Genetically modified foods banned
The Financial Gazette, Zimbabwe
THE government has outlawed the importation and movement of genetically modified (GM) organisms or products without the approval of the Biosafety Board, a move seen as a precaution by the Harare authorities in the face of an influx of imported foodstuffs as food shortages loom in Zimbabwe.
In a statutory instrument issued last week, the Research Council of Zimbabwe warned food importers and transporters that it was a criminal offence for a Zimbabwean firm to import and transport GM products without the consent of the Biosafety Board.
The new measure comes against a backdrop of possible food shortages that could see Zimbabwe importing over 600 000 tonnes of the staple maize and wheat from other southern African countries and the rest of the world.
South Africa will begin harvesting genetically modified maize at the end of this year, raising fears that some local firms may import GM maize without being aware of it.
"It is the responsibility of the importer and the transporter to ensure that whatever they are bringing into the country is not genetically modified and, if genetically modified, that proper approvals have been obtained from the board," the government said in its notice.
The Biosafety Board, a statutory body that regulates the use and development of GM products in Zimbabwe, falls under the Research Council of Zimbabwe, which is housed in the Office of the President and Cabinet.
The government said the statutory instrument was necessitated by recent developments in the region and internationally, which have seen several countries moving towards the production of GM crops and food products.
This has resulted in the influx of GM crops into Zimbabwe, triggering fears that consumption of such products could endanger the lives of locals, particularly where the manufacturers do not notify the public that their products were not organically produced.
"If we allow these modified products to enter our country without proper monitoring, they could adversely affect our markets," the notice said, adding that the move would particularly protect local beef and cereal producers.
The notice also noted that some local consumers were "not yet prepared to eat GM food products".
"It must be pointed out that most countries producing GM crops and products are not labelling them. This highlights the need for importers and transporters to seek the advice of the board before deciding to import," it said.
The statutory instrument also comes in the wake of recent calls by the Zimbabwe Organic Producers and Processors Association of Zimbabwe, an umbrella body for the country’s conventional farmers, for the government to introduce legislation to safeguard the future of organic farming from GM products.
The government has however just authorised three local seed companies to undertake trials of GM maize and cotton during the coming 2001/2002 agricultural season. The three companies ”” SeedCo Limited, Quton Seed Company and Monsanto Seed Company ”” were earlier this month granted permission to conduct the GM research.