GENET archive


POLICY & REGULATION: Update on GMO discussion in Latin America

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: International Potato Center, Peru

AUTHOR: Press Release


DATE:   26.07.2007

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26 July 2007 – Lima, Peru. Recent internal communications from the International Potato Center (CIP), related to an educational workshop offered to Peruvian journalists on the state of potato biotechnology, have led to some confusing reports in the international press about CIP’s development of a transgenic potato variety.

CIP does have a transgenic potato, but this is NOT a new development. The potato was produced prior to 2002, as part of a research project designed to develop scientific capacity to work with these new biotechnologies. This transgenic potato is not being grown in the field in Peru or anywhere else in the world.

In April 2006, the CIP Board of Trustees, including its Director General, decided that genetically modified (GM) potatoes would not be disseminated by CIP in the Andean zone, which includes the countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile. Potatoes were first domesticated in what is modern-day Peru. Subsequent dissemination, evolution and human selection have resulted in an estimated 5,000 native potato varieties in eight potato species distributed across the Andean Zone.

CIP is deeply committed to responsible development and dissemination of new technologies. We feel that there is not yet an adequate understanding of potential environmental risks and cultural consequences associated with the introduction of transgenic potatoes in the center of diversity.

The CIP GM potato was specifically developed to resist the potato tuber moth (PTM), Phthorimaea operculella (Zeller). PTM is one of the most serious potato insect pests, worldwide, resulting in significant crop damage in Asia, Africa and Latin America. No PTM-resistant potato genotypes have been identified that can be used as sources of resistance in traditional crop breeding projects. CIP continues an active research program on the biology and sustainable integrated control of the PTM and other pests that affect potato production in the Andean region and worldwide, as well as the development of safeguards and stewardship programs for the responsible development and dissemination of GM crops.

Pamela K. Anderson

Director General, International Potato Center

On behalf of the CIP Board of Trustees


Transgenic potato resists potato tuber moth attack

July 12, 2007

Scientists at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru have used genetic engineering to develop a variety of potato that resists insect attack but does not threaten the biodiversity of native potatoes.

CIP transferred a gene that confers total resistance to the potato tuber moth (Phthorimaea operculella) into the Revolution potato variety. Revolution is a Peruvian potato that does not produce pollen - it is naturally sterile. Thanks to the transferred Bt gene, so called because it produces a toxin identical that of the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, the new variety does not need any pesticide to control moth attack.

Successfully incorporating this resistance into the variety is a very important scientific achievement, because the potato tuber moth is a major cause of damage, as illustrated by the results of a farmer survey conducted by CIP in 2003 in five traditional potato-producing provinces.

To counteract the threat caused by the moth, potato farmers use large amounts of pesticides. According to research conducted in the Mantaro valley (in the central Andes of Peru) in 2004, the products most utilized for moth control in warehouses are the highly toxic phosphorates and carbamates. A study made by CIP in 2006 for the World Bank showed that such pesticide use was particularly damaging to the health of the farmers and harmful to the environment.

”Unfortunately, there are not many alternatives to control this pest,” said Marc Ghislain, Head of the Biotechnology Laboratory at CIP. ”Conventional improvement has not developed very resistant varieties and integrated pest management is not being adopted to control the insects that attack the potato crops.”

Because of this situation, specialists in molecular biology at CIP turned to genetic engineering, an approach that has been successful for more than a decade in controlling pests in other crops, such as corn and cotton. It has been applied on a large scale in commercial production.

One of the most important concerns in genetically engineering crops is the possibility of the genes flowing into native varieties. This is a particularly sensitive issue in Peru because it is the center of origin of the potato. Because of this concern, the Bt gene has been transferred into a naturally sterile variety to remove any chance of transfer of the gene. In addition, the resistant variety will not be released into the Peruvian market because the government does not yet have regulations governing products obtained from engineering genetic, ”The Bt potato variety is a product that makes it possible to eliminate the use of the most harmful pesticides without the risks of modified genes escaping into the native varieties,” concluded Marc Ghislain.

The announcement was delivered at the end of the first workshop for Media journalists, titled ”Genes, transgenic crops: when the journalists enter the laboratory”, carried out on 5 July in the headquarters of CIP, in Lima.

The objective of the workshop was to increase the knowledge of biotechnology within the journalists working in communications media. The workshop was eminently scientific and was given by specialists in genetics, molecular biology, and genetic resources of CIP, and also included a visit and practices in the biomolecular laboratories.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: SciDev.Net, UK

AUTHOR: Paula Leighton


DATE:   24.07.2007

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The regional government of Cusco, Peru has banned genetically modified (GM) products in the region to protect the diversity of thousands of native potato varieties and other Andean food crops.

The order was announced last week (20 July) at a press conference. It forbids GM research and the sale, cultivation, use and transport of GM products in the Cusco region.

