Notes to broadcasters on GMOs:

    | May 3, 2010

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    As this story demonstrates, the subject of genetically modified, or transgenic, plants is the focus of heated debate in Africa. While those in favour of biotechnology are convinced that GMOs will help guarantee food supplies, even in times of drought, many people argue against their use, maintaining that the impact of GMOs on human health and the environment is still unknown.

    The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety – a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity – deals with living modified organisms (LMOs). The protocol came into effect on September 11, 2003. Signatories to the protocol agree to take a precautionary approach to the transfer, handling, and use of LMOs, particularly during transboundary movement.

    According to Wynand van der Walt (who was quoted in this week’s article), the shipment of maize that arrived in Mombassa port complied with the Cartagena Protocol. You can view the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in its entirety on the website of the Convention on Biological Diversity:

    However, the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition maintains that the shipment was imported in contravention of the Kenyan government’s own biosafety laws. To read the media release issued by the coalition, go to: .

    If you are interested in researching a story about GMOs in your area, you may wish to consider the following questions:

    -What laws has your country enacted to regulate biosafety and biosecurity?
    -What information about GMOs is available to farmers in your area? Who provides this information? Are farmers aware of their rights in relation to GMOs?
    -Which NGOs, industry groups, or other organizations in your area advocate for or against GMOs? To see the status of GMO use in countries that have ratified the Cartagena Protocol, you may visit the website of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum:

    The Biosafety Clearing-House website offers a searchable database of laws and regulations on GMOs in various countries:

    For more on the GMO debate, visit the following websites:
    -A list of arguments for and against GMOs, prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
    -Arguments for:
    -Arguments against:
    -An article by UNESCO: “Can genetically modified organisms feed the world?”:
    -A report by the NGO GRAIN on the consequences of genetically modified crops for small-scale African farmers:

     Finally, you may wish to review the following articles, which highlight some milestones in the GMO debate in Africa over the past two years:

    Kenya: Kibaki gives seal of approval on biosafety law for the production and use of genetically modified crops” (FRW# 56, February 2009)
    -“Zimbabwe: Farmers protest imported GM produce” (FRW# 95, January 2010)
    -“South Africa: Farmers reject GM potato” (FRW# 38, September 2008)
    -“Benin: A cautious approach in the midst of the heated debate on GMOs” (FRW #16, March 2008)