Zambia maintains its ‘NO GMO’ position

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Response to Zambia Daily Mail article of 7 Dec 2015

Zambia’s long held position of ‘No GMOs’ is under threat. The Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity Conservation (ZAABC) is deeply concerned over the statements made by our National Biosafety Authority (NBA) board chairperson, Dr Paul Zambezi, quoted in the Zambia Daily Mail on 7 December 2015. The statements were clearly biased towards the promotion of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) within Zambia.

Zambia’s longstanding ‘No GMO’ position gives the country significant economic advantage. Globally more and more countries are banning genetically engineered (GE) crops and the importation of food products containing GMOs. Zambia is in a unique and strategic position to take advantage of this growing market. Zambia has been applauded for upholding its ‘No GMO’ position, by both the international community and Zambia’s citizens – consumers, farmers, religious and political leadership alike.

According to the above referred media article, “Dr Zambezi said there is a need to amend some of the clauses in the Biosafety Act, which inhibit growing GMO crops, including Bt cotton”. He is further quoted as stating that: “At least non-edible crops can be allowed to be grown under proper regulatory regime”. Cotton, however, IS a food. Cotton seed oil is used for cooking. Cotton cake is fed to livestock and we drink the milk and eat the meat of this livestock. In this way, Bt would be introduced into our food chain.

The NBA chairperson went on to say: “we need to embark on a nationwide public awareness programme to educate the people about biotechnology and its GMO products. There is a lot of misinformation going on, not only in Zambia, but also in the whole world”. The ZAABC applauds the chairperson’s recognition of the need for accurate awareness creation. However, it is imperative that this information is unbiased and that decisions made by the NBA are in the best interests of Zambia’s citizens, future generations and the environment.

Biotech companies who produce GE seeds are pushing for Zambia to change its biosafety laws so that they can profit from increased sales. GMO seeds are patented and cost far more than conventional seeds. Farmers are required to sign contracts when they purchase GMO seeds stating that they will not save seed for re-growing. Farmers are forced to repurchase seeds every year. Multi-national companies like Monsanto and Syngenta who hold the monopoly over patented seeds have made billions in profit off their sales to struggling farmers.

The Biotech industry claims that GM crops like Bt cotton will give farmers higher yields and require less pesticides use. This is not true. No GM crop is modified to increase yield. No GM crop can resist drought. Yield and drought tolerance are inherent characteristics of seed breeding, not of the GM inserts that make seeds patentable by the biotech industry. In all places where Bt cotton has been grown: India, China, South Africa, South America – after two or three years the dreaded boll worm develops resistance and returns, often together with new pests that were never a problem before. More and more pesticides have to be used every year to control the pests. Farmers all over the world have been left with higher debts due to growing GE crops. The overwhelming debts have been blamed for the high rates of suicide among farmers growing Bt cotton in India.

Monsanto has long claimed that Glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Round Up and the most commonly used herbicide in GE crops, is safe. This is not true. The World Health Organisation has declared that Glyphosate is probably linked to cancer. There are significant negative effects of Glyphosate to biodiversity and agricultural production, including immune suppression in crops and resistance build up in weeds. The resultant ‘superweeds’ have become a huge agricultural threat and financial challenge in places like the USA and South Africa. Monsanto’s herbicide is already sold widely in Zambia, threatening the environment and the health of farmers and consumers alike.

The livelihoods of Zambia’s farmers and the seeds belonging to them, are at dire risk from contamination if Zambia allows GE crop production. GM crops can cross pollinate (particularly maize but also possible in cotton). If this happens and a GMO gene is found in a farmer’s crop, the biotech company can take farmers to court, for so called ‘infringing’ on their patent rights. Few farmers can afford or win a court battle against multibillion dollar companies.

Zambia’s Biosafety Act is founded on the Cartagena Protocol under the Convention of Biological Diversity. Zambia is a signatory of this internationally acclaimed protocol. A clear priority within the Cartagena Protocol refers to the need to ‘protect human health and the environment from the possible adverse effects of the products of modern biotechnology’.

A key element in the Zambia Biosafety Act is the ‘Liability and Redress Clause’. This clause ensures that those who bring GMOs into Zambia will be liable for any resulting health, economic and environmental damage. This is a precautionary action to protect the nation and its people. The Biotech industry is trying to persuade Zambia to change this clause. It is clear that this industry is motivated by profits and not by health and welfare of Zambia as a nation.

Once Zambia lets in one GMO, it will be more difficult to say no to other GMOs. We need to guard our rights and refuse to be seduced by the false claims of the GMO industry and its beneficiaries. The NBA is in place to protect the rights of Zambia’s citizens and uphold their best interests – their seeds, their farms and our health. It is not its place to promote the sales for multibillion dollar biotech companies. Zambia has said, and should continue to say NO to all GMOs.

The ZAABC commends the Government of past presidents Dr Levy Mwanawasa, Mr Michael Sata and the present government of His Excellency President Edgar Lungu for their courageous stand against GMOs and for protecting Zambia’s ‘NO to GMO’ stand. This has been an envy of many nations around the globe.

We urge the NBA to in fact advocate for further strengthening the Zambian Biosafety Act which in its current form stands out as one of the most progressive in the world.

Date: 12 January, 2016

Emmanuel Mutamba

Chairperson – ZAABC

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