Abel Caballero, head of the regional government’s natural resources and environment department, said the government made the decision after considering the risk of genetic and environmental contamination from GM products, as well as the threat to people’s health and their ancient culture.

Instead of GM, the government will support organic agriculture, Caballero told SciDev.Net. ”Small farmers from the highlands cannot be forced into high productivity. It’s better to carry on supporting their use of traditional farming practices to produce clean organic products,” he said.

Around 4,000 varieties of native potato exist in the Andean region, most of them cultivated organically, without pesticides or agricultural chemicals. Cusco is one of the main centres of potato diversity, with nearly 2,000 varieties identified.

Andean communities have farmed native potatoes for thousands of years. Genetically, the potatoes have not changed since they were domesticated 8,000 years ago.

The government announced they will promote conservation programmes for native biological crops and programmes to recover ancient knowledge and practices related to biodiversity.

The ban was passed in response to proposals submitted by a network of indigenous potato-farming communities and the Cusco-based Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES Association), a nongovernmental organisation that defends the rights of indigenous people to conserve biological and cultural resources.

Alejandro Argumedo, head of the ANDES Association, told SciDev.Net that Cusco’s decision is likely to convince other regions to follow its example. He said regional governments in the Andean regions of Puno, Apurímac and Ancash, and the Madre de Dios region in the Amazon, are ready to approve similar orders. This could put pressure on the federal government to ban GM in all of Peru, he said.

Developing and using genetically modified organisms is currently not allowed in Peru, as the country has not yet adopted laws governing their safe use.

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Prensa Latina, Cuba



DATE:   20.08.2007

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Mexico, Aug 20 (Prensa Latina) Mexico is being pressured by transnational companies to grow transgenic plants in its fertile land, a social leader denounced on Monday.

Miguel Luna, president of the Coalition of Urban and Farmer Democratic Organizations, said that Mexican farmers have to deal with impositions by rival companies in that sphere: Cargill and Monsanto.

They compete to rent agricultural land to grow genetically modified grains.

According to Luna, this is additional to the lifting of taxes on corn, beans, sugar and milk in 2008, within the framework of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He added that transnational companies in Mexico focus on controlling the import, production and commercialization of seeds, chemicals, pesticides, veterinary items and, recently, the production and sales of transgenic plants.

The Mexican leader said that planting and consuming genetically modified grains could cause short-term effects on the ecosystem, including irreversible genetic contamination and the extermination of endemic and traditional varieties, among others.

It also causes allergies, resistance to antibiotics, and toxic effects in humans, he went on to say.

Economically speaking, it makes farmers dependent on transnational companies and promotes the strengthening of the monopolies that commercialize seeds and agricultural inputs.

Luna demanded that genetically modified food must be clearly identified and labeled for commercialization, and experiments with animals and plants for human consumption must comply with the law and ethics.

He added that the NAFTA does not bring either comparative or competitive advantages for Mexico over the United States and Canada regarding production of basic grains and oleaginous plants.

A total of 3.5 million Mexican producers devote 65 percent of agricultural land to those products, which contribute 40 percent of the value of sales.

                                  PART 4

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SOURCE: Agbios, Canada

AUTHOR: Bloomberg, USA


DATE:   08.08.2007

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Mexican authorities may take more than three years to approve commercial sales of gene-modified seeds, even after a ban is lifted, said an executive with Gruma SA, the world’s largest producer of corn flour for tortillas.

Seed companies must plant small, experimental crops under strict conditions for at least one crop cycle and then establish larger pilot plantings for two or three cycles before receiving approval for commercial sales, said Guillermo Arteaga, deputy director of biotechnology and innovation at Gruma.

”With these requirements, it would be difficult to have genetically modified varieties approved in Mexico in less than three years,” Arteaga said today during an interview in Monterrey, where the company is based.

Mexico approved a law in 2005 to permit genetically modified crops. The rules to enable the law to take effect haven’t been determined and may be published in the federal registry some time this year.

The experimental and pilot crops likely will be grown in northern states, such as Sinaloa and Sonora, where there are no native corn varieties, Arteaga said. Opposition to genetically modified corn centers on the possible contamination of native corn varieties from southern Mexico.

Mexican farmers may be slow to accept genetically modified seeds because the seeds are more expensive and aren’t yet tailored to Mexico’s soil conditions, Arteaga said. The vast majority of corn produced in Mexico is of the white corn variety and much of it is grown by small, sustenance farmers, he said.


Monsanto Sales

Seed companies, such as Monsanto Co., would probably at first offer products already engineered for the U.S. and other markets, he said. St. Louis-based Monsanto has 60 percent of Mexico’s market for branded corn seeds, according to a Monsanto presentation in September.

”I don’t think we’re talking about doubling yields or anything like that,” Arteaga said. ”The profitability could rise 5 percent or 7 percent even considering that the seeds are more expensive.”

