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By Martin Plaut
The Zambian Government has summoned aid officials working in a refugee camp to ask them why they have been distributing genetically modified (GM) maize, despite a government ban.
A senior government official held what is described as a "furious meeting" with aid agency staff at the Makeba refugee camp in North-Western province.
Aid workers say they have nothing to replace the GM maize, which is currently feeding 125,000 refugees in five camps, and fear that riots will break out if they attempt to remove it.
The World Food Programme (WFP), which provides the food, says that the Government of Zambia has allowed it to mill and distribute the maize already stocked in the refugee camps.
The WFP says it has received no written instructions to cease these activities.
The Zambian Government decided last week to reject donations of GM food for nearly three million of its people hit by drought and famine.
The decision was made on the basis of a scientific report on the implications of using GM food on the health and economic welfare of the country.
The report was drawn up after Zambian officials visited the United States, South Africa, Britain and Belgium.
It warned that the safety of GM foods was not conclusive.
As a result it recommended that Zambia turn down the donation of US grain, which contains GM seed.
But now that the report has become public, questions have been raised about the basis of its conclusions.
The safety aspect is perhaps the most puzzling.
The report states, correctly, that one form of GM maize called "Starlink" has not been authorised for human use by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
But US sources contacted by the BBC deny emphatically that there was any Starlink maize in the food sent to Zambia.
Then there is a query about the amount of GM food donated to Zambia.
The report says that 50,000 tons of GM food was brought into the country by the WFP.
But the WFP says this figure is incorrect, and the amount is far smaller.
The Zambian opposition has questioned why the US donation was turned down.
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