Dr Luke Mumba is Dean of the University of Zambia's school of natural sciences. In July 2003 he became the interim Chairman of the newly launched Biotechnology Outreach Society of Zambia. According to reports, those attending the Society's inaugural meeting expressed cautious optimism that the Zambian government will change its negative attitude towards GM crops 'once the society launches a campaign in the country'. An 'aggressive awareness campaign', according to Dr Mumba, is 'our priority'. Although Zambia still has no biotechnology policy in place that would allow the introduction of GM crops, 'Dr. Luke Mumba of the University of Zambia gives a promise: "The document is at Cabinet level, being discussed. I am one of those who sit on the Committee and the policy will be in place soon".'
In January 2003 Mumba travelled to London and Brussels as part of a lobbying trip organised by the biotech-industry funded lobby groups EuropaBio and CropGen. In the party with Mumba were James Ochanda of the African Biotechnology Stakeholders Forum, Jocelyn Webster of AfricaBio, Jaipal Reddy of the Federation of Farmers Associations, South African farmer TJ Buthelezi, two lobbyists from ISAAA and an Intellectual Property Management consultant from Kenya.
Mumba's visit was used as the basis for an attack on the British Medical Association which has urged caution over GMOs. One of the UK's most fiercely pro-GM science journalists Andy Coghlan wrote an article for New Scientist headlined, GM food fear traced to UK. According to the article, 'Doubts over the safety of genetically modified foods voiced by the British Medical Association were the main reason behind Zambia's decision to reject food aid in 2002, says a Zambian scientist who visited Europe this week.' Latwer in the article the scientist is identified as 'Luke Mumba, a senior molecular biologist at the University of Zambia in Lusaka who is attending a summit on farming in Brussels.'
The article goes on to quote from a BMA report which says that 'We cannot at present know whether there are serious risks to the environment or to human health involved in producing GM crops or consuming GM food products ... and adverse effects are likely to be irreversible.' Ironically, Dr Mumba has himself warned about the problem of irreversible contamination from GMOs in much stronger terms than the BMA.
An article in The Times of Zambia, March 12, 2002 reported, 'University of Zambia School of natural sciences Dean Dr Luke Mumba says, unlike chemical or nuclear contamination, gene pollution cannot be cleaned up. He adds, toxic effects of genetic mistakes, will be passed on to all future generations of species. "Once released, it is virtually impossible to recall genetically engineered organisms back to the laboratory or the field. Genetically engineered products carry more risks than traditional foods," points out Dr Mumba.'
By summer 2002, however, Mumba was sounding a very different note. 'All of us who consider ourselves to be experts in biotechnology must accept that we have not done enough to guide our policy makers on the subject. Each time we are afforded a forum we are invariably issuing contradictory statements on GM maize and biotechnology in general. Little wonder that our government is to date undecided on whether or not to accept maize aid from the US', he wrote (Safety of GMOs by Dr. Luke Mumba, The Post, Zambia, July 29, 2002)
This Mumba article was full of reassurances, 'Biotechnology companies are under obligation to ensure that all the genetically improved crops they produce comply with all national and international guidelines. Their survival as companies is dependent on complying with regulations and consumer expectations.'
By the time Mumba joined the lobby tour to Europe he was even asserting, somewhat mysteriously, that Zambia had benefited 'for decades' from biotech crops. (Africans bring biotech message to Brussels, 2 June 2003, EIU ViewsWire)
The reason for the disappearance of all of Mumba's earlier caution remains unexplained but many within the Zambian academic community have retained their caution on the issue. And the secretary general of the Lecturers and Researchers Union (UNZALARU) at the University of Zambia where Mumba works reported that 'as a union, they were worried because some experts had allegedly been bought-off to convince the government that GM maize was safe'. (UNZALARU accuses US of being driven by business motivation over GMOs, The Post, Zambia, August 1, 2002)