afrol News, 3 September - Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa defies growing international pressure to accept genetically modified (GM) food aid while some 2.5 million Zambians are falling victims to a regional food crisis. Mwanawasa labels the GM contaminated food "poison", while the UN and the United States assure it will only save lives.
Questioned by journalists at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, President Mwanawasa explained his country's refusal to accept GM food aid. "Simply because my people are hungry, that is no justification to give them poison, to give them food that is intrinsically dangerous to their health," he said.
Zambia is now the last of the six hunger-affected countries of Southern Africa to refuse to accept GM food aid. In Zimbabwe and Malawi, the US and aid agencies reached an agreement where maize it to be milled to prevent any chance of sowing and thus mixing domestic crops with GM varieties. The Mozambican government has agreed to allow GM food aid to be transported across its territory if it is covered and used if it is milled.
Originally prohibited in all African countries, the GM food aid may therefore now be distributed in all hunger affected countries except Zambia. Pressure against the Zambian government has been high to allow GM food aid. UN aid agencies last month complained against Zambia's stance, saying the country "must accept some GM food aid" to enable them to start providing food to the increasing number of hungry Zambians.
The UN agencies defended their main food donor, the United States, which had provided more than half the food shipped to Southern Africa. The US government is not willing to differentiate its food aid between GM grains and non-GM grains, pointing to the fact that US and Canadian consumers eat GM food on a daily basis.
The US and Canada - also the main producers of GM food - are the only countries where these products are cleared for human consumption. In all other countries, more research is demanded before governments are willing to let GM products reach the consumer. Exporting these products from the US therefore has become a growing problem.
In Europe, GM products mostly are not even cleared as animal food. Referring to the food crisis in Southern Africa, the European Union has stated that "there is no reason to believe that GM food is inherently unsafe to human health." It is however totally out of the question letting these products enter Europe.
While the Zambian President emphasises on the dangers of human consumption of GM food, the principal concern is that GM food aid might be mistakenly or inadvertently used as seeds and therefore contaminate local plant breeds. This has led Zambia's neighbour stated to order the milling of GM food and restrictions on the transport of this food.
A contamination with GM seeds may have two serious long term effects for the region. Firstly, it could negatively influence generations of crop breeding by the rapid spread of unwanted genes. Secondly, if GM traces are found in local crops, this could lead to the loss of Southern Africa's lucrative grain export markets in Europe.
Meanwhile, the Zambian government however is facing the moral dilemma of meeting the short term necessities of feeding its population or of meeting long term environmental and economic aims. Internal and external pressure against the government is growing as the food crisis is growing into a disaster.
Sources: Based on WFP, Zambian
govt, press reports and