Lawmakers briefed on genetically modified corn plants

A.M. Costa Rica file photo
Young ear of corn still needs a few weeks on the plant for
eating and more time after that to be harvested as grain.

Gloria Abraham, the minister of Agricultura, defended genetically modified corn at the legislature Monday. She brought along some experts.

She told lawmakers, principally members of the Partido Liberación Nacional, that Costa Rica has had genetically modified crops for 20 years. Also there was Alex May, president of the Comisión Nacional de Bioseguridad.

Genetically modified crops are in the news because a Monsanto subsidiary here wants to plant in Chomes a small trial patch of a strain of corn the firm has developed. The grain would be exported. Environmentalists are strongly opposed.

A chart presented at the legislative visit showed that genetically modified soybeans have been grown in the country since 1991. There also was genetically modified corn planted then and seven times to 2001. Genetically modified cotton has been planted since 1991. In 2012 there were 281 hectares of genetically modified cotton. There also are genetically modified banana plants and pineapple plantings, although on a very small scale. There was but one hectare of modified bananas in 2012, and just 5.2 hectares of modified pineapple, according to the ministry’s figures.

Other data showed that Costa Rica is strongly dependent on imports for its corn. In 2012 Costa Rica imported 416,541 tons of yellow corn and 12,799 tons of white corn to meet a national demand of 447,720 tons.

DPL Semillas Ltda. is the Monsanto subsidiary.

The biosecurity commission has approved the request by DPL Semillas, but opponents are taking the decision to the Sala IV constitutional court.

Lawmakers were told that there are six pieces of legislation on the books that provide the framework for such projects in Costa Rica and that some adjustments might be needed to meet modern needs.

In addition they were told that there has never been a case of genetically modified corn causing health problems.

Most of the corn grown in Costa Rica is by small producers with plots of some 2.5 to 12 hectares, lawmakers were told. One hectare is 2.47 acres. Typically corn is planted in December during what is known as the Costa Rican summer or dry season.

Genetic modifications are seen in some quarters as a way to make the next big advance in feeding the world. But the concept also has generated fears and opposition. Environmentalists here say that the genetically modified corn might pollute the gnome of Costa Rica’s corn. They also oppose the idea that farmers should purchase hybrid seeds each year instead of planting seeds from the prior year’s crops. The more modern hybrids do not breed true.

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