Have GMOs Infiltrated Namibia’s Borders?

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibia and four other countries in SADC will know by mid-November whether or not Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) have infiltrated their borders. The Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe (BTZ) is conducting research on the spread of (GMOs) in Namibia, Swaziland, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to inform policy-makers on the spread of GMOs to enable them to take it into consideration when formulating their Biosafety policies. At present, only three countries in SADC – namely: South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi – have Biosafety policies, yet a number of countries have been recipients of GMOs in the form of seed, food aid and animal feed. The study is considered essential as it will assess the movement of GMOs in the region including inflows, food, seed and animal feed, and will establish environmental and biological potential threats and create awareness on the biological status of the region, thus contributing to the development of a regionally coordinated policy framework on movement, handling and processing of GMOs in the region. The focus of the research study is to determine the presence or absence of genetically modified maize (BT Maize), cotton (BT Cotton) and soya, but will also cover sorghum, millet and sugar beans. BTZ Executive Director, Naison Bhunhu, told New Era from Zimbabwe yesterday that the preliminary results of the research study, which started earlier this year, will be released mid-November at a partners’ meeting to be held in Windhoek. The trust has completed an analysis of samples from Zimbabwe and Malawi, and has just collected samples from Namibia as they were held up by the clearance systems from the one country to the other. Although countries such as Zambia have said ‘No’ to GMOs, policy-makers need to consider the free movement of goods amongst countries, said Bhunhu. “If a country says no to GMOs, it may put policies to suit that particular stance. But with free movement of goods, this needs to be taken into consideration,” he said, adding that research will show the status of the GMOs in these countries because, at the moment, it is believed that GMOs are only restricted to South Africa. Apart from this, research will also help safeguard biodiversity, people and animals, by considering them in biosafety laws. Bhunhu said local farmers, for instance, need to know the risks as they might lose their indigenous crops if they happen to cross-pollinate with those that are genetically modified. The pilot study covering the five countries is one of the ongoing research activities funded by the Regional Agricultural and Environmental Initiatives Network (RAEIN-Africa). Evident is the existence of an information gap, on the extent of distribution of GMOs, the effectiveness of policy, regulatory and technical instruments on how to manage the spread of Genetic Engineering (GE) products in the region. A research associate of the BTZ, Michael Makamure, writing in the RAIEN-Africa newsletter Building Bridges, said the results obtained from the study will indicate the status of the GMO spread from the districts from which sampling was done, and will be used for a more detailed study on a wider scale in the whole region. The project will generate research data that will be useful to biotechnologists, biosafety authorities and will also help in GMO food, feed and seed management policy development in SADC countries. In Africa, only South Africa, which has BT maize, BT Cotton and GM soya, has commercialized GMOs. South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Nigeria are leading as far as biotechnology research is concerned. Nine countries have field trials, 20 are engaged in GMO research and development, and 24 in capacity-building and institutions to conduct research and development, while 27 have ratified the Cartagena protocol which governs the safe use of GMOs.