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Introduction of transgenic corn in Cuba, whim, solution or threat?

Introduction of transgenic corn in Cuba, whim, solution or threat?

By Narciso Aguilera Marín

The fact that in a monoculture transgenic corn plantation, it is treated with mycorrhizae, phytomas, brassinosteroids or another non-synthetic substance, and then rotated with soybeans, does not give it the status of agroecological. It is not just a question of doubts, despite the dissimilar tests that the owners of transgenics claim that FR Bt1 maize has been done, in relation to the ecosystem implications, which may lead to its exploitation on a medium or long scale. term, with the homogenization of this monoculture; but also to the health of animals and humans.


«(…) Genetic manipulation and the use of chemical fertilizers (…) are already reaching the limit of their possibilities to produce healthy and suitable food for consumption (…) science created the capacity to self-destruct the planet several times. The greatest contradiction in our time is precisely the ability of the species to destroy itself and its inability to govern itself ”(Fidel Castro Ruz, 04/26/2010) (1)

«Science is proud of its successes (…) Think about it well. Let us find out about new scientific discoveries and draw the relevant conclusions. Dozens of news stories arrive daily about the food crisis, energy and raw material prices, climate change and other interrelated problems. The transgenic soybean (…) is not suitable for human consumption »(Fidel Castro Ruz, 06/12/2008) (2)

Silence continues in Cuba regarding the introduction of FR Bt1 corn. The media remain silent. The few debates that have arisen are reduced to small meetings, which curiously lean towards one or another trend of agricultural models –agroecological or transgenic-; Therefore, in this way it is not possible to place both models under the climate of a harmonious and constructive dialogue, and finally obtain beneficial procedures instituted for nature and for society. In general, the defenders of transgenics hide behind a discourse towards the deeply scientific at convenience, rhetoric and appear to underestimate that the agroecological model is also based on scientific bases. Additionally, they use explanatory resources, for others prepared at the laboratory level, to try to impose their FR Bt1 corn to the extreme.

The Head of the National Program for Agricultural Biotechnology in Cuba, Dr. Carlos G. Borroto, when addressing the undersigned (3), states that he would like to analyze this issue in the multiple spaces for scientific debate that we have in Cuba. Those of us who warn about the introduction of GMOs in the country also want that. And if so, what creates the greatest confusion and doubts is that if both parties want it, why are these scientific spaces not specified for reflection on this apparent clash of models? But it is essential that it be a debate on an equal footing, with impartial facilitation, without options for imposition or manipulation through presumptuous arguments.

Those who have the obligation to create spaces for reflection on this matter - hopefully and react to it - should never forget to take into account the excellent Cuban book: “Transgenics, what do you gain? What is lost? (4) Texts for a debate in Cuba ”. This would help balance the criteria statements on a scientific basis. But above all, neither should the authors or a representation of the more than 15 Cuban authors who participated in its preparation be absent from these spaces for reflection.

That debate should only be an important stage; It would be guaranteed that the country's scientific union had the opportunity to participate with voice and vote in it. Because this is an ethical issue, public debate must also be taken into account, where food producers and consumers should be given the opportunity to participate. With the aim of solving the problem of hunger, consumers cannot be seen as simple guinea pigs, waiting for them to decide what is the best that we can or cannot eat, without giving us the possibility to comment, much less to select ; especially to a town that enjoys a high cultural level, where 15% of the economically active population is professional and 53% is middle technician. That is, 68% of this large segment of the population is qualified.

On the other hand, most of the producers, whether they have qualifications or not, do have experiences, traditions, significant empiricism and their observations are highly valued. Today, the best results shown in the country are viewed from farms owned by private producers or cooperatives, and in each of these cases, it is operated under the principles of sustainable agriculture. Thus, the issue of which model to use, or how to harmonize models - that there are non-harmonic models - does not correspond only to a small group of prestigious scientists, but is a matter of popular participation; but not of participation to receive indications, but to contribute to decisions, especially in Cuba, that the greatest wealth has to be taken from the earth, but also giving life back to it, so that it continues to offer us healthy food.

One of the arguments put forward by genetically modified producers is to cast doubt on whether organic farming is capable of producing the 730 thousand tons of corn that is needed to substitute imports in Cuba. They insist on cornering agroecology to patios or small productive spaces and that the way is clear to the transgenic model. Due to the pressure that has been placed on them from a few places, they have begun to formulate a new concept: "agroecological transgenic crops".

Obviously, if this concept were institutionalized, it would logically be a novelty; because until now it is not conceived that transgenics can become agroecological. Due to these confusing and worrying trends, today more than ever it is necessary to specify such spaces for reflection.

The fact that in a monoculture transgenic corn plantation, it is treated with mycorrhizae, phytomas, brassinosteroids or another non-synthetic substance, and then rotated with soybeans, does not give it the status of agroecological. It does not matter the size of the areas to be planted with corn. It is not just a question of doubts, despite the dissimilar tests that the owners of transgenics claim that FR Bt1 maize has been done, in relation to the ecosystem implications, which may lead to its exploitation on a medium or long scale. term, with the homogenization of this monoculture; but also to the health of animals and humans.

