Ethiopia: New law bans food imports in a backdrop of food crisis

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Ethiopian government has closed its doors to genetically modified (GM) food aid despite life threatening food shortages that have affected about 6.2 million people. The recently passed law banning GM foods imports, however may not affect imports of the same foodstuff if processed differently.

An article in a new law, now in effect, prohibits the importation of Genetically Modified Foods (GM) to Ethiopia. The eastern African country’s legislation approved a bio-safety law in June 2009.

Seeking clarification on the new law and how the government intends to deal with foreign response with regard to the recent food aid appeal, members of Humanitarian agencies including, UASID, Christian Relief Development Association (CRDA) and the International Red Cross, paid a visit to Mitiku Kassa, state minister responsible for the coordination of relief operations, a week ago.

But Mitiku advised them to contact the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), the government institution in charge of implementing the contentious law. The same week, following Mitiku Kassa’s advice, the agencies were informed of the authority’s rigid position on the issue.

Belete Geda, a bio-safety coordinator at the Environmental Protection Authority clearly told them that, on one hand, the law does not authorize the importation of any genetically modified food items into the country, while on the other hand, the responsibility to ascertain whether or not imports are GM falls on the shoulders of aid agencies.

Aid agencies are required to write a letter to the authority informing them of their GM free imports, after which they must label the sacks as being GM free. This import requirement is, reportedly, due to the authority’s poor inspection capabilities.

Belete Geda, however, informed the agencies that another possible option of importing genetically modified products exists. According to the bio-safety coordinator, ground GM grains could be imported.

With 117,810 tones of food from the World Food Program due to arrive in mid January as well as grain imports from the USIAD already at the Djibouti port, donors expect Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to react on the issue, sooner than later.

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