06/10/08

Zambian import agencies deny GM ‘violation’ claims

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[LUSAKA] Seed import agencies have rejected accusations that they violated Zambia’s ban on genetically modified (GM) maize, following allegedly positive tests from national laboratories.

The GM maize was allegedly detected two years ago at Mount Makulu Research Station, under the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, according to Isaac Mumba, a manager at Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency (FRA).

Anthony Mwanaumo, executive director of the FRA told parliament last month (18 September) that he had "stopped dealing with" two companies after they imported GM maize seeds to the country in 2006 when Zambia suffered a crop harvest failure.

Mwanaumo identified the companies as Nyiombo Investments — which operates private agricultural supply depots in Malawi as well as Zambia — and Louis Dreyfus Commodities Africa, which trades across southern and eastern Africa.

Mwanaumo said the presence of GM seeds had forced the FRA to re-export the maize seeds to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa, both of which accept genetically modified foods.

Mwanaumo said the FRA was no longer using either company for maize imports. 

Pieter Malan of Louis Dreyfus Commodities Africa says he has seen no laboratory reports suggesting the presence of genetic modification in any seeds exported to Zambia. He says his records also suggest that the company did not export any maize to Zambia in 2006, only to Zimbabwe.

But according to Anna Orlia Chifungula, auditor general at the ministry of finance, the FRA imported 3,000 tonnes of maize from Nyiombo Investments worth US$1 million in 2006. The agency also bought 16,000 tonnes of maize from Louis Dreyfus worth nearly US$6 million. This was in the same year that then-president Levy Mwanawasa banned the import of maize genetically modified to resist pests or drought.

Malan says, "We use independent inspectors from companies like Global Inspections, the SGS Group and ACE, and sometimes third party labs to verify whether the product is GM or non GM."

He adds that Zambia’s FRA often specified which inspection companies should test for GM prior to it leaving countries which grow GM crops and that the seed or flour is tested again, and its status cleared by local government laboratories, on arrival.

Malan told SciDev.Net he would be travelling to Zambia to meet with FRA board chairman Costain Chilala to find out more.