United front

Published: Wednesday 15 October 2003

More than a grain of suspicion (Credit: WFP)Last year's controversy about food aid from the us containing genetically modified (gm) materials appears to have left African nations wiser. Fourteen countries from the southern part of the continent have agreed upon a common strategy to manage gm products.

The guidelines were formulated at a meeting of the Southern Africa Development Community (sadc) in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. The sadc member countries would be putting in place a common policy and biosafety regulatory system, apart from bolstering efforts to institute national regulatory systems and build capacity. Among other important decisions, these countries have made plans not only to source food aid from within the region, but also to mill and sterilise before distribution any food aid that contains gm ingredients.

A controversy had erupted in 2002, when several African countries reeling under acute food shortages protested food aid containing gm material. They feared that such products would be detrimental to health. While Zambia had pressed for non- gm maize, other countries such as Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Lesotho had agreed to take in only milled gm grain.

The recent sadc decisions are based on the recommendations of a team of African scientists sent to Europe and the us on a fact-finding mission to study the effect of gm foods. While concluding that such foods pose no immediate dangers to human and animal health, the team laid stress on the need for evaluating gm technologies in African environments.

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