Zambia rejects UN appeal over GM food

The Zambian government on Saturday rejected a UN appeal to lift a ban on the distribution of genetically modified food, saying it would be able to procure enough other grain to feed its starving people.

“We have the situation under control,” said Zambian Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana. “We don’t need to engage the biotechnology at this stage.”

The major UN food and health agencies - the World Food

Programme, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation - released a policy statement on Friday saying as far as they were concerned genetically modified foods were safe.

Aid agencies estimated almost 2,5 million Zambians are in danger of starvation if they do not receive urgent aid.

“There is no way that the World Food Programme can provide the resources to feed these starving people without using food that has some biotech content,” representative James Morris told reporters.

But Sikatana said the safety of the grain remained unproven.

“We cannot be so is responsible so as to risk the lives of innocent people,” he said in a telephone interview. “We have measures in place to cover (food needs for) the period up to the next harvest.
We are assisting (hungry people) with help from well-wishers and are overwhelmed by the response.”

Zambia is concerned genetically modified food may be a health risk, or that grains of cereal may be used for planting, contaminating the country’s non-GM crops and putting at risk trade with the European Union and other countries that have strict rules on biotech crops.

“If we engage GM our exports will be thrown overboard (and) that will cost thousands of jobs,” Sikatana said. “We know that the situation is critical (and) we know that we are making sufficient efforts to ensure nobody will starve.”

On Wednesday the US State Department called on the European Union “to join us in assuring governments in the region that food made from biotech crops is safe and should be distributed immediately to those who so desperately need it.”

The EU’s executive commission put out a statement on Friday backing the US position that the food was safe, while adding that it was “up to beneficiary countries to make an informed decision on whether to accept” the biotech food.

The commission backs lifting a four-year-old EU moratorium on approving new biotech crops, but has been blocked by the European Parliament and some member governments.

Many Europeans are afraid biotech foods will endanger health and the environment, despite numerous studies to the contrary.

Jill Evans, a member of the European Parliament from Wales, accused the United States of “blatant blackmail”.

“It’s ‘accept GMOs or starve,’” she said in Johannesburg, South Africa, ahead of a UN environment summit.

“The U.S. is trying to use any means possible to ... force genetically modified foods on other countries.”

The United Nations estimates 12,8 million people in Zambia and five other Southern African countries - Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland - urgently need help to avoid mass starvation caused by erratic weather and exacerbated by government mismanagement in some countries. - Sapa-AP

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