San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rican scientists, industry lobbyists debate GMO benefits

“GMOs do not resolve anything that cannot be solved with existing technologies,” experts from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the Technology Institute of Costa Rica (ITCR) concluded at a forum in San José on Nov. 1.

The forum, “Biotechnology: Challenges and opportunities for the country’s development,” gathered representatives from CropLife Latin America, Costa Rica’s Chamber of Agriculture and Agroindustry, and professors from the UCR’s Biology Faculty and the ITCR’s Agri-Food Sciences and Biology faculties.

Luis Arauz Cavallini, a UCR biologist, said the country’s competitiveness should be based on the implementation of sustainable agro-ecosystems, adding that he has “several concerns related to genetically modified organisms, mainly the release into the environment of transgenic organisms that could affect native biodiversity.”

Arauz also refuted the claim that global food production has increased thanks to GM crops, and that GMOs have contributed to the reduction of hunger, as advocates claim.

UCR biologist Jaime García González noted that most Costa Ricans don’t know what GMs are, nor what their effects are. As of 2012, 177 of 194 countries have banned GM seeds, and five of the 28 that allow them own 90 percent of the total GM crop areas in the world, he said.

Martin Zúñiga, CropLife’s executive director for Central America and the Caribbean, defended the use of GMOs, saying that “a second green revolution” is necessary to meet the global population’s current food needs.

He added that one of the solutions to global hunger is agricultural biotechnology, “and specifically the use of GMOs, which are a tool to fight the decrease of agricultural productivity.”

Zúñiga said that currently 170 million hectares are planted with GM crops globally, and 17 million farmers are successfully using genetic modification.

CropLife Latin America is an international trade association consisting of eight companies and 22 associations in 18 countries in the region. Those companies include Bayer CropScience, Monsanto, Sumitomo Chemical, FMC, Syngenta, Basf, DuPont, Dow AgroSciences and Arysta LifeScience.

University experts also highlighted other GMO issues affecting small farmers, such as the concentration of production and marketing of GM seeds in the hands of a few multinatioinal corporations, excessive use of agrochemicals and the payment of fees for intellectual property rights.

“The use of transgenic seeds, whose rights are registered, are forcing farmers to pay for products they don’t even want to use in the first place,” García said.

Scientists called for better information on all GM products, saying that product labeling “is a consumer’s right.”

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