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Zambia is likely to continue to reject donations of genetically modified (GM) maize, the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), James T. Morris, said today.

Speaking to journalists in London, he said that Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa had informed him that an interim report on the effects of GM food recommends that the government maintains its position against imports of transgenic food. "When asked whether the permanent report would have a different view, [Mwanawasa] said 'probably not'," Morris said.

The Zambian government is currently refusing donations of GM maize, citing its concern that such food could be harmful to human health. Other countries, including Malawi and Zimbabwe, have accepted such donations, but have insisted that it is milled to prevent it from being planted (which would risk 'contamination' of local crop varieties).

Morris said that, if all the countries in southern Africa had taken Zambia's stance, the WFP's efforts to provide food to the 14.4 million people at risk of starvation in southern Africa would have been severely hindered. But he said that "everyone is entitled to make their own decision".

The Zambian government last month sent a group of scientists to Europe and the United States to collect information from both government and private agencies in order to write a report on the issue. The government is expected to officially announce a decision on whether to lift or continue the ban within the next few days.

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