LUSAKA, Zambia (PANA)–Zambia’s Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana recently reiterated his government’s rejection of genetically modified (GM) maize due to the existing scientific uncertainty surrounding such foods.
Mr. Sikatana told journalists here that the government had agreed with a recommendation by local scientists who recently returned from a study mission abroad that GM maize should not be accepted. For the same reasons, he said, government had also declined to accept a donation of GM maize that is already in the country, even if the grain was milled.
He attributed the rejection to lack of a biotechnology and bio-safety policy and legislation as well as the government’s lack of capacity to detect GMOs and/or manage their unplanned or unanticipated introduction into Zambia.
There is also a risk of contamination of the local traditional crop varieties by GMOs, the minister said, expressing fears this may affect the long-term sustainability of the local production systems.
Mr. Sikatana explained that Zambia had also not yet ratified the Cartegena protocol, which facilitates interactions with other countries on the trans-boundary movement of GMOs and issues of biotechnology and bio-safety. He said there is also a risk Zambia could lose its export market if it starts the planting of GM crops.
“In view of the current scientific uncertainty surrounding the issue of GMOs, government has decided to base its decision not to accept GM foods in Zambia on the precautionary principle.
“This entails that in the face of scientific uncertainty, the country should refrain from actions that might adversely affect human and animal health as well as harm the environment,” Mr. Sikatana said.
Zambian scientists recently toured the United States, South Africa, Britain, Netherlands, Belgium and Norway to study the health implications of genetically modified food.
In August, a national consultative meeting advised government not to accept any GM foods in the country including maize donations already in the country.
Mr. Sikatana told journalists that although faced with a serious food crisis, the government would direct the World Food Program to get rid of the stock of 26,000 metric tons of donated GM maize.
The government had withdrawn the GM maize from refugee camps where they had been sent. However, hungry villagers have been looting the grain from warehouses where it was stored after being withdrawn.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sikatana accused urban dwellers of compounding the food crisis by flocking to rural areas so as to receive relief maize being distributed by the government. Zambia is in the grip of a devastating famine following the failure of the 2001-2002 crop season due to a long drought.
More than two million Zambians are threatened with hunger in a country with a food deficit of about 675,000 tons of maize. Private importers are expected to bring some 300,000 tons of maize into the country, while the government is supposed to find another 175,000 tons. Lusaka is asking donors to provide the remaining 200,000 tons.