Sun Aug 25, 7:08 AM ET
By MIKE COHEN, Associated Press Writer, (Yahoo News)
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) - Zambia has rejected a U.N. appeal to distribute genetically modified food, saying it would procure enough other grain to feed its starving people.
Aid agencies estimate that almost 2.5 million Zambians are in danger of starvation if they do not receive urgent aid.
"We have the situation under control," Zambian Agriculture Minister Mundia Sikatana said Saturday. "We don't need to engage the biotechnology at this stage. We are assisting (hungry people) with help from well-wishers and are overwhelmed by the response."
Zambia has refused to accept donations of genetically modified food and has said the food may be a health risk. It has also expressed concern that Zambians may try to plant the biotech grains of cereal, contaminating the country's , contaminating crops that are not genetically modified.
The major U.N. food and health agencies — the World Food Program, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization — released a policy statement Friday saying as far as they were concerned genetically modified foods were safe.
"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," spokesman James Morris told reporters.
But Sikatana said the safety of the grain remained unproven.
"We cannot be so irresponsible so as to risk the lives of innocent people," he said in a telephone interview. "We have measures in place to cover (food needs for) the period up to the next harvest."
Zambia is concerned genetically modified food may be putting at risk trade with the European Union and other countries that have strict rules on biotech crops.
"If we engage in GM our exports will be thrown overboard (and) that will cost thousands of jobs," Sikatana said. "We know that the situation is critical (and) we know that we are making sufficient efforts to ensure nobody will starve."
On Wednesday the U.S. State Department called on the European Union "to join us in assuring governments in the region that food made from biotech crops is safe and should be distributed immediately to those who so desperately need it."
The EU's executive commission put out a statement Friday backing the U.S. position that the food was safe, while adding that it was "up to beneficiary countries to make an informed decision on whether to accept" the biotech food.
The United Nations estimates 12.8 million people in Zambia and five other Southern African countries — Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland — urgently need help to avoid mass starvation caused by erratic weather and exacerbated by government mismanagement in some countries.
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