The United States is expressing regret over Zambia's refusal to accept genetically-modified U.S. corn as food aid saying the maize is safe and that Lusaka government's stand puts the country's population at a greater risk of starvation.
The Bush administration has said it would be willing to provide half of the 120,000 metric tons of food aid that relief experts say Zambia will need in the next five months to avert famine.
However the Zambian government has repeatedly rejected the genetically-modified food in recent months, contending it has not been proven safe for human consumption and the environment.
At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said 12,000 tons of the U.S. corn had already been delivered to Zambia, and that another 48,000 tons had already been pledged or was under consideration.
He reiterated the U.S. stand that the corn, which has been commonly used in U.S. consumer products for several years, is safe and that the Zambian government is putting its threatened population at risk. "The United States deeply regrets the decision by the government of Zambia not to accept food aid that we have offered," said Richard Boucher. "We believe this decision is likely to place the citizens of Zambia at a greater risk of starvation. In making this decision, we believe the government of Zambia has disregarded the scientific evidence, and is rejecting the advice of international relief organizations, governments around the world and the European Commission that accepting this safe maize to feed its hungry people would help avert human catastrophe."
Several countries in drought stricken southern Africa had expressed concern that genetically-modified corn donated as food aid might wind up being used as seed, and that this would jeopardize possible food sales in the future to European Union countries which bar imports of such products.
Mr. Boucher said Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have eliminated the danger of crop-contamination by accepting the U.S. corn in milled form, but that Zambia had refused to accept it even if it was ground into meal.
He said the United States remains ready to provide aid to Zambia, should it reverse its position, and intends to keep lines of communication open with the Lusaka government with the hope of maintaining a "forward-looking aid program focussed on the recovery of Zambian agriculture."
United Nations officials estimate that more than 14 million people in southern Africa including nearly three million in Zambia will be at risk between now and March, when drought related food shortages will be most severe.