Proposed genetics law could have a wide, unplanned impact

A band concert to oppose genetically modified products is scheduled for Saturday. And Wednesday, World Food Day, activists will be at the legislature to present a proposed law for a national moratorium against genetically modified organisms.

The Wednesday event is related to the Día de las Culturas in that a new release said the activists would erect an altar at the legislature to honor rural farm workers and the native cultures.

The details of the proposed law are not yet available, but the same organization, BloqueVerde, has convinced municipal councils in 63 cantons to declare their lands free of genetically modified organisms.

The Saturday gatherings is called “Fiesta Costa Rica sin Transgenicos,” using the Spanish word for genetically modified organisms. The event features a number of local bands and begins at 7 p.m. in Los Yoses at Cafe Cambalace.

Although outlined in general terms, the push against modified organisms targets Monsanto Co., the U.S. agrochemical giant. The firm uses genetic manipulation to create crop strains that are not damaged by the company’s RoundUp weed killer line.

The organization and other activists have spoken out about the need to defend native Costa Rican seeds, mainly corn. However, the varieties to be defended have not been specified. And genetic research to define the specific strains is expensive.

According to the Oficina Nacional de Semillas, the national seed registry, which keeps track of such things, the country imported $376,096 in corn seed this year from Jan. 1 to May 22, the last day that statistics are available. That is about 89,000 kilos, according to the official figures.

The origin and varieties of these seeds are not specified, but seven of the 27 varieties approved for commercial plantings are from the Pioneer Seed Co., a DuPont firm. These are mainly field corn varieties. Commercially approved sweet corn varieties appear to come from Asia. There are five varieties.

With that quantity of imported corn growing in Costa Rica, there has to be substantial cross pollination with local varieties. So maintaining pure Costa Rican strains would be difficult even without genetic concerns.Purdue University says that pollen can drift up to 700 feet. Others say a mile.

Depending on how the proposed law is drafted and if it is passed, Costa Rica may find itself outlawing insulin, a host of other modified crops and even the new genetically modified anti-malaria mosquito. Also banned would be products like tortillas, taco shells and Corn Flakes because they are normally made with genetically modified corn.

The proposal from BloqueVerde says it sees a ban on all live genetically modified organisms. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute have genetically modified a bacterium from the mosquito’s midgut and found that the parasite that causes malaria in people does not survive in mosquitoes carrying the modified bacterium, the university said in July. The bacterium, Pantoea agglomerans, was modified to secrete proteins toxic to the malaria parasite, but the toxins do not harm the mosquito or humans, it said.

There already has been a moratorium on genetically modified research.  Said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in an historical report on recombinant DNA :

“We have essentially forgotten the anxieties that accompanied these advances especially with respect to the recombinant DNA methodology,” wrote James Watson in 1976.   There were fears that these manufactured “mutant” genes carried with them uncontrollable capacities to harm human beings. Scientists themselves began to address these fears. In April 1974, molecular biologists imposed a moratorium on continued r-DNA work until an international meeting could be held to discuss whether such experimentation did, in fact, pose any plausible public health danger. According to Watson, “because those of us who signed the moratorium proposal were respected scientists, not known for environmental or political kookism, we were taken seriously.”   At the meeting held at the Asilomar Conference Center in California in 1975, 150 scientists gathered and ultimately recommended that the National Institutes of Health provide guidelines for recombinant DNA research.

Watson was one of the discoverers of the double helix structure of human DNA that was announced in 1953.

Nearlyall insulin sold today comes from  genetically engineered E. coli bacteria because the process is cheaper and more efficient than the previous method of extracting insulin from dead animals at slaughterhouses. The process also is more sanitary.

Of course, there are opponents. Natural News, a big opponent of genetic modification said “For Pete’s sake, even restaurants ask if you want bottled or tap water. When you’re stabbing the hormone into your body, without debate, there should be a choice!”

Haemophiliacs suffer from a defective gene that fails to produce Factor VIII, an important agent involved in blood clotting, according to, an academic and learning Web site. Genetically modified yeast can produce Factor VIII. The gene was isolated from human cells, and introduced into a suitable microbe using standard modification techniques, it said.

Human growth hormone also is produced now with a genetic modification to eliminate a slim chance of carrying a disease that could exist when the substance was extracted from cadavers, said the Food and Drug Administration.

Genetic modification has been used to keep tomatoes from ripening quickly, A salmon that grows bigger has been submitted for approval. There is a modified variety of papaya to resist a disease. There is modified tobacco, soy beans, potatoes, zucchini, apples, and even rennet, used in the production of cheese. Each genetic change provides an advantage to growers.

Entomologists said this week that a new study finds that genetically-modified sweet corn is better for the environment and safer for farm workers because pesticide use is reduced.

In Costa Rica farmers have grown Monsanto genetically modified soybeans here 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 a report to lawmakers in February.

Said asource that opposed genetic modification: Unless you are growing all your own food or you are going out of your way to research and buy only non-GMO food, then you are likely eating some GM food.  It is almost inevitable.

This entry was posted in Costa Rica News. Bookmark the permalink.