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The Zimbabwean government has rejected a US offer of 10,000 tonnes of maize, worth US$5 million, because the maize lacked a certificate proving that it was free of genetically modified material.

The refusal comes at a time when about three million Zimbabweans — nearly a quarter of the population — are facing starvation.

According to a statement from the US embassy in Harare, Zimbabwe had not been prepared to waive its requirement that all entering commodities must be certified as not being of genetically modified origin.

The maize has now been sent instead to the neighbouring countries of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

According to the UK newspaper The Guardian, Zimbabwe's decision to reject that maize was taken in order to protect its own crop, and thus to allow it to continue to export maize seed certified to be non-GM throughout Africa.

The newspaper says that the US shipment was refused because it contained whole maize kernels which, if planted, could potentially introduce genetically modified (GM) strains to the country.

If Zimbabwe's maize was affected by GM crops planted nearby, it would lose its certification, and could be barred from export.

The newspaper points out that "shipments of US maize in the form of fine-ground meal cannot be used as seed", and says that, as a result, these have been "gladly accepted by Zimbabwe".

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