Avoidance of modified crops spawns a business

Caution: food labels are not always as they appear. When organic farming advocate Albert Lusk roams the vendor stalls of local food fairs and sees tags or signs promising organic products, he says he is reminded not to trust such hollow claims.

“People use the term very casually,” Lusk said. “In my investigation, all of these animals are being fed with GMO corn and soy.”

Genetically modified corn and soy imports from the United States dominate the ingredients of crop feeds in Costa Rica. Though a large number of Costa Rican cantons have successfully banned planting of genetically modified crops within their municipalities, the nation still imports more than $300 million worth of products containing modified organisms each year.

As the founder of Albert’s Organics, which continues to be the largest distributor of organically grown produce in the U.S. even after he sold it in 2001, Lusk is well acquainted with modern agriculture and the politics of genetic modification.

For the past seven years he has lived in San Isidro in Heredia where he owns a 1.5-acre plot. He recently has started contracting out to a certified organic farmer in San Carlos to make corn-based foods, headlined by his tortilla chips that are still undergoing brand registration. Lusk says he sells bags of the chips at the nearby farmers markets, like the Fería Organica de Escazú, and has received five-star reviews from attendees.

“For people that know anything about genetically modified foods, they’re thrilled,” Lusk said. “I’ll put that chip, on a flavor basis, up against any chip in the country.”

But Lusk’s production is not just limited to the chip. His array of all natural foods also includes tamales, masa (a maize dough made with hominy), and the only organic goat cheese made in the country.

Upon settling in Costa Rica, he said he was unimpressed with the quality and flavor of goat dairy products here. Realizing that the majority of ingredients in their feed consisted of the feeds imported from the United States, he decided to buy his own goats and feed them with solely organic food.

Lusk says that if he can attract enough attention and revenue from his sales, then maybe an all-organic model can be set for the nation’s farmers to afford to feed their cattle without having to use genetically modified material. With this green-coated vision of a natural future in farming, Lusk is not just trying to make some extra money, but contends that he wants to revolutionize the entire industry.

“It’s not just a corn chip – we’re on a mission,” Lusk said. “I’ve always been about changing the world, and here in Costa Rica we should be completely non-GMO.”

By Michael Krumholtz
of the A.M. Costa Rica staff

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