October 30, 2002

Zambia: Maintains earlier decision on GM food

The Zambian government will stick to its earlier decision not to accept Genetically Modified (GM) food in the country, agriculture and co-operatives minister Mundia Sikatana has announced. This follows recommendations by a study team of scientists sent to the USA, South Africa and Europe who say government should maintain the earlier position not to accept GM foods.

Addressing journalists in Lusaka October 29, Sikatana said the Zambian government would not accept GM foods in view of the current scientific uncertainty surrounding the issue of the foods and the decision is on a precautionary principle. "This entails that in the face of scientific uncertainty, the country should thus refrain from actions that might adversely affect human and animal health as well as harm the environment," he said. "It is also for this reason that government has further declined to accept the free GM maize already in the country for relief purposes, even if it was milled."

Sikatana said that while government maintains this position, it would mobilise all available resources in order to facilitate timely sourcing of non-GM foods. He said that non-GM maize would be sourced from Uganda, South Africa, India and even the USA - the country that sent GM maize. "What we should do is gather resources," he said.

Sikatana said reasons influencing government to reject the GM foods were that at the moment Zambia has no biotechnology and biosafety policy and legislation in place. "However, the drafts of the two documents have been finalised and will soon be presented to cabinet for consideration," he said. "The Cartegena Protocol facilitates interactions on issues pertaining to trans-boundary movement of GM organisms with other countries and issues of biotechnology and biosafety. However Zambia is yet to ratify the Cartegena Protocol." Sikatana said there was a risk of contamination of the local traditional crop varieties by GMOs, which may have a disruptive effect and also affect the long term sustainability of the local production systems. "Zambia has no capacity to detect GMOs and manage unplanned and or unanticipated entry of GMOs into the Zambian environment," he said. Sikatana admitted that Zambia was facing a crisis in terms of food shortages. He said people should not wait until deaths occur for them to ask government for relief food.

Sikatana said relief food distribution was being complicated by certain people who are drifting to rural areas to get the same food aid. Sikatana also said certain people were selling their produce and expecting government to feed them. "There is now a habit of saying to oneself why should we worry, the little maize we have we will just sell, after all the government will give us," he said. Sikatana said about 500,000 metric tonnes of food aid would be needed between now and April, next year. Sikatana said Zambians should feel ashamed that they were begging for food because countries like Mozambique had some food. "We should feel ashamed. The excuse is not rain there," he said in reference to Mozambique and Tanzania. (THE POST)

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