Debate is 'suppressed' as Zambia turns down GM food

September 20, 2002

Zambian scientists will return home tomorrow from an international trip to investigate the safety of genetically modified food to a row over academic freedom.

The trip to the US, Britain and Norway follows Zambia's doubts over acceptance of US maize for famine relief because it contains genetically modified grain.

Zambian scientists have pointed out that they do not have the expertise to pronounce on the safety of the food, nor the resources to monitor any that enters the country.

The government announced its decision to ban GM food after holding a national public debate on the issue. Almost all the participants spoke against GM but two University of Zambia scientists argued for its introduction.

The two were due to participate in a televised debate after the meeting but their involvement was cancelled by the state broadcaster. They were not included in the team. Critics said that the opinions of those in favour of GM food were suppressed in the debate.

Mwanyanyanda Lewanika, a biochemist at the National Institute for Science and Industrial Research and another member of the team, dismissed the idea that pro-GM arguments had been suppressed in the country. "The two scientists spoke in their individual capacity but the university community as a whole, as represented by the dean of the school of agriculture, said that GM should not be introduced."

"We are trying to verify the information that we have received on both sides of the debate," said Moses Banda, economic adviser to the president, Levy Mwanawasa, and a member of the delegation.

The team was planning to examine the types of controls that could be put in place. "We need a self-regulatory mechanism in place before we impose GMOs," Dr Lewanika said.

The team was invited to the US by the United States Agency for International Development, which funded the trip. Members of the team, nominated by the government, were generally thought to be against importation of GM food.

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