Opponents Celebrate Monsanto’s Departure

October 1, 2004

GENETICALLY modified organism(GMO) and agrochemical giant Monsantohas closed its office in Costa Rica and is nolonger planning to grow genetically modifiedcorn in the country, a company representativeconfirmed this week.Environmentalists and anti-GMO groupsin Costa Rica last week announced and celebratedthe U.S.-based company’s exodus asa victory in their battle against geneticallymodified crops, which they say haveunknown health and environmental risks.“They have reacted to the demands ofcivil society. They were trying to avoid ascandal and have moved on to other countrieswhere there is less resistance,” saidEduardo Aguilar, of the BiodiversityCoordination Network, which is leadingthe fight against GMOs in Costa Rica.HOWEVER, Monsanto representativeManuel Rivas said business will continueas normal in Costa Rica and the decision toclose the office was made to increase thecompany’s efficiency, not in response topressure from anti-GMO groups.Monsanto’s Central America operationswere run out of the San José office formore than ten years, according to Rivas,Monsanto’s manager of product developmentin Central America.The company’s Mexico office nowoversees Guatemala, El Salvador andHonduras. Costa Rica’s operations will berun out of the Colombia office, along withNicaragua’s and Panama’s.Monsanto employed approximately 20people in its Costa Rica office, whichclosed in April, Rivas said. One Monsantoemployee remains in the country. Figureson former annual investment in the countrywere not available by press time.Monsanto’s business in Costa Ricaconsists primarily of the distribution of itsherbicide Roundup and non-geneticallymodified corn, Rivas said.THE company also has withdrawn itsrequest from the Ministry of Agriculture andLivestock (MAG) for permission to plantgenetically modified corn in Costa Rica.“It is not a priority market, because ofthe small size of the cultivation,” Rivas said.Monsanto – the largest GMO producerin the world – will instead look to Hondurasand Guatemala for cultivation of GM corn.However, Rivas said Monsanto officialsmay in the future resubmit their request togrow the controversial crop in Costa Rica.GMOs, also known as transgenics, arecrops that have been genetically modifiedby scientists to exhibit certain traits, suchas disease or herbicide resistance. Many ofMonsanto’s genetically modified productsare “Roundup Ready,” meaning they areresistant to the herbicide the company produces.Problematic weeds – and all otherspecies – are killed without affecting theRoundup Ready plants.Proponents say transgenic crops showa dramatic improvement in output overnon-transgenic crops.OPPONENTS, however, maintaintransgenic crops have unknown healthrisks and could contaminate genetic materialof nearby crops through the naturalspread of seeds from gene-modifiedplants. They claim genetically modifiedcorn has already severely contaminatedcrops in Mexico, destroying strains of thecountry’s traditional crop, grown byindigenous people for more than 6,000years (TT, July 23).The Biodiversity CoordinationNetwork and the Costa Rican Federationfor the Conservation of the Environment(FECON) are waging a campaign to warnthe public, particularly in Guanacaste,about what they say is the GMO threat.“Since the end of last year, people inGuanacaste have learned about the dangersof (GMOs) and started fighting againsttheir cultivation,” Aguilar said.THE environmental groups announcedlast week they have completed an eight pagedocument formally requesting amoratorium on GMO crops in Costa Rica.They have presented the document to theMinistry of Agriculture’s plant and animalhealth department.The ministry is leading an effort to createa comprehensive approach to transgenicsin Costa Rica through a NationalFramework in Biosecurity. The Frameworkwould result in legislation regardinghandling and import/export regulations forGMOs (TT, April 2).Genetically modified cotton and soycrops currently grow on slightly more than600 hectares in Costa Rica, primarily inGuanacaste, according to MAG. Thesecrops are grown for their seeds, all ofwhich are exported to the United States.Ministry officials and transgenic cropgrowers have said that Costa Rica’s GMcrops pose no immediate danger to theenvironment, as they are planted a scientificallytested safe distance from non-GMOcrops (TT, April 23).

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