September 12, 2002

ZAMBIA: Discussion on genetically modified maize

"We have not allowed World Food Programme (WFP) to distribute genetically modified organism (GMO) maize in refugee camps" Zambian home affairs minister Lackson Mapushi has said on September 10. He said government rejection of GMOs was national and applied to all categories of people, including those in the camps. "It's incorrect by WFP to say they have been allowed to feed refugees with GMOs. What we said is that the maize must be replaced by non-GMO maize," he said. Mapushi said government was committed to looking after refugees in the country and would ensure all six refugee camps received non-GMO maize.

A day earlier WFP executive director James Morris, who was in Zambia on a humanitarian site visit, said government had allowed his agency to feed refugees on GMO maize provided it was all ground into mealie meal. Morris said the WFP was stuck with GMO maize stocks to last another three months in all refugee camps. The BBC had earlier on Sunday reported that the Zambian government had given WFP a go ahead to distribute GMO maize to refugees.

The leader of the oppositional Patriotic Front, Michael Sata, criticised the Government's rejection of GM maize: Zambian President Lewy Mwanawasa should take full responsibility for deaths arising from starvation: "Mr. Mwanawasa has denied Zambians food by his irresponsible statements, if people die of hunger he should take full responsibility," Sata said. "Government should not play with people's stomachs." He said politicians were denying the majority of the Zambians food because they were themselves not starving and did not understand how grave the hunger situation was in compounds and rural parts of the country. Sata said he would personally eat GM foods rather than die from starvation.

In a reaction, Mapushi wondered whether Sata understood what he was talking about because government policy was very clear on the issue. Mapushi said government was fully aware of the gravity of the hunger situation in the country such that they did not need Sata to remind them. "We do appreciate the gravity of the hunger situation but we can't give people what can be termed as food which may turn out to be poisonous," he said. Mapushi said he had also instructed concerned government departments to start distributing 2000 metric tonnes of non-GM maize to all the six refugee camps in the country. He said the supplies were expected to last for two months. (THE POST)

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