Zambia must continue to uphold the highest biosafety standards
Zambia’s approach to biosafety since the development of the Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy of 2003 has been cautious and aimed at ensuring high standards of human, environmental and socio-economic well-being. We are alarmed that the biotech industry is eroding this approach in favour of promoting and protecting the interests of that industry. We reject this shift.
Key concerns in the revised policy include:
- Abandoning the precautionary principle in favour of creating incentives for innovation for industry. This shift means moving from the aim of protecting against harm to promoting genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by reducing safety procedures;
- Shifting focus from “GMOs” to “biotechnology” thereby wrongly implying that GMOs are as safe as other forms of biotechnology such as conventional breeding or tissue culture;
- Removing provisions on liability and redress. These made producers of GMOs responsible for paying for and cleaning up damages arising from GMOs;
- Increasing the focus on intellectual property rights that are skewed in favour of corporations and away from communities;
- Broadly promoting the benefits of GMOs as described by the producers of GMOs, without interrogating the many problems associated with the technology, such as increased indebtedness of farmers, quality issues in Bt cotton, development of insect and weed resistance, loss of markets due to consumer rejection and many more;
- Falsely asserting that GMOs will benefit smallholders; and
- Dismantling current institutional arrangements with no clear replacement structure that clearly outlines new responsibilities, hierarchies and procedural pathways.
Potential risks of GMOs must be recognised:
Governments around the world retain a precautionary stance to GMOs. There is an extensive body of literature that highlights many risks associated with GMOs, these include that:
- GMOs and related pesticides and herbicides pose health risks
- GMOs pose environmental risks
- GMOs are not appropriate for smallholders
- GMOs contribute to corporate control of the food system
- GMOs restrict access to markets thereby threatening livelihoods
Real solutions to hunger, poverty and degraded environment must be sought
The fact remains that Zambia is facing a series of crisis level challenges currently – socially, economically and ecologically. Poverty and inequality has risen exponentially. We are now ranked as one of the most malnourished countries in Africa. Women are affected the worst across the board. These are long term developmental crises.
The majority of the our population rely on agriculture and local food system related livelihood activities – from production through to formal and informal retailing in both urban and rural areas. Very well-known problems farmers face in Zambia are lack of market, late delivery of and cost of inputs, lack of accessible land, soil infertility, erratic rainfall and lack of irrigation, lack of infrastructure, lack of extension services, lack of social and infrastructural support to retailers and traders (exemplified by the recent chlorella and trader dislocations). None of these problems that keep our population poor – and our youth malnourished and restless – are going to be solved by GMO proposed solutions.
Therefore we state:
If we are to face climate change and deal effectively with environmental degradation, poverty, hunger and the extensive malnutrition due to lack of diverse diets in Zambia, it is vital to invest in farming systems that are designed to create resilience and social equity.
We fully agree with the findings of the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) that GMOs have primarily benefited transnational corporations and the wealthy, rather than the poor and hungry of the world. The IAASTD found little solid evidence to support claims that GMOs have contributed to equitable or sustainable development or will do so in the future, but instead raised substantial questions about their social, health and environmental impacts. This is same stand that Late President Mwanawansa stood for years before, and the same principled stand that all subsequent Presidents have remained steadfast in upholding.
We have been assured by the New Minister of Agriculture that Government position on GMOs has not changed. Zambia as a nation remains opposed to GMOs – and citizens have a right to say no to GMOs if they so wish. Therefore – as people of Faith, in agriculture training institutions, civil society, farmers and consumers alike, we raise our voice of concern and distress about the attempts to amend the exemplary National Biosafety and Biotechnology Policy. We support our leaders in their efforts to prioritise the rights of small holder farmers in Zambia, over and above foreign neo-colonial agriculture systems that extract wealth from the poor and from the country, and undermine the health of our families, our farming systems and our environment.
We ask Zambia’s leaders to remain strong; to resist and reject the unjust and unethical efforts of foreign pressure to weaken national laws for the benefit of corporate profits.
Signed: Emmanuel Mutamba, ZAAB Chairperson,
7 March 2018
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