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Organic Consumers Association

Starving Zimbabwe Rejects GM Maize

HARARE - Zimbabwe has rejected genetically modified maize as food aid for its hungry population after raising health and environmental concerns.

About 2.2 million Zimbabweans - almost 16 per cent of the national population - need emergency food aid because low seasonal rains resulted in widespread crop failure, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet), a Washington-based global food security organisation.

The government estimates that 500,000 tonnes of the staple corn are needed to feed the hungry between now and the next harvest, expected in April, provided the agricultural season is successful. With limited resources, as the country slowly emerges from a decade of economic crisis, the food deficit would again be met by international aid, most of which comprises genetically modified foods.

"The government's position on unmilled GM maize has not changed," Joseph Made, the agriculture minister, told The National in a recent interview.

"We took a position in 2002 that we will not accept unmilled maize. If we are to get any maize, it has to be milled first before it is distributed. Yes we have a section of our population in need of assistance, but that does not mean that we accept maize that can pose long-term impact on their heath and our farm produce, which has always been organic."

Genetically modified organisms are plants or animals whose genes are artificially altered to enhance yields and resistance to pests and diseases. Most farm produce in Europe and North America is genetically modified. In Africa, South Africa is the biggest producer of GM foods.

Critics of GM foods argue that they can cause allergies in sick people and resistance to antibiotics. But proponents of genetically modified foods say that there is no solid scientific evidence that they are harmful.

Growing GM crops in Zimbabwe, which is essentially an organic agriculture producer, Mr Made said, could "contaminate local crop varieties" through cross-pollination. 


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