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Zambia Rejects Genetically Modified Food Aid - 2002-10-29

The U.N. World Food Program reports Zambia's ministry of agriculture has said it will not accept donations of genetically modified food. World Food Program officials fear the government's decision could put the lives of many people at risk.

The World Food Program says the Zambian government made its decision after a group of its scientists completed a visit to the United States and European countries to determine whether genetically modified food was safe. Food agency officials say they have no further details.

A spokeswoman for the food agency, Christiane Berthiaume says it is every government's right to accept or refuse food donations and the agency respects Zambia's decision. "But such a decision will obviously complicate WFP's work and we might not be able to answer to the needs of all of those who are in need. And, in Zambia, that means three million people," she explained.

Zambia is one of six countries in southern African seriously affected by famine. According to the United Nations, 14 million people in Zambia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe are at risk of starvation.

What sets Zambia apart is that it is the only one of the six to refuse food that has been genetically modified. So-called GM foods are from crops in which the genetic material has been altered to make them more resistant to insects or diseases.

The World Food Program said it considers this food to be safe.

Ms. Berthiaume said WFP does not have enough non-GM food stocks to assist all the vulnerable people in Zambia. She sid many people already are suffering from lack of food and things are likely to get worse.

"There have been some deaths that have been linked to hunger. And, in certain areas, some people are eating wild fruit and roots and some of these people have died from that because they have not cooked it properly. So, millions of people have no coping mechanisms any more. And if food does not reach them very quickly, they will start dying," Ms. Berthiaume said.

The World Food Program has said the food crisis will be at its worst from December until March, when the harvest begins. Food agency officials say in some regions of southern Zambia between 90 percent and 100 percent of families have had no regular source of food since September.