Ban on GMOs: flawed science

Although Zimbabwe is talking competitiveness of the manufacturing sector, it appears not to be taking the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms seriously.

The government has maintained a ban on imports of GM crop seeds and GM products. The ban on products is understandable because we need to protect the manufacturing and processing sectors. But this does not mean we should not employ GM technology to enhance product competitiveness and food security.

The Minister of Agriculture is on record saying “Scientific research shows that GMOs contain toxic substances. Those who advocate GMOs have no scientific background.” But this flawed science has been rebutted by 99% of the world’s best food safety specialists.

The Prime Minister believes that “in the absence of contrary scientific research, the state should carefully embrace GMO technology in agriculture.” The science part of it has been clarified by the Minister of Science and Technology, Heneri Dzinotyiwei, who is on record saying, “From a scientific angle, nobody has shown that such products (GMOs) are unsafe.”

The issue of leveraging GMOs for competitiveness should be of particular interest to Zimbabwe, given that our regional and international counterparts are already in the game. Manufacturers at last year’s Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries conference resolved unanimously to embrace GMOs.

In fact, Zimbabweans are already eating GMOs anyway!

GMOs can offer dramatic promise for meeting some of the greatest challenge for the 21st century – including population increase and climate change. As with all new technologies – there are risks, known and unknown. The question really is: Can we afford to be on the sidelines?

Zimbabwe ranks among the top four countries in Africa in terms of research on GMOs. On the legislation front, the Research Act was amended in 1998 so as to provide for the management of potentially harmful technologies and undertakings through safety boards. This was followed by the gazetting of the Research (Biosafety) Regulations in 2000 establishing the Biosafety Board, and registration of laboratories and biotechnology research institutions commenced in 2001.

Field trials with GMO crops were done between 2002 and 2006. A policy was put in place to regulate the import of food and feed containing, consisting of, derived from or that may contain GMOs.

In 2005 the National Policy on Biotechnology was approved. It identified biotechnology, including GM technology, as critical for national development. The government has continued to show commitment, in principle, in the promotion of safe and responsible use of biotechnology.

In its Medium Term Plan, government seeks to increase and improve food crops, industrial crops, livestock and horticulture productivity through the use and application of modern technology domestic processes and consumption.

Despite all these initiatives, for which we applaud government, it should be noted that Zimbabwe does not exist in isolation and it is important that its policies be customized in line with regional standards.

COMESA’s guidelines for commercial planting of GMOs offer important opportunities for poor African farmers and consumers. A centralised regional risk assessment policy would allow COMESA countries to apply a harmonized approach to planting of GM crops and facilitate trade while respecting the national sovereignty of member states.

With the COMESA Customs Union is coming into effect soon, we will see increased regional trade, especially in staples like maize, which accounts for 50% of COMESA’s total grain imports. It is vital that we come up with a harmonized regional policy regarding procurement of food aid with GM content.

Post published in: Business

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