GMOs a Health Hazard
Times of Zambia 6dec02
GENETICALLY modified organisms (GMOs) can cause resistance to antibiotics and compromise immunity in people with poor health status, a report by Zambian scientists has said.
The report also says GM maize can have a negative effect on local organic varieties and that all the Western countries visited by the scientists confirmed that GMOs were a health hazard.
The team can confirm that health-related concerns in the consumption of GM foods could be harmful in the following areas: new food toxins, new allergens and anti-biotic resistance,' it said.
Dr Mwananyanda Mbikusita-Lewanika, who was part of the team of scientists that went on a fact-finding mission in America and Europe, explained that when a person got sick after eating GMO, he could develop resistance to anti-biotic drugs.
He said the British Medical Association had also raised concern over the matter.
It is important to consider the health status of would-be consumers and looking at Zambia, most of the people in the outlying areas are of an average health status and if the consumption is high then the toxicity would equally increase,'' Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika explained.
He said the Government should maintain its current stand not to accept GM foods.
The scientists also confirmed that GM maize could have negative effects on varieties of maize cultivated in Zambia.
The concern was shared by all the countries the team visited, namely; America, South Africa, Britain, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands. Economic advisor to the President Dr Moses Banda, headed the group.
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika also said there was evidence that GM food tended to make non-allergenic foods to become allergenic due to the inclusion of foreign genes.
He cited an example of a Brazil nut whose gene was introduced into other foods and a lot of people who were allergic to the nut reacted badly. He said the National Academy for Scientists of the United States had expressed worry about the current method used to detect substances likely to trigger an allergenic reaction.
We already have the testing kits and I wish to state that there is a need to test the maize in the country to make sure that what was given as food aid does not contain anti-biotics or the other gene components that would pose a threat to the consumers,' he said.
The team also found that the method used to test GM food was not accurate and the Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was aware of the fact. Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika also said that the team had confirmed that while it was said that GM maize was consumed by millions in America, it was eaten in a highly processed form and was not a staple food while maize was the main source of carbohydrates in Zambia.
The team recommended that Zambia should build capacity in biotechnology and biosafety and implement the National Biotechnology and Biosafety policy as well as the Cartagene Protocol.
This would help Zambia interact more appropriately with other countries on issues pertaining to international movement of GMOs. The report says Government was supposed to establish the types of GM maize already in the country, including that which had already been consumed to determine whether the grain had toxic elements.
The report noted with concern the manner in which the World Food Programme (WFP) continued shipping in GM maize even after the Zambian Government rejected the stocks.
The withdrawal of the maize in the satellite depots should be done urgently to prevent hungry people in the country from consuming the commodity, a situation that could make the WFP liable.
Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika also said that it was not in order for the United Nations wings to propagate the interests of one nation at the expense of those of many member countries.
The Zambian Government caused a stir when it rejected the GM maize donated to her at the height of a food crisis, arguing that it had limited information on the effects of consuming the maize.
A full team comprising of Dr Banda, Dr Wilson Mwenya, Dr Mbikusita-Lewanika, Dr Godden Bola, Godfrey Mwila, Paul Chale, Agness Aongola was assembled and sent out to establish whether GMOs were safe for human consumption or not.
Some villagers in some parts of Zambia have however, looted the GM maize due to hunger.
The Government has stepped up relief food of non-GM to all affected areas in Zambia to ensure no one died of hunger.
On Tuesday the Vice-President Enoch Kavindele told Parliament that President Mwanawasa had permitted the scientists to release the report to the public about their findings after the fact-finding mission on GMOs.
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