Genetically modified seeds in Mexico have the most potential for adding value to the tortilla, such as extending shelf life and providing vitamins or nutrients that reduce diabetes or heart disease, Arteaga said.

”Tortillas are still the main food staple in Mexico,” Arteaga said. ”It’s the ideal vehicle for providing nutrients to all Mexicans and, above all, to those who are the poorest.”

                                  PART 5

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SOURCE: The Brunei Times, Brunei Darussalam

AUTHOR: German Press Agency, by Anna Dobelmann


DATE:   20.08.2007

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THE setting could hardly be more peaceful - goats graze on the green steppe, lifting their heads up only to cast them down to the grass again, while others stand nearby with their eyes half-closed. The animals belong to Norberto Ramirez, 23, who lives in this area in the north of the central Argentine province of Cordoba with his parents and his wife.

With some 100 goats, the family produces meat, milk, cheese and the Argentine specialty known as dulce de leche, a caramel cream made with milk and sugar.

But the peaceful setting is deceitful - Norberto is afraid. A US company has bought land nearby, and a few of his neighbour’s goats have been killed.

The farmers are only too well acquainted with these methods and are ready to do battle. About two years ago they started organising into a small movement, Norberto said.

The reason for their defensive move is not uncommon elsewhere in the world - they seek to prevent capital-intensive firms from making a quick dollar at their expense, in this case by cultivating soy.

Argentine exports are booming, and the economy shows growth rates comparable to China. A key motor is the exportation of 44 million tonnes of soy beans a year. However, as President Nestor Kirchner celebrates rising tax revenues, many small farmers are fighting for economic survival.

Large-scale soy farming threatens their lifestyle, herbicides damage the environment and large agricultural firms, often backed by international capital, push them off their land. Political officials, police and the justice system generally favour the influential companies, and small farmers have to defend themselves.

”With fewer than 100 goats, we can hardly manage,” Ramirez said.

If they cannot earn a living, farmers are forced to look for work in the city, and many end up in the villas miseria, as slum neighbourhoods are known in Argentina. But that does not seem to bother large companies - they simply buy the land and grow soy beans.

The families of around 250,000 small farmers have lived in their areas for generations, but many do not have an ownership title to show for it. This allows the state to sell ”their” land to the sojeros or the large farmers.

Sometimes, buyers promise farmers a pension or other advantages. Many ill-informed farmers then sell way below value. And police soon arrive on their doorstep with an eviction notice.

”There are no precise figures of displacements,” sociologist Diego Dominguez said.

However, he estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 farms disappeared from 1988 to 2002. ”Also, many small farmers, encircled by soy fields, can no longer continue to do business,” Dominguez said.

Many of the displacements are illegal, and the Agriculture Ministry in Buenos Aires is aware of the problem. In the provinces, however, it is not rare for a network of corruption and nepotism involving police, politicians and business interests to get in the way of small farmers.

Often their complaints are rejected by the local police. But even if they do make it to the courts, it is far from certain that their rights will be respected.

”We do not know very precisely who profits from what in a network of diverse interests,” said Dominguez, who works in the Agriculture Ministry.

Large-scale farmers reject responsibility for the fate of their smaller counterparts.

”The problems of small farmers have nothing to do with soy cultivation,” said Raquel Caminoa, of the agricultural chamber stressing instead the importance of soy cultivation in the economic boom.

Small farmers have also voiced concerns about how the soy is cultivated. Almost 100 per cent of the Argentine soy crop is genetically modified and is sprayed with the herbicide, glyphosate, to kill all plants except the soy.

Farmers are already complaining about health problems. There are no official studies, but doctors have pointed to perceived increases in the number of babies with deformities and in cancers, allergies, respiratory diseases and eye problems.

Argentina has become a ”Soy Republic”, Dominguez joked, a pun on the more traditional concept of ”Banana Republic”. He denounced the influence of large export companies on the political agenda.

”Soy farming could become the suicide of Argentine agriculture,” he warned.

Soy fields displace farms that produce other products such as meat, vegetables, milk or rice, driving up the price of those commodities. The new agriculture is even more technologically intense and requires less manpower.

”We are on the way to an agriculture without farmers,” Dominguez said.

Some worry that people like Norberto Ramirez will no longer be needed. He grew up in this dry, yet green area and two metal-roofed clay huts in the middle of nowhere are what he calls home.

Outside the house the typical mate tea is served. A couple of chickens run around, and a cat scratches people’s legs.

”I hope that my children too can live on this land,” Ramirez said with little confidence.

Not a talker by nature, he makes clear this modest wish, which sounds utopian in view of the soy-bean boom. Perhaps, Norberto and his group of small farmers can ensure that the Argentine economic upswing will incorporate small farmers, rather than taking place at their expense.



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