April 5, 2004

GM Crops: Government working on policy options

Government is drafting a policy on genetically modified (GM) crops in readiness for adopting the controversial technology, which some advocates consider a necessity for the future of food production. A multi-sector selection of Tanzanian experts will be drafting the policy guidelines and regulations in order to safeguard and equip the nation with the necessary precautions. Tanzania's Minister for Agriculture and Food Security, Charles Keenja, said that the country had taken no clear position" on GM products to date. "We cannot avoid this technology, but what's important is to put in place mechanisms and guidelines on how it would be introduced, including preparing a Cabinet paper for the purpose", he added.

Mr Keenja was commenting on recent reports that the world's biggest agrochemical companies and the United States government are in the process of introducing genetically modified crops in West Africa, starting with cotton. According to him, Tanzania was at an advanced stage in discussions with the South African government over how to adopt GM technology: We have a similar environment and they possess advanced laboratories for research on GM organisms, he said, adding that Tanzania was also considering co-operating with India and China in the same matter.

Mr Keenja also emphasised that Tanzania was not in dire need of adopting GMOs immediately because, "as of now we are self-reliant for over 90 per cent of our food, but by going about this issue systematically and critically, we would in future reach a point where we will decide on how to adopt GMOs. If we would be in a situation of choosing between death or eating GMO foods today, in my opinion, I would rather choose eating them, Mr Keenja said, adding that due to current global food movement, many people - including those against the technology - have taken up GMOs."

Dr Joe Kabissa, the Director General of the Tanzania Cotton Lint and Seed board, however said that there were some requirements to be fulfilled before bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton is put into commercial use. Bt is a toxin-producing bacterium found naturally in the soil and scientists have isolated certain genes responsible for the production of these toxins and then used genetic engineering techniques to insert them into cotton - susceptible pests are supposed to die when they eat them. There are legal issues, intellectual property rights and organs to be put in place or consulted before GM seeds go commercial, Dr Kabissa said. (The East African, Nairobi)

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