Country Debated New, Old Agricultural Methods

December 24, 2004

WITH environmentalists calling for a moratorium on the growth of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Costa Rica and raising concerns about the use of pesticides on crops, many small farmers began renewed discussion of the benefits of organic agriculture this year. First called for in April, the proposal for a GMO moratorium was formerly presented in September to the National Commission on Biosecurity, made up of government officials and civilians working to create a national framework for GMO crops in Costa Rica. GMO crops, also called transgenics, are plants that have been genetically modified by scientists to demonstrate certain characteristics, such as disease or pesticide resistance. OPPONENTS say they could contaminate surrounding, non-transgenic crops, and lead to the creation of pesticide-resistant insects and dangerous allergies among consumers. Scientists and GMO farmers maintain studies show modified crops are safe for both the environment and consumption. International visits were made this year from both camps, including a visit by then- U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, who said science and technology including GMOs are the keys to feeding the world s hungry. IN September, anti-GMO groups celebrated the closure of the San José offices of GMO-giant Monsanto. The company said the closure was to increase efficiency. In October, Environment Minister Carlos Manuel Rodríguez announced his support for the GMO moratorium. During a heated debate on the subject in November, the President s son a committed environmentalist threatened to destroy the existing 600 hectares of GMO crops in Costa Rica. He later toned down his words. THE unpopularity of GMOs and chemicals has caused an increasing number of farmers in Costa Rica to turn to organic agriculture. Production of organically grown foods is 2.2% of all commercial agriculture, up from 0.18% five years ago. The Agriculture Ministry this year continued its campaign to educate small farmers on the environmental and economic benefits of organic farming. In August, ministry officials complained Costa Rican farmers are not taking advantage of much-sought-after accreditation for organic agriculture the country received from the European Union more than two years ago. Also in August, farmers from around the nation gathered to discuss ideas on how to grow and market organics and form cooperatives to make foreign export feasible for small producers.

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