
Standards, and a farmer. Before the program the audience
was roughly one-third pro-biotechnology, one third anti-
biotechnology, and one-third wait-and-see. By the
program's end, the "wait-and-see" members of our audience
were largely persuaded that biotech food does not present a
health risk and should be used to meet Zimbabwe's food
crisis. As seems common, the anti-biotechnology people
were not terribly interested in scientific data.

3. We used the technical pause at the beginning of the
program to begin a dialogue with our audience that
continued after the program ended. In that discussion the
pro-biotechnology people were categorical about the need
for Zimbabwe to make a policy decision on BT food, a
decision they hoped would provide food for the nation's
hungry. Their arguments were well constructed, echoed what
U/S Larson had said and, in our opinion, carried the field.
Our anti-biotechnology participants could do no better than
to fall back on the argument that BT crops would "put small
Zimbabwean farmers at the mercy of international seed
companies." Fortunately, one of the agricultural
researchers pointed out that Zimbabwe has been using hybrid
maize seed, purchased from seed companies, for 60 years.
In the end, the pro- and anti-biotechnology factions simply
had to agree to disagree. Significantly, the issue of
biotech safety was not a major point of argument in the
post-program discussion. Score one point for science.

4. The program's effectiveness was enhanced by an article
carried in the September 1 Sunday Mirror (independent, pro-
government weekly). The article accurately quoted U/S
Larson and dispassionately presented US policy on
biotechnology and agricultural development in Africa.

5. Post made further use of the program by distributing
the transcript to Zimbabwean editors and other opinion
leaders on September 2. We will report further use of the
transcript as it occurs.

6. Two factors made this program especially successful:
The skill and expertise of U/S Larson and the active
participation of only two posts. In spite of the time lost
at the top of the program, the participation of only two
posts allowed our audience and panelists a thorough
discussion of the topic at hand. Many thanks for an
excellent program.


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