Global perspective Human stories

Genetically modified food in aid packages poses no risks – UN official

Genetically modified food in aid packages poses no risks – UN official

Jacques Diouf
With some 13 million people in southern Africa in urgent need of food assistance in the coming months, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today urged the governments of the most-affected countries to carefully consider current scientific knowledge before rejecting food aid containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Speaking at a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he is attending the World Summit on Sustainable Development, Jacques Diouf said that while there were currently no international agreements relating to food aid containing GMOs, the FAO and the UN World Health Organization (WHO) were working to develop appropriate standards.

The two agencies, along with the UN World Food Programme (WFP), also believed that based on information from a variety of sources and current scientific knowledge, the food being offered to southern African countries was not likely to present a human health risk, Mr. Diouf said.

"The United Nations therefore believes that in the current crisis, governments in southern Africa must consider carefully the severe and immediate consequences of limiting food aid available for millions of people so desperately in need," he said. "Their plight must weigh heavily in government decision-making."

Referring to concerns about the unintentional introduction of genetically modified maize varieties into the region as a result of planting or spillage, the FAO chief acknowledged worries about biological diversity and sustainable agriculture, but said those potential risks should be judged and managed by individual countries on a case-by-case basis.