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Famine-hit Zambia rejects GM food aid

(Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- BBC: The Zambian Government has finally decided not to accept a donation of genetically-modified food for nearly three million of its people facing famine.

The decision was taken after the Zambian Government dispatched a team of scientists around the world to study the potential effects of importing GM crops.

The food aid was initially offered by the international community to Zambia and five other Southern African countries, but President Levy Mwanawasa referred to the food as "poison".

"In view of the current scientific uncertainty surrounding the issue... government has decided to base its decision not to accept GM foods in Zambia on the precautionary principle," Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana said.

"The country should thus refrain from actions that might adversely affect human and animal health as well as harm the environment," he said.

The BBC's reporter in Lusaka, Penny Dale, says the government's controversial decision has sparked a huge political row in Zambia, with the opposition claiming people will die as a result.


World Food Programme Spokesman Richard Lee told the BBC that it would now be very difficult to meet the needs of the Zambian people.

He said his organisation was already only able to feed half of the people in need, and would have to work hard to find non-GM food.

The government will now ask the WFP to withdraw thousands of tonnes of US-donated grain that are in the country, Mr Sikatana said.

The US has supplied most food aid for the WFP's appeal for Southern Africa, where about 14 million people risk starvation.

Zambia needs 21,000 tonnes of food aid a month to feed more than 2.5 million people in the drought-hit south of the country.


Many Southern African nations have expressed deep concerns that GM food aid could be used to grow new crops and so enter the local food chain.

This could jeopardise exports to Europe, where GM food is less common than in the United States.

Several countries affected by the crisis have refused to accept unmilled GM maize but have agreed to accept ground meal.

US officials deny that there is any risk involved with GM food and point out that it is eaten every day by millions of Americans.