Countries in southern Africa whose populations are facing devastating droughts should "carefully consider" current scientific knowledge before rejecting genetically modified food aid, Dr Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has said.

Diouf said that the FAO considered that such consignments are "not likely to present a human health risk and may be eaten."  Although 13 million people in the region face famine, three affected countries have recently refused to accept aid because it contained GM maize. He suggested that as a precaution to prevent the accidental introduction of GM seed, governments should mill or heat-treat donated maize. The "plight" of famine victims should "weigh heavily in government decision-making," he added.

By Keith Nuthall, correspondent