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CONTAMINATION: GMO products spread in SADC - Study

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  GMO products spread in SADC - Study
AUTHOR: The Herald, Zimbabwe, by Sifelani Tsiko
DATE:   21.05.2007

GMO products spread in SADC - Study

GENETICALLY Modified Organism products and seed are fast spreading  
into most Southern African countries which lack the technological  
capacity to screen and detect GMOs, a new study has revealed.

A preliminary GMO Spread Survey report done by the Biotechnology Trust  
of Zimbabwe in collaboration with the Community Technology Development  
Trust, Tobacco Research Board and other research institutes in Zambia,  
Namibia and Swaziland even shows areas where GM crops are suspected to  
be grown.

The 12-month GMO Spread Survey was done in five Southern African  
countries that included Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and  
Zimbabwe between January andDecember 2006.

Sources said the survey was conducted to identify potentially modified  
products in these selected countries and to identify modes and  
mechanisms of entry as well as distribution of GMOs in these five  

A total of 229 questionnaires were distributed and survey responses of  
about 27 percent were achieved mostly from experts in the field of  

,,The results obtained from this survey are preliminary and should not  
be generalised for countries where the survey was done. Rather these  
are the views of the respondents."

"These results, though, are indicative of the situation in the region  
and give a reflection of the population," the GMO Spread Survey  
preliminary report stated.

The major concern cited in all the countries under the study was human  
health and safety (30 percent), followed by fear of contamination of  
indigenous resources by GMOs (26 percent).

About 10 percent of the respondents were worried that GMOs would be  
used to undermine the country's economic and political sovereignty  
while 5 percent were concerned at the lack of policy to regulate  

The report noted that a higher percentage of responses, on a country  
basis, were from Zambia and Malawi where advocacy work was stronger  
than other countries.

Suspected GMO products in the five countries included maize, cotton  
and soyabean, livestock feed, tobacco, bananas, potatoes, poultry  
products and vegetables.

The majority of respondents (38 percent) believed maize contributed  
most to GMO products followed by cotton (13 percent), livestock feed  
(9 percent) and soyabean (8 percent).

Malawi indicated a higher percentage for yellow maize (17 percent)  
with equal distribution of (14 percent) for potatoes, white maize and  
livestock feed.

Zambia had a high percentage for white maize (19 percent), yellow  
maize (15 percent) and an equal distribution of 10 percent for poultry  
products, soyabean and cotton.

Zimbabwe had an almost equal distribution of yellow maize (21  
percent), white maize (21 percent) and cotton 19 percent.

The report noted that there is no distinction between yellow and white  
maize despite the fact that South Africa, the identified source of  
maize food aid, targeted yellow maize for GMO production.

Most African countries still have reservations about genetically  
modified foods and seeds (GMOs) and only a few countries allow them  
legally despite having no capacity to prevent their spread.

South Africa has embraced GMOs and as the region's strongest economy,  
scientists say it could be the portal for them entering the rest of  
the continent -- no matter what individual nations may do, industry  
watchers and activists say.

In the five countries under the GMO Spread Survey, locations where  
suspected GMO plants are believed to be grown were those mostly under  
research and food aid recipient locations in addition to border areas.

In Zambia, suspected areas where GM crops are grown included the  
Southern, Eastern, Central and Western provinces and points where aid  
is distributed and refugee camps.

In Zimbabwe, food aid-receiving districts along border areas and  
research areas were identified as suspected GMO prevalent areas.

In Malawi, research stations were identified as possible growing areas.

"If contamination by transgenic crops is a possibility then there is  
need to assess the level of contamination and identify contaminated  
areas," researchers suggested in the report.

"The assessments need to be followed up by constant monitoring of the  
surrounding regions to minimise and control gene flow from transgenic  
crops to the indigenous varieties. This will assist the control and  
regulation of any transgenic material present in the region."

However, the researchers said, if there is a lack of awareness of the  
growing areas and their existence, effectiveness of regulation becomes  

"Regular assessment and monitoring will allow for the monitoring of  
the gene-flows assessing the possible implications."

"Enforcement of biosafety regulations will also assist in protecting  
non-modified crops thereby protecting contamination of farmer  
varieties," the report stated.

Opponents of GMOs in Africa fear that the continent's farmers could  
lose market access to Europe.

