Genetically modified crop foes seek action by full legislature or Solís

Supporters of a nationwide ban on genetically modified crops are exploring two options after a legislative committee failed to back the idea.

The supporters say they plan to pressure legislators to bring up the proposed moratorium, No. 18.941, in the full Asamblea Legislativa. They also say they expect President Luis Guillermo Solís to issue a decree that would do the same thing.

The proposal for a nationwide moratorium was considered by the Comisión de Asuntos Agropecuarios, which held formal hearing. Eventually the committee issued a finding by the majority that shelved the plan for the moratorium.

During the course of the discussion, the moratorium was offered for 10 years or for four years.

Proponents of the moratorium oppose the U.S. corporation Monsanto, which has produced food crops modified to resist the firm’s herbicides. The chemical company has been aggressive in trying to protect its patents and has brought some U.S. farmers into court for using herbicide resistant seeds without permission.

The moratorium has been supported by Frente Amplio and Partido Acción Ciudadana. Supporters of the ban note that 79 of 92 municipalities already have prohibited the planting of genetically modified crops, although the legality of these actions is still up in the air.

The scientific consensus is that modified crops are no different than conventional varieties, but a minority of scientists continue to seek evidence that the crops can damage humans. A University of Costa Rica expert, for example, presented as fact to the committee a discredited French study that claimed modified food produces tumors in rats.

Most of the processed grain-based foods in the United States contain genetically modified products, as do the many products imported and for sale here.

There was a new international development over the weekend.

Opponents of genetically modified crops have expressed concern about potential contamination of conventional crops and other plants.

Now a plant gene discovered by University of Guelph scientists might help farmers reduce the risk of  contamination and quell arguments against the use of transgenic food crops, said Sherif Sherif, lead author of a new research paper describing the findings, according to the university.

This is believed to be the first-ever study to identify a gene involved in altering fruit trees that normally cross-pollinate – needing one plant to fertilize another – into self-pollinators, the university quoted Sherif as saying. The paper was published in the journal BMC Biology.

Sherif said researchers might one day insert this gene into GM crops to prevent their pollen from reaching other plants, said the university.

The researchers found a gene making a protein that naturally allows a small handful of plants to self-pollinate and make fruit before the flower opens. Peaches, for example, have closed flowers, unlike their showy-flowered plum and cherry cousins that need pollen from another tree to fertilize and set fruit, according to a university explanation.

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