Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
EVERY year, millions in nearly 300 cities around the world march against Monsanto as they exercise their freedom which they consider as celebration of food freedom, farm freedom and labeling or eliminating Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) from the food supply.
This annual ritual is solidarity in protecting the worldâ€™s food supply from Monsanto and the biotech industry.
Monsanto, which has presence in Zambia, is one of the four global corporations which control the worldâ€™s agriculture industry.
Monsanto is the most powerful and also dominates the modern biotech industry through their production of genetically modified seeds.
I am told Monsanto is gaining more power in the Zambia agricultural sector but I have no evidence that it is putting pressure on Zambia to allow the production of GM seeds.
People marching is not bad because exercise and staying healthy while speaking out their minds is important. What I am against is an attempt by members of the civil society in Zambia getting personal over matters which should be resolved through debate.
Recently, I sent a press query to the chairperson of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA), Paul Zambezi, regarding the feasibility of growing Bt cotton in Zambia.
When Dr Zambezi gave me answers of what he thought in relation to growing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cotton in Zambia, he was clear enough that the current law does not permit that, therefore if Bt Cotton has to be grown in this country, there would be need to amend the law.
Bt, is the source bacteria for the gene that confers resistance to the insect that attacks cotton (African Bollworm).
He also made it clear that the NBA is there to regulate issues pertaining to GMOs that the technology is applied in a safe manner; is it not what the law says?
Dr Zambezi was shocked to receive â€˜insultsâ€™ that week, to the extent that he was being called to resign as chairperson.
This is the extent to which some representatives of the CSOs could go in trying to justify their existence, which to me is very unnecessary.
The decision to start growing Bt cotton should be left with the farmers after Government has dealt with the legislation.
Farming is like a buffet â€“ a person puts the food that appeals to him/ her on the plate, not what CSOs determine.
The same applies to Monsanto, whom world marchers want to paint black.
The more than 20,000 Monsanto employees around the world are proud to be part of their communities, including Zambia.
Monsanto is also proud of its collaboration with farmers and partnering organisations that help make a more balanced meal accessible for everyone.
Betty Kiplagat, who is in corporate affairs at Monsanto, says, â€œOur goal is to help farmers do this using fewer resources and having a smaller impact on the environment.
We know people have different points of view on these topics, and itâ€™s important that theyâ€™re able to express and share them.â€
Responding to concerns about glyphosate safety, Ms Kiplagat says itâ€™s important to understand that glyphosate safety is supported by one of the most extensive world-wide human health, crop residue and environmental databases ever compiled on a pesticide product.
She says in evaluations spanning four decades, the overwhelming conclusion of experts world-wide has been that glyphosate, when used according to label directions, does not present an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans, wildlife or the environment.
â€œNo national/governmental regulatory agency in the world considers glyphosate a carcinogen. Furthermore, just two weeks ago, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) concluded that â€œglyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet,â€ she said.
Regarding GMO safety, Ms Kiplagat said critics might be interested in the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report released a fortnight ago.
This finding, among the hundreds of other studies confirming the safety of GMO crops, concludes that there is â€œNo persuasive evidence of adverse health effects directly attributable to consumption of foods derived from GE cropsâ€ and â€œNo conclusive evidence of cause-and-effect relationships between GE crops and environmental problems.â€
GE crops have been tested and reviewed more than any other crop products in the history of agriculture. After 30 years of research and assessments, the science and safety behind GE crops have been well established and strongly supported by the scientific community.
About Monsantoâ€™s role in food production, Ms Kiplagat said itâ€™s important to understand that the global food supply chain is very complex and involves many different organisations and individuals playing a role in making food available to consumers.
â€œMonsanto is just one company â€“ among many companies â€“ playing a role at one stage â€“ among many stages â€“ in the global food supply chain. Our role is to bring solutions to farmers to help them sustainably grow their crops. We offer farmers a broad range of tools to help them have better harvests while using resources efficiently,â€ Ms Kiplagat said.
If Zambia is serious about pro-poor development, it needs to continue to embrace GMOs. I expect the issue of GMOs to dominate the political landscape ahead of the August 11 elections to raise awareness for embracing Monsanto.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO