Opinions differ on modified organism moratorium

A legislative committee continues to consider a proposal for a national moratorium on genetically modified organisms. Committee members heard several opinions about the bill over the last two days.

This is the measure proposed by Frente Amplio in the last legislature, mainly in opposition to the agricultural work by Monsanto Co. here. In fact, the summary to the bill is filled with negative reports about the U.S. chemical giant.

The measure calls for a moratorium until there is a certainty and a consensus in the scientific community about any risks that the genetically modified organisms might represent.

A University of Costa Rica biology professor, Marta Valdez Melara, told the committee Wednesday that the scientific method does not allow for something to be 100 percent certain. Even in matters of paternity tests the DNA results usually say that there is a one in a million possibility that the man involved is not the father. She has been involved in genetic research.

The professor declined to support a national moratorium, according to a summary of her presentation provided by the legislature. And she said that basic research should be promoted and supported so that Costa Rica does not become a straggler in comparison to other countries.

Tuesday Marta Liliana Jiménez told the same committee, the Comisión Permanente de Asuntos Agropecuarios, that a moratorium could provide time for a national discussion over genetically modified organisms. She is director of the  Comisión Nacional de Gestión sobre la Biodiversidad at the environmental ministry.

The summary to the bill cites the scientific uncertainty and proven risks of modified organisms, although there is scant proof given. Scientists generally say there is no difference between modified and unmodified crops.

Modified crops are those in which researchers have inserted a foreign gene in order to generate some favorable characteristic in the organism, usually a plant. Monsanto modifies the crops, such as corn, alfalfa, and soybeans to resist a weed killer produced by the company.

The bill’s summary makes multiple citations of articles in organic farming sources or foes of Monsanto, such as The Center for Food Safety, which is run by a Washington, D.C., lawyer who frequently opposes Monsanto in court.

The bill also cites a 2013 study of pigs in Australia conducted by a researcher, Judy Carmen, and associates. The study purports to show that pigs fed genetically modified grains develop stomach inflammation.

Critics immediately pointed out that the researchers were organic food activists, and other researchers quickly questioned the statistical method used and the fact the report was published without peer review in an organic journal.

The entire issue might soon become moot. Recent advances that allow the precise editing of genomes now raise the possibility that fruit and other crops might be genetically improved without the need to introduce foreign genes, according to researchers writing in Trends in Biotechnology, according to the publisher, Cell Press.

Said the publisher in a summary of the Wednesday article:

With awareness of what makes these biotechnologies new and different, genetically edited fruits might be met with greater acceptance by society at large than genetically modified organisms so far have been, especially in Europe, researchers say. This could mean that genetically edited versions of GMOs such as super bananas that produce more vitamin A and apples that don’t brown when cut, among other novelties, could be making an appearance on grocery shelves.

“The simple avoidance of introducing foreign genes makes genetically edited crops more natural than transgenic crops obtained by inserting foreign genes,” said Chidananda Nagamangala Kanchiswamy of Istituto Agrario San Michele in Italy.

For instance, changes to the characteristics of fruit might be made via small genetic tweaks designed to increase or decrease the amounts of natural ingredients that their plant cells already make. Genome editing of fruit has become possible today due to the advent of new tools . . . and also because of the extensive and growing knowledge of fruit genomes.

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