European consumers are quite sensitive to GMO foods despite commercial  
claims that they are safe.

Agricultural experts say if Africa turns to GMO seeds and foods,  
Europe may not buy them something that may lead to shrinkage of their  
revenue base or their survival.

Most African countries also have concerns about possible unknown side  
effects of using GMO products and seed.

According to the latest GMO Spread report, "walk in" borders are  
common in all the five countries under the study.

The majority of respondents identified the formal as the major channel  
of entry of GMOs in their respective countries -- through legal  
channels 31,5 percent.

Exchange of seed between relatives living on either side of the  
country borders (19 percent) and border jumping (18 percent) is  
thought to contribute about 37 percent of respondents to channels of  
entry into countries. Food aid was mentioned by only 10 percent of the  
respondents as a potential channel of entry.

Researchers of the GMO Spread report said a policy framework needs to  
be developed to cater for official border areas as well as illegal and  
unconscious ways of importing GMO products for farming purposes.

They also suggested that awareness be raised among officials at border  
posts in addition to farmers regarding the possible contamination of  
their field crops by GMOs.

The survey showed that one of the main concerns is the contamination  
of indigenous genetic resources.

The majority of the respondents (48 percent) indicated that biosafety  
regulations and inspection, phytosanitary regulations and inspection  
and screening tests are the most common controls in place.

Grinding of grain was mentioned by 5 percent as one of the strategies  
of control.

Malawi relied more on biosafety regulations and inspection (50  
percent), Zambia mainly used GMO screening tests (35 percent) and  
inspection by the agriculture ministry and Zimbabwe used a variety of  
controls such as biosafety regulations and inspection (26 percent),  
phytosanitary regulations and inspections (14 percent) of all plant  
and plant products at all official entry points (12 percent) and GM  
screening tests (10 percent).

Most respondents (18 percent) felt the controls in place were weak due  
to lack of equipment, inadequate expertise and general lack of tracing  
mechanisms of GMO products.

The main problems cited in the tracking and safety control mechanisms  
in the five countries included:
- Lack of technological capacity to screen and detect GMOs (22 percent).
- Shortage of equipment and manpower at the major border posts to  
effectively carry out inspections (21 percent).
- Lack of knowledge on the possible effects on environment and  
biosafety (11 percent).
- Shortage of GM free seed, feed stocks, foodstuffs (6 percent).
- Shortage of equipment and manpower at border posts (21 percent).
- Difficulty in curbing border jumping.
- Pollen drift.
- Corruption and porous borders.

Financial support for equipment procurement, training and for  
operations of biosafety regulation boards is critical, researchers said.

Poor co-ordination between customs, health and veterinary officers at  
border posts is also cited as one of the major problems.

Another key challenge is that most products with a GM-related label  
tested positive for GM, according to another study done by the  
University of Free State in South Africa.

Most people in these five countries and others in the anti-GMO camp  
are worried by the unregulated movement of foodstuffs through informal  
trade networks across South Africa's porous borders which fast spread  
into the entire region.

"South African borders are porous and people take food home with them  
for sale or for consumption," says Leslie Liddell, director of NGO  
Biowatch South Africa. "Millions of people from neighbouring countries  
come to South Africa to work and there is huge movement across borders."

There is growing concern about the transfer of genetic material  
through cross-pollination, its impact on other species and the effects  
on human beings, animal and plant health.

Opponents of GMOs fear that transgenic crops could cause loss of  
biodiversity by displacing wild species and could also "contaminate"  
organic crops.

Those who support GMOs say that Africa, which experiences frequent  
food shortages, would benefit from the higher yields they say are  
associated with the technology, better tasting products, GM drugs and  

"GMO foods are not dangerous to human health as before, people need  
more explanation about it," Prof Yogeshkumar Naik, a member of the  
Biosafety Board (Zimbabwe) and researcher at the National University  
of Science and Technology, was quoted as saying.

He said the reason why Zimbabweans regard GMO foods as dangerous is  
that there was no convincing explanation and good understanding given  
to people about these foods from the beginning.

The GMO Spread study highlights the importance of undertaking training  
courses, research that reassures consumers about the food they eat,  
building a database on GMO information and strengthening biosafety  
boards that will enforce regulations in line with the Cartagena  
Biosafety Protocol and the draft African Union Biosafety Model Laws.

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