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Gro Harlem Brundtland,
Director-General of WHO
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on African countries to accept foreign donations of genetically modified (GM) food.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, the organisation's director general, told a meeting of African health ministers in Harare, Zimbabwe this week that "WHO is not aware of scientifically documented cases in which the consumption of these foods has negative human health effects. These foods may therefore be eaten."

"GM foods are eaten by people in other regions," Brundtland said. "Those foods are no less safe for people here in Africa than they are for people who eat them in other parts of the world".

The announcement follows the controversial decision by some southern African nations to reject US donations of maize, on the grounds that it might contain GM material (see Famine-stricken countries reject GM maize).

In addition to citing possible health risks these governments argue that, if planted, GM maize could "contaminate" local varieties. This would mean that their agricultural produce would no longer meet the "GM free" criteria demanded by European markets.

While Malawi has chosen to accept the donations, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe are now demanding that the grain is milled before being handed out, to reduce the risk of such contamination.

In an attempt to defuse such controversies, the World Bank announced yesterday (29 August) that it is to conduct a comprehensive study of the risks and opportunities of using GM and other agricultural techniques in poor countries (see International panel seeks to defuse GM row).

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Photo credit: WHO

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