Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe is refusing to accept thousands of tonnes of maize from the US, ostensibly because some of it is genetically modified. Offered by the US Agency for International Development through the Rome-based World Food Programme, the maize was due to arrive in Africa this week aboard the USAID-chartered ship, the Liberty Star.
Negotiations have already been soured by reports that Mugabe's government is denying emergency food aid to people in areas that oppose his government. Andrew Natsios, USAID's administrator, last week warned that food aid would be stopped altogether if this form of political repression continued.
Now Harare has said that it doesn't want USAID's maize, despite the spectre of famine looming over six million of its citizens. "The position is that no GM foods are allowed in Zimbabwe," a spokesman at the Zimbabwe High Commission in London told New Scientist earlier this week. "Scientifically, they haven't proven to be safe."
The spokesman also said that Zimbabwe's beef sales to Europe could be under threat if any of the maize is fed to animals. Yet New Scientist has established that there are no restrictions in Europe on the sale of meat, milk or eggs from animals raised on GM fodder.
An editorial last weekend in the Zimbabwe Herald- regarded as the mouthpiece of the government- also expressed concern that "vegetables...could be contaminated with genes from such grain". But interbreeding between grain and vegetables is impossible.
However, the maize seeds could be spilt, contaminating fields, or farmers could deliberately plant them. There's been extensive contamination of Mexican fields via such routes (New Scientist, 15 June,
Contact: Claire Bowles