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Zimbabwe says No to GM food aid
Posted: Monday, September 2, 2002

From Wisdom Mdzungairi in JOHANESSBURG

ZIMBABWE will not accept food aid containing genetically modified organisms, Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Minister Cde Joseph Made said here yesterday.

However, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation director-general Dr Jacques Diouf urged countries in Southern Africa to carefully consider current scientific knowledge before rejecting the food aid containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Asked if he was prepared to discuss the food aid issue with the United States officials at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Cde Made told reporters that there was nothing to discuss between the two countries concerning the issue of GM food aid.

"Zimbabwe will not accept genetically modified food aid.

"There is nothing to discuss (with US officials) . . . You cannot use the Zimbabwean population as guinea pigs," the minister said.

Although the WSSD Summit is an opportunity for poor countries to voice their thoughts about the impact of Genetic Engineering and cloning of farm animals, many countries facing starvation, in particular Zimbabwe and its regional partners, are experiencing a difficult ethical dilemma as a result of the widespread use of Genetically Modified crops.

Zimbabwe has a longstanding policy against GM food on the grounds of human safety and the potential threat that GM crop contamination could pose for the local environment.

"You cannot talk of the morality of the American position. They always carry double standards when it comes to the developing world . . . There is no way we can bring that material into Zimbabwe which is a very clean environment," said Cde Made.

Other African countries were also finding themselves ill-equipped to deal with the GM issue.

Zambia’s permanent secretary for Information Mr David Kashweka said: "Our position on genetically modified foods is that they should not be allowed to be consumed in the country without knowing fully the implications and consequences thereof. Unfortunately when your people are starving there is little choice."

Mr Kashweka added that his government has yet to finalise the policy on GM organisms in Zambia "vis-à-vis imports or growing of such materials".

A senior Government official said regional scientists would meet in Zimbabwe next week to debate the GM foods issue.

Southern African countries were more concerned about the GMO as the agenda was driven by the biotechnological multilateral industries whose main objective was to make huge profits under the pretext of ending famine and poverty in Africa.

The local small-scale farmers who have reproduced their seeds using indigenous knowledge systems treat this debate with suspicion.

Director of Kenya’s Indigenous Information Network Ms Lucy Mulenkei said genetically modified seeds would kill traditional agriculture.

She added that the large amounts used to genetically modify plants would be better spent on helping women maximise their traditional knowledge in sustaining families.

Dr Ellie Osir who works with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya said there were risks that poor countries could expose themselves to when they accept GM foods.

ICIPE is currently testing a GM crop called BT maize, produced by Monsanto.

The maize has been genetically altered to produce the bacillus thuringiensis (BT) bacteria, a toxin which kills insects.

Traditionally BT was sprayed on crops, like a pesticide.

But when the BT gene is put inside the plant, it continues to produce the toxin itself.

BT maize has long been used in the US and recently in South Africa but this does not mean that it is safe for Africa.

The FAO director-general, however, said at a Press conference that there were currently no international agreements covering trade and aid involving food containing GMOs.

He said an ad hoc committee of Codex Alimentarius, the joint FAO-WHO food safety body, was working to develop appropriate standards.

"In the meantime, the important thing is that all donated food meets the safety standards of both the donor and recipient countries. FAO together with WHO and the World Food Programme takes the view based on information from a variety of sources and current scientific knowledge that the food being offered to Southern African countries is not likely to present a human health risk and may be eaten.

"The UN therefore believes that in the current crisis, governments in Southern Africa must consider carefully the severe and immediate consequences of limiting food aid available for millions of people so desperately in need.

Their plight must weight heavily in government decision-making," Dr Diouf said.

He said he recognised that there were concerns about potential risks to biological diversity and sustainable agriculture, however, these potential risks should be judged and managed by individual countries on a case by case basis.

In sub-Saharan Africa 70 percent of the population live in the rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture for livelihoods. Almost 40 percent of them live in abject poverty because of failing yields, poor commodities markets, high cost of crop inputs and erratic weather conditions as the technology for irrigation is still miles away from most rural farmers.

The main challenge is that the GMOs are also protected under Article 27 Section (3b) of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the Multilateral Trading agency – the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The world body advocates for market liberalisation so that products from the North rich countries find their market in the poor South countries, in particular Africa but not vice-versa due to high tariffs and non-tariff barriers.

In South Africa GMO maize was introduced in 1998 and thousands of hectares were put under the crop. Although they have claimed that it was mainly meant for animal feed one cannot rule out the possibility of human consumption.

Meanwhile the Minister of State for Information and Publicity in the Office of the President Professor Jonathan Moyo rejected accusations that the land resettlement exercise was responsible for the food shortages in the country.

"We uphold certain political values such as sovereignty, independence and pan-African solidarity. These are the things we have to pursue here. The fast-track land resettlement is over.

"There are no people who need to move in, there are no people who need to move out. We are now praying that God gives us the next thing, the rains.

"God is not something in the control of the British. It’s in God’s hands and you cannot define the success of the land reform programme by the drought.

"While we are having drought they (Europeans) are having floods. Are they able to do anything with those floods? Are they able to grow anything? No. So you cannot judge us on such issues as the drought," Prof Moyo said.

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