1.0 THE Zambian Government application of the precautionary principle in dealing with the Genetically Modified (GM) maize donated by the World Food Programme (WFP) led to invitations for Zambian scientists to undertake a fact finding mission to the United States of America, the Republic of South Africa, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands from 10th September to 2nd October 2002.
2.0 The team developed the following terms of reference to guide its mission:
a) obtain views on Genetically Modified (GM) foods, especially maize in terms of Food Safety, Environment, Trade and Ethics from the regulators, interest groups and families.
b) study the Biotechnology and Biosafety Regulatory Processes, and
c)explore the possibility of obtaining some assistance to build national capacity in Biotechnology and Biosafety.
d) determine the acceptance of GM Foods especially maize.
3.0 Zambia is experiencing food shortages due to unfavourable weather conditions during the 2001/2002 cropping season. The most affected areas are Southern Province and to varying degrees some parts of Eastern, Central , Western, Lusaka, North-Western and Northern Provinces.
4.0 The concerns raised in relation to the safety of the GM maize on both environment and human health regarding toxicity, allerginicity and anti-biotic resistant led the Government to call for a nationwide consultation on the issue. The consultation culminated into a national debate on GM food which was held on 10th August 2002.
5.0 The Team confirmed that health related concerns in the consumption of GM foods are in the potential manifestation of the following:
a. New Food toxins
b. New Allergens, and
c Antibiotic resistance
In addition, the Team learnt that the potential change in the nutritional quality of GM foods was of a concern.
6.0 The Team confirmed that the concern on the erosion of the genetic diversity of local farmers' varieties of maize cultivated in Zambia, was shared by all countries visited.
7.0 While it is often said that GM maize is consumed by millions of Americans, it is noted that it is eaten in a highly processed form and it is not staple food in the USA. In Zambia maize is the staple food and is usually the only carbohydrate source.
8.0 All the countries that were visited by the fact finding mission had functional National Biosafety Frameworks, which is not the case for Zambia. However USA uses existing legislation to regulate GMOs.
9.0 Zambia requires to build capacity in biotechnology and biosafety to implement the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy as well as the Cartagene Protocol.
Based on the above conclusions, the Team made the following recommendations:
a) The Government should maintain the current stand of not accepting GM Foods by employing the precautionary principle on Genetic Engineering.
b) The Government should adopt a Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy and enact the Biotechnology and Biosafety Regulations as soon as possible because this will facilitate the establishment of the regulatory, assessment and monitoring mechanisms which are necessary for dealing with GMOs which are in the country and those which might come later.
c) The Government should ratify the Cartagena Protocol because it will facilitate Zambia's appropriate interactions on issues patterning to transboarder movement of GMOs with other countries on issues of Biotechnology and Biosafety.
d) The Government should follow up the possible support for capacity building from USAID, UK, the Republic of South Africa, Norwegian and the Netherlands Governments.
e) The Government should establish the types of GM maize which is in the country now and the ones which have been consumed by Zambian people in order to establish whether GM maize with Starlink or antibiotic resistant bacteria have been imported into Zambia. These have been found to be potentially harmful to humans.
f) The Government should ensure a delegation attends the WFP Executive Board Meeting that will take place from October 21 to 25, 2002.
1.0 The importation of GMOs in Zambia could destroy both the organic and non GM maize crop market.
Based on the observations and the analysis of the information, the Team drew the following conclusions:
a) The distribution of the GM maize grain carries a high risk of eroding the local maize varieties.
b) The safety aspect of GM Foods are not conclusive.
c) On trade, there is a potential risk of GM maize affecting the export baby corn and honey in particular and organic foods in general to the European Union if planted.
d) All countries visited had Regulatory mechanisms.
e) There is generally good will to assist Zambia to build capacity for Biotechnology and Biosafety.
f) There is a universal agreement that GMOs should not be introduced without the explicit consent of the recipient countries.