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WFP: Zambia's Stand on Biotec Food Could Cost Lives - 2002-08-23

The head of the United Nations World Food Program says he fears thousands of people in Zambia will die of starvation because the government is refusing to accept donations of genetically modified food. Zambia is one of six southern African countries most seriously affected by severe food shortages. The others are Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe.

The United Nations estimates 13 million people in southern Africa are at risk of starvation, nearly 2.5 million of them in Zambia.

The new head of the World Food Program, Jim Morris, says Zambia is the only country of the six most seriously affected nations to refuse genetically-modified food aid.

"I am terribly worried about the issue in Zambia," he said. "There is no way that the World Food Program can provide the resources to feed these starving people, without using food that has some biotech content. If external food resources are not made available for them, there will be wide-spread starvation and, ultimately, death, no question."

The United States, which grows genetically modified, or GM crops, provides 75 percent of the food WFP distributes to southern Africa.

The Zambian government says it is concerned about the safety of biotech food, and is afraid that GM grains might be planted, thus contaminating its food crop. Mr. Morris stressed there is no way WFP can separate the food it receives from the United States from other donations.

"We have every confidence that it is safe and healthy, and there is absolutely no scientific evidence to the contrary," he said. "Two-hundred and 80 million Americans, 75 million Canadians eat it every day. So, we are hopeful that we can find a way to address the issue. I think the people in Zambia are facing a very serious predicament."

Zimbabwe also had earlier rejected GM grains. But, World Food Program chief Jim Morris says the agency has resolved the issue with Zimbabwe. He says Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has agreed to a compromise, which will allow the food to be distributed to people most in need.