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August 12, 2008

Malawi approves biotechnology law

Malawi has finally opened its doors to genetically modified crops (GMOs) despite fears still lingering among consumer rights groups.

"Yes, cabinet has approved the National Bio-technology and Bio-safety bill," said Alec Manda, the acting Director of the National Research Council of Malawi.

Manda said with the policy now in place Malawi can now start using products that are genetically modified. He said what remains now was for scientists to start field trial of genetically modified crops developed outside the country.

"What that means is that we have completed the regulatory process which started with the Bio-safety Act, the enactment of the Bio-Safety Act in the year 2002; the formulation of regulations in the year 2007; and just today cabinet has approved the National Bio-technology Policy," he said.

But the Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) has since warned government to tread carefully when introducing the GMOs into the market.CAMA's acting Executive Director Andrew Ussi said the consumer rights watchdog would closely monitor events as the country prepares to introduce genetically modified crops.

"Our current position is that before any food is being introduced on the market the consumer has to be informed as to the benefits of that GMO food to his body, to the environment and, for posterity's sake, as well as the other plants that will be grown surrounding that crop," he said.

Ussi said the consumer rights group would ensure that there was proper trial bef ore the GMOs are introduced. "Our mission is to promote and protect consumer rights in Malawi," he said, adding that such rights included the right to information.

"The consumer has to be informed on each and every product that comes onto the market in terms of the manufacturer, ingredients and everything," Ussi added.

But Manda of the National research council of Malawi said there was no cause for worry, adding that a special Bio-technology and Bio-Safety Committee, comprising scientists and other experts, had been set up to oversee the trial.

"We have to test these GMOs or GMO crops which have been developed outside the country; to test them under Malawian conditions; how do they perform," he said. "We are not going to start by developing our own GMOs."

Manda said the research and evaluation could take as long as three years.

"We have to see how they peform under Malawian conditions; It is only after the researchers have established that those perform well will there be another process to see if they can be commercialised," he said.

The issue of genetically modified foods became a sensitive issue between the years 2002 and 2003 when Malawi was hit with a severe food crisis which forced the government of former President Bakili Muluzi to accept genetically modified food from the West, especially the US.


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