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9-Misc: Costa Rica takes a balanced approach to biotechnology



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TITLE:  Costa Rica Takes a Balanced Approach to Biotechnology
SOURCE: Food Chemical News, Vol. 45 (12), by Steven Lewis
        posted by AgBioView, USA
DATE:   May 5, 2003

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Costa Rica Takes a Balanced Approach to Biotechnology


The Costa Rican government has thus far sidestepped pressure from biotech
opponents to restrict commercialization of bioengineered foods.

Blessed with a favorable climate, Costa Rica is the site of several
experiments involving biotech crops. One technological breakthrough that
promises to be of great commercial value for Costa Rica is bioengineered
bananas resistant to the costly black sigatoka disease.

The pressure for approving commercial planting of biotech crops will rise
over the next year as disease-resistant biotech crops produced at Costa
Rican research centers become available in commercial quantities. Given
the extremely cost competitive environment faced by Costa Rica's
traditional export crops, agricultural producers are already gathering
support for commercial biotech plantings.

The infrastructure for biotech approval is in place. The Costa Rican
Biosafety Commission has published procedures for exporting, importing,
and releasing biotech crops. In addition, it published a set of biosafety
regulations aimed at protecting the interests of the environment and the
nation's consumers. Costa Rica's Biodiversity Law of 1998 lays a general
groundwork for protecting and preserving the nation's native species but
does not go into depth on regulating biotech plantings.

The issue of biotech labeling has been on the back burner in Costa Rica
in recent years, but it will probably come to the forefront soon as
negotiations progress on a free trade agreement with the United States.
The agreement will give Costa Rican food processors affordable access to
a wider variety of transgenic North American food ingredients, and many
companies are already gearing up for increased food imports.

A report recently released by the Costa Rican Food Industry Chamber
argues that there is no need to label bioengineered foods. The report
concedes that it's important to monitor international studies related to
possible health effects, but it opposes mandatory process-based labeling
on the grounds that biotech foods have not been scientifically proven to
be harmful to humans.

Costa Rica's Phytosanitary Protection Agency released a report last month
supporting commercialization of biotech crops under development at the
nation's biotechnology research centers, including bananas, rice, and
white corn. Alex May of the agency's Biotechnology Section stressed that
concerns related to crop development have been very limited to date
because none of the crops are sold as food at the national level.




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