The Draft Labeling Standards are non-binding in the sense that they do not create legally binding obligations and responsibilities. As such, they are also not legally enforceable. The lack of teeth of the standards is not cured by the fact that the Zambian Bureau of Standards, a statutory body, produces the standards. However, the standards do fit well into the efforts underway in Zambia, regarding its establishment of a detection laboratory for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and more generally, its proactive policy on biosafety on the African continent.

According to Zambia’s National Institute for Scientific and Industrial Research (NISIR), the new laboratory is being built to safeguard Zambian’s health and maintain a sustainable environment. The goal is also to have the new facility accredited as a regional and national referral laboratory. It is quite possible that the laboratory may qualify as one of the Biotechnology Centres of Excellence contemplated by the Science and Technology Secretariat established under the auspices of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), although no decision has yet been made by NEPAD’s Science and Technology Steering Committee which institutions would form part of the Centre of Excellence networks.

In the “Forward” to the standards, the rationale for the labeling standards is described as assisting consumers in making informed choices. This is to be welcomed. However, much work lies ahead. Understandably, the standards are still work in progress, and much work lies ahead before it can approach a sound system that is able to also, perform a valuable biosafety function with respect to the traceability of GMOs from farm to place, risk management and monitoring health impact.

It is hoped that open and transparent public consultation processes will take place in Zambia towards this objective. It is sincerely hoped that during the course of such consultation, debate and discussion will centre on the need for clarity especially on the establishment of thresholds for labeling. Comments On Draft Zambian Standard: Labelling Of Food And Feed That Are Products Of Genetic Engineering Mariam Mayet, August 2005.

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