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Last Updated: Monday, 21 June, 2004, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Push to spread GM crops in Africa
Corn
Exports to Europe could suffer if GM is introduced
Delegates from 15 West African nations have gathered in Burkina Faso for a three-day US-backed conference on genetically-modified crops.

The US Department of Agriculture says the conference aims to combat prejudice about biotechnology.

"It is a response to the needs of hundreds of millions of people who don't have enough food," it says.

But critics accuse the US of selling GM crops to the developing world as an over-simplified solution to hunger.

First cotton move

The Burkina Faso government has already accepted proposals from the multinational firm Monsanto to allow the planting of genetically modified cotton, the first country in the region to do so.

Agriculture Minister Salif Diallo says GM cotton, with its promised resistance to pests, raises the possibility of increasing local production several times over.

He has urged other African countries to join it in making use of new technology to improve productivity in farming, saying it would be a monumental error not to participate in the development of biotechnology.

But there is widespread scepticism across Africa.

Food aid issue

Critics argue that using modified crops makes growers more dependent on foreign biotechnology companies in return for as yet uncertain benefits.

Others worry that using genetically modified seeds could endanger their own exports to Europe, which also has concerns about GM products.

Zambia has re-affirmed that it will not allow modified foods to enter the country without further research, with deputy Agriculture Minister Chance Kabaghe saying in Lusaka that there is a lack of evidence that it is harmless to human health and the environment.

During particularly severe food shortages 18 months ago, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa described GM foods as poisonous and intrinsically dangerous.

Other issues like water shortages are also on the agenda at the talks in Ouagadougou.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's John Moylan
"Environmental groups claim that scientists do not agree on the safety of GM foods"



SEE ALSO:
Famine and the GM debate
14 Nov 02  |  Africa
GM crops to be expanded
29 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
GM crops: What the science says
09 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature


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