ZAMBIA: Villagers loot GM food aid
President Levy Mwanawasa has rejected GM food aid over health concerns,
Johannesburg, 16 October 2002 (IRIN) - Hungry Zambian villagers have looted bags of rejected genetically modified (GM) relief maize from a storage shed, an international NGO confirmed on Wednesday.
The Cooperative League of the USA (CLUSA) said the villagers from Mumbwa, a rural town about 50 km west of the capital Lusaka, had looted over 500 bags of GM relief maize after they were told that food distribution would be stopped until the government had approved the safety of it.
"After it was announced that the food distribution had to be stopped because of government concerns over its safety, some of the villagers became unruly and started looting," Thomas Chanza, CLUSA senior training officer, told IRIN.
Thomas said that since Monday, the police had recovered 200 bags of the looted food and nine people had been arrested.
"The situation is dire in some parts of the country. And while looting is never the right thing to do, it is a bit naive to tell people they cannot have food in the face of hunger, even if it is GM food," Thomas said.
Close to three million Zambians face food shortages across the country. The government has banned the distribution of GM food, while a team of scientists gathers evidence on its safety.
But United States aid officials have denied that the food is unsafe, pointing out that Americans eat GM maize every day.
By international agreement, countries can refuse to allow modified foods across their borders.
GM critics argue that modified foods are not an acceptable solution to the regional food crisis while supporters hail it as the answer to one of Africa's key problems - food insecurity.
On Wednesday, the British-based NGO Action Aid accused the United States of providing emergency aid based on conditions.
"The US either donates foodstuffs or it ties its monetary aid to the purchase of US produce. This is despite being a signatory of the 1999 Food Aid Convention, which recognises that food aid should be bought from the most cost effective source, be culturally acceptable and if possible purchased locally so that regional markets do not suffer," Action Aid said in a statement.
Spokeswoman for the NGO, Jane Moyo, told IRIN that contamination of local crops was another concern.
"In some countries you could say: 'our food is GM-free' and you could charge a premium for your products, but once food aid comes in, particularly maize, people won't just eat it, they'll plant that maize too, and if it's GM, it'll spread," she said.
"There needs to be an urgent needs assessment on the ground. Governments who reject the GM food must ensure that the food pipeline is not blocked. This issue cannot be swept under the carpet because it bound to surface again," Moyo added.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has certified the maize fit for human consumption and said it does not constitute a danger to people's health.
However, WHO has pointed out that "individual GM foods and their safety should be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods".