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TITLE:  Minister says Tanzania is growing GM tobacco
SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK, by Deodatus Balile

http://www.scidev.net/gateways/index.cfm?fuseaction=readitem&rgwid=4&item=News&itemid=2058&language=1
DATE:   22 Apr 2005

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Minister says Tanzania is growing GM tobacco

[DAR ES SALAAM] Tanzania's agriculture minister has said that genetically
modified (GM) tobacco is being grown in the country for research purposes.
Yet, Tanzania's planned regulatory framework for GM crops has still to be
debated by parliament.

Following a biotechnology workshop held in Dar es Salaam earlier this month,
Charles Keenja told SciDev.Net that field trials of tobacco that has been
genetically modified to be nicotine-free were underway in Moshi District in
the Kilimanjaro region.

According to the minister, the GM tobacco has been growing for fewer than
three months on a small farm in the area.

"We are seeing the possibilities of eradicating tobacco containing
nicotine," said Keenja. "We have decided to produce GM tobacco that is free
of nicotine  we target the future market [for nicotine-free tobacco]."

SciDev.Net has learnt that that in 2003, field trials of GM tobacco seed
produced by US-based Vector Tobacco were conducted in Tanzania, although
there is widespread belief that such experiments were stopped at the end of
the year.

However the company declined to respond to repeated requests put to it this
week to comment on the minister's statement that GM tobacco is once again
under trial in Tanzania.

This is the first time a Tanzanian minister has admitted to the presence of
GM crops in fields in the country, which has no law governing the planting
of GM crops.

Asked about the implications of his statement with respect to this
regulatory gap, Keenja said GM tobacco was only being produced "on a very
small scale".

Keenja told participants in the biotechnology workshop that the government
was likely to delay submitting to parliament draft legislation that would
specify the conditions under which GM crops can be grown until next year.

He said that this was because 2005 is an election year in Tanzania, and that
there would not be space on the legislative calendar to debate the
government's GM bill.

"We are not likely to have a law in place before 2006," he said.

However he added that Tanzania could not afford to be left behind by others
adopting the technology, adding that fears about GM crops in Europe would
subside in time.

"To date, not a single study has proven GM foods to be harmful to human
beings," said Keenja. "It is only unfounded fear."

However, Keenja also told SciDev.Net that the government has suspended
plans, announced in February, to introduce GM cotton in the southern
highlands (see GM crop tests get green light in Tanzania).

That announcement prompted protests from non-governmental organisations, led
by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM-Tanzania), a group
that organised several workshops to raise public awareness of the plans.

According to PELUM-Tanzania, GM crops  whether cotton or tobacco  would
harm the environment and human health, and make poor farmers dependent on
costly GM seeds.

The organisation's advocacy officer, Donat Senzia, says GM crops could
create 'super weeds', which later may be uncontrollable and disturb the
natural vegetation.

Senzia says that Tanzania needs more than ten years to prepare for any GM
product.

Vernon Gracen, a biotechnologist from Cornell University in the United
States, said at the Dar es Salaam workshop: "Both proponents and opponents
of GM crops must have the common goal of responsible use of biotechnology."

He also suggested the government and stakeholders need to engage in a
transparent discussion of the issue.




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