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Status of GMO and Transgenic Crops in Costa Rica: Readers Mail 9

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corn fields in costa ricaA dear reader named Trisha recently left a question on our Facebook wall in reference to the article “Why Monsanto Left Costa Rica“.

Here’s Trisha’s question:

“The date of the Monsanto pull-out in Costa Rica was 2004; this 60 page paper was written in 2005. Does this all hold true for 2012 post-CAFTA which theoretically could’ve opened the floodgates for GMOs? As you well know, I am very concerned about this issue.”

Hello Trisha, thanks for your concern. The scope of the article was to highlight Monsanto’s departure in 2004, and a lot has happened since, but Monsanto still does not have an office in Costa Rica. This does not mean that the company’s products, including Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), are not present in our country. The fight against the irresponsible use of transgenic crops, however, goes on.  Here is what is known:

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) is an non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of biotechnology such as the GMOs pushed by Monsanto.  A search of their database of GMOs approved for use in Costa Rica reveals 17 transgenic cotton seeds and two soybean seeds, most of them manufactured by Monsanto.  Some of these seeds are pest-resistant, while others are Roundup Ready -meaning that you can spray herbicide on these soybeans and they will continue growing unperturbed.

The same ISAAA database reveals dozens upon dozens of transgenic crops approved in the United States. Alfalfa, Canola, Carnation, Corn, Linseed Flax, Melon, Papaya, Plum, Potato, Rice, Tomato, and the list goes on.  In Honduras, the controversial MON 810 corn is widely grown, while China has a few dozen GMOs approved.  These are some of the countries that employ greater transparency in their GMO crop reporting.

Outside of the ISAAA database, a Del Monte subsidiary was granted governmental permission to plant transgenic pineapple in Puntarenas last year.  The same groups that applied pressure to Monsanto moved in to block the GMO pineapple cultivation.  The leader of the movement, Fabian Pacheco argued that the approval was reckless, as it failed to guarantee that pollution and erosion would result from the transgenic pineapple crops.  Anti-GMO groups around the world called awareness to the situation, something that in the past worked against Monsanto’s surreptitious methods.

The Legislative Effort

Costa Rica  may not have an affinity for GMOs, but it also lacks legislation to regulate their cultivation.  That is bound to change soon, as the Frente Amplio political party has pushed for comprehensive legislation that would place tight controls on the use of transgenic seeds.  The legislative project is making its way through the National Assembly, although it has been pushed back eclipsed by other issues, such as the Transit Law, the Fiscal Reform plan, and the voting on whether to allow U.S. Navy amphibious assault ships (namely USS Iwo Jima) to dock in Limon for refueling.

Our country is also very interested in getting a head start on the signing of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources.  A major part of this protocol authorizes governments to restrict and enforce the use of GMOs not only when they are suspect to cause environmental damage, but also when their importation causes negative impact on the local agricultural economies.

The Community Effort

Certain communities are moving faster than the legislative project when it comes to restricting GMO cultivation.  Eight municipalities have already resolved to ban transgenic crops, taking advantage of President Laura Chinchilla’s stance on giving autonomy to regional governments to implement sustainable measures.  Radio Santa Clara recently reported that several farmers in San Carlos, one of Costa Rica’s premier agricultural regions, have resolved to form unions against the use of GMOs.  These unions will soon demand the canton authorities to pass a resolution making their efforts official.

The University of Costa Rica publishes a series of circulars (PDF) that encourage farmers to forego the use of Roundup herbicide in favor of the old-fashioned and organic method of weed control: hiring additional workers to pull them with their bare hands.  It is important to note here that anti-GMO farmer unions like the ones forming in San Carlos aren’t limited to small farmers.  Large-scale farming operations are also getting involved and trying to figure out ways to implement organic principles in mass farming.  It takes a lot of hard work.

Informing the public about the nature and potential impact of GMO crops is another important aspect of the movement against irresponsible transgenic cultivation.  Revista Amauta and Rain Forest Radio are doing a good job in that regard.

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