October 4, 2002

SADC: Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe accept GM Food

Two more southern African countries, Malawi and Mozambique, have followed Zimbabwe's example and have accepted genetically modified (GM) food as starvation takes its toll in the region.

Zimbabwean President Mugabe, who earlier this year had said he would not allow "his people" to consume GM food, as it was feared to cause negative reactions in human beings, made a U-turn in September by announcing that the country would begin consuming GMs because of the prevalent food crisis.

Six countries in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) are currently facing a serious threat due to shortages that require urgent humanitarian intervention. The affected countries include Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Six million face starvation in Zimbabwe following poor rains in the past two years, while a reduction in plantings in the large-scale commercial sector, caused by the land reform disturbances, also contributed to the food shortages. Zimbabwe has an estimated population of 14 million people. Unlike Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, which are also facing severe food shortages, Zimbabwe has biosafety regulations in place to control the use of GMs.

Addressing journalists and scientists attending at an agro-biotechnology and food security workshop in Lusaka, Zambia, a scientist in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Malawi, Bornface Mkoko, said although the Malawian government had rejected the importation of GM food, the country gave in three weeks ago by accepting the World Food Programme (WFP) GM food after realising the severity of the situation. Mkoko said: "The government of Malawi, in order to assist starving people, has accepted GM food donations. The acceptance of GM food was treated as an emergency." He said there were, however, environmental concerns that the imported GM maize would cross-pollinate with indigenous maize varieties if the maize is planted. "To avoid any leakages of GM maize into fields, the government has made sure that all maize will be distributed as a milled product. A few selected millers will mill the GM maize so that movement of the product is controlled," Mkoko said. About 3,5 million face starvation in Malawi, which has a population of about 12 million. Malawi is in the process of putting up a legal framework to control the general use of GM technology and biotechnology.

In Mozambique, there is no final public, formal and government position regarding GMs. But the government of Mozambique last month accepted 4 000 tones of GM maize to avert the hunger in the country with about 400 000 people facing starvation. Mozambique has a population of about 12 million.

Zambia, where about 2,5 million are in need of food aid, is still adamant it will not consume GM food. Zambia has however received GM food stocks from the WFP and quarantined it. Hungry villagers in Zambia's southern province, however, recently illegally helped themselves to the GM food. Besides environmental concerns on GMs, there are consumer fears and ethical issues around the technology and its products. The GM maize which Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe will be consuming, has had a bacterial gene inserted into it at planting stage. The bacteria, called BT, produces some toxins, which kill insects such as the large grain borer (LGB), which has threatened African grain silos. There are fears that if GM maize is consumed, people may react to toxins produced by the BT bacteria. Scientists have however said the BT toxins do not affect human beings and only kill insects related to the LGB. (THE DAILY NEWS)

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