Researchers and scientists recently planted Clearfield rice, a transgenic crop produced in Costa Rica and marketed by biotechnology giant BASF, in farmland located in Guanacaste and other sectors of the country’s Northern Zone. BASF is based in Germany, but the Clearfield seeds were developed by scientists at the private Rice Investigation Institute (INARROZ in Spanish).
According to an article by Yariela Novo in the online news site Costa Rica Hoy, a team from the Biological Molecular Investigation Center (CIBCM) of the University of Costa Rica tested the Clearfield seeds to gauge their impact should they ever become approved for cultivation. The law in Costa Rica allows some level of genetic improvement of crops, such as the Tayni red bean, but not genetically modified organisms such as the MON810 corn developed by the Monsanto Company. MON810 has been banned in some European nations.
The main characteristic of Clearfield rice is that it presents certain tolerance to Kifix 70WG, a herbicide produced by BASF that eliminates invasive rice weeds. The objective of the CIBCM study was to gain an understanding about how plant, animal and insect wildlife are affected by a GMO. Clearfield is the closest that the CIBCM research team could get to a full-blown GMO like MON810, since Costa Rica law prevents crops that can negatively impact our biodiversity.
What the researchers found out as a result of the study is that the cultivation costs of Clearfield are below conventional rice crops, and the yield per hectare is greater. Clearfield did not have an effect on the parasites and other living organisms that are commonly found in rice plantations. Clearfield is not even close to being as nefarious as MON810, but researchers are keeping an eye on the transgenic rice to ensure it does not interfere with our biodiversity. The greater effort is to have pertinent information on hand for legislative and regulatory inquiries.
The approval process of a transgenic or genetically-improved seed in Costa Rica prevents the cultivation of crops that can damage the soil or non-pestiferous organisms.
A previous article published by The Costa Rica Star, Status of GMO and Transgenic Crops in Costa Rica, identified 17 transgenic cotton seeds and two soybean seeds, most of them manufactured by Monsanto, approved for cultivation in our country. Some of these seeds are pest-resistant, while others are Roundup Ready -meaning that herbicide can be sprayed on these soybeans and they will continue growing unperturbed.
Some political parties in the National Assembly are pushing for comprehensive legislation that would place tighter controls on the use of transgenic seeds. Several territories around the country have taken matters into their own hands and have enacted municipal code that declares them transgenic-free communities.
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 suspected to cause environmental damage, but also when their importation causes negative impact on the local agricultural economies.
The above-cited reasons serve to explain why Monsanto does not keep an office in Costa Rica.