GENET archive


3-Food: Ecuadorian activists blocked ship with GE soya

-------------------------- GENET-news ---------------------------

TITLE:  Activists block ship with transgenic soya
SOURCE: International Press Service
DATE:   January 12, 2000

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Activists block ship with transgenic soya

QUITO, (Jan. 12) IPS - Activists and small farmers in Ecuador
blocked a United States ship from docking at the port of
Guayaquil and unloading 30,000 tons of transgenic soya yesterday.
Fifty activists of the local environmental group Ecological
Action and members of the National Peasant Coordinator used two
small boats to cut off the ship "Frina," board it and keep it
from approaching the port. Other environmentalists entered the
offices of the port authority, along with People's Defender
(ombudsman) Hernan Ulloa, and a civilian judge, and successfully
demanded that port authorities refuse permission for the ship to
dock, in accordance with Ecuador's ban on the entry of transgenic

The judge urged researchers at the Izquieta Perez Biological
Institute to analyze samples of the product in question to
determine whether the ship would be allowed to unload its cargo
of soya, imported for the production of animal feed.
Environmentalists say the meat of animals fed with transgenic
products could pose unknown risks to human health.

Ecological Action was informed by non-governmental organizations
in the United States that the soya carried by Frina had been
genetically altered. The local group is confident that once the
studies have been carried out, the boat's cargo will be either
incinerated or sent back. "We hope corruption does not occur, and
that the law banning the entry of transgenic food products into
the country is respected," Jorge Loor, leader of the National
Peasant Coordinator, told IPS. The genetic manipulation of
products of animal or vegetable origin is aimed at boosting
nutritional value, crop yields, shelf-life and resistance to
pests and weed-killers.

Biologist Elizabeth Bravo, with Ecological Action, pointed out
that transgenic products were new, and that no one, not even the
companies that created them, could predict their effects. "The
possible alterations in environmental and human health are
unpredictable," she stressed. Bravo also warned of the
socioeconomic consequences of the products. "Peasant farmers find
themselves forced to buy the genetically manipulated seeds if
they want to remain competitive." But "who can ensure that these
new seeds are good?" she asked.

The main transgenic products are soya, tomatoes, potatoes,
tobacco, cotton and corn resistant to weed-killers and pests,
developed and marketed by multinational corporations, headed by
the U.S. company Monsanto and the Swiss-based Novartis. The local
consumer interest magazine Tribuna del Consumidor warned a few
months ago that transgenic products could be entering Ecuador
undetected, due to the lack of compulsory labels clearly
identifying such products.

Bravo said soya imported from Argentina might also be
genetically altered. "Although Ecuador imports very little soya,
80 percent of the soya from abroad comes from Argentina, and no
one can yet guarantee that it is not transgenic, like a large
part of what is produced in that country," she told IPS.
According to Ecological Action, potatoes imported from the United
States by U.S.-based fast food chains operating in Ecuador could
be genetically modified, as well as cooking oils and certain
commodities used in chicken feed.

The Ecuadorean constitution approved in November 1997 stipulates
that the entry of transgenic products can only be permitted and
regulated once a complementary law is passed by Congress or an
executive decree issued. The participants in the first Andean
meeting on biosafety, held in June in Quito, urged the five
member countries of the Andean Community trade bloc -- Bolivia,
Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela -- to agree on safety
mechanisms with respect to transgenic products. Experts in
biosafety, representatives of the governments of Bolivia,
Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba, and the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) warned
at the conference that those making the decisions on genetically
altered products often lacked the necessary expertise.

Authorities in Latin America "who decide on the entry, use and
handling of live organisms modified by biotechnology techniques
should be better qualified" to make such decisions, said UNESCO
representative Arvelio Garcia Rivas. Santiago Carrasco, with
Ecuador's National Secretariat of Science and Technology, said a
"culture of biosafety" was needed in the Andean region.

As an example of the risks posed by genetically modified crops,
environmentalists cite the case of the pollen of the transgenic
corn, Bt, found by researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca,
New York to kill the larvae of the Monarch butterfly. The
researchers sounded the alert on the effects of the pollen
spreading from fields to nearby natural areas in the United
States, Canada, Argentina and Spain, where that strain of corn is
grown and sold. 


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