It is necessary to clarify very convincing reasons that show in principle that agriculture without FR Bt1 corn is incapable of producing the 730 thousand tons that are needed, and that the immovable solution is to go to transgenics despite the risks.

The resource used by advocates of GMOs is that this event is resistant to corn moth (Spodoptera frugiperda) and tolerant to a herbicide. Obviously, the genes that must be introduced to these events are no small thing in order for these effects to be achieved. It is not clear whether or not he also has the suicide gene. They argue that it is not possible in Cuba to produce the aforementioned volumes if the moth is not attacked, and the best antidote would be this corn. However, most of the corn producers in the eastern region of Cuba - to name the one I know best - were losing almost the last five crops, and it was precisely not due to the moth or fall armyworm attack, but to the drought; that is, the lack of rainfall.


Fortunately, this year 2010 the landscape has changed, it rained at the right time, and from June until now, all or almost all producers have obtained important corn crops. Of course the moth has attacked, but the damage has not significantly compromised yields. The seeds used by the farmers were the traditional ones, those that they know and are exchanged, those that are adapted to their environments, those that withstand sudden climatic changes, those that even almost in dry conditions are capable of always offering some yield. In the past seasons it did not rain, but the farmers are certain that if it rains in the sowing and when the corn is gleaning, the harvest is assured. Will the FR Bt1 have that power of adaptation?

Normally in biodiverse systems, due to the complex food chains that form, insects rarely become pests. In that case, the moth resistance event is most likely unimportant. Herbicide tolerance would not be of interest either, since in these systems grass is controlled by the biodiversity of plants of agricultural interest, but herbs can also play their role in some spaces of the model. On the other hand, it is good to reflect on whether it would be more convenient to introduce transgenics in our fields, or to enhance the network of Entomophage and Entomopathogen Reproduction Centers (CREE) that we have throughout the country, and that they could produce enough Bacillus thuringiensis to contribute to control the moth.

There are several experiences that have shown the insignificant attack of moth when corn is combined with beans or other creeping or short species. In addition to all the tests that have been made to FR Bt1 –and that it would be good to place them in the eyes of the Cuban scientific community-, it would be remarkably interesting to have data from comparative studies of some of the creole varieties of corn that our farmers and farmers use. FR Bt1, under similar conditions.

In this way, data related to agricultural yield, the incidence of the moth in it and other indicators that show impacts on biodiversity could be compared. Logically, these studies would be reliable if they are carried out in different regions, under the highest level of control, with an impartial team that makes the evaluations, and using absolutely agroecological models and others with elementary agroecological practices that are close to the reality of the majority of countries. the farms; but also, that it be done during several seasons, using the seeds harvested by the farmers themselves from both types of corn.

It would not be bad to know how much the expenses incurred to finally obtain a corn amount, which needs licenses to be released and which is known to be located in the eye of the hurricane. It is known that their license is expiring and that their owners are desperately fighting to obtain a next one, which are being benefited by a silence, which at the moment seems obligatory; But if the decision is positive, it will only serve to intensify the demands made by the other part of the Cuban scientific and productive union that pay taxes to agriculture, thus demonstrating that it is necessary to count on it, when it comes to make compromising decisions. It would also be illustrative to know how much would have been achieved with the money used in the construction of that corn, if it had been put at the service of promoting the CREE or supporting Suburban Agriculture with which it is committed to producing at least 70 to 75% of national nutrition, and evidently moving towards the essential food sovereignty. For this, high food import values ​​must be lowered, close to 65%. However, I do not believe that returning to monoculture, and for the rest transgenic, although it is disguised as agroecological, are practices compatible with food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture.

Certainly, the dialogue that is needed must be respectful and we are ready for that; But disrespect begins when Cuban fields are broken into with unknown maize by a significant segment of the professional, productive and scientific union of Cuba; as well as the consumers that we all are. GMOs are also disrespected when in the University for All document: "Biotechnology and the elderly", in its Part 1 "Biotechnology and longevity", GMOs are offered as the panacea to solve hunger and cure ills. This recipe is just being given to one of the most fragile population segments, which is the elderly. Within the very ethics and respect that this matter requires, it is worth the fair informative part to measure, but not the insinuations to accept products that are not even produced in the country, which are the subject of international criticism and today today they are part of a national debate that is about to take place.

Alternative media will not be used to communicate reflections similar to these, regarding the matter at hand, when there is a statement from the official media, when enough clear information is provided for everyone, and when there are ethical spaces for debate. that put an end to the controversy by building truly fair solutions, without puns and popular acceptance. We do not want what happened in Mexico to happen in Cuba, although it is about hiding or distorting the implications that transgenics have brought in the destruction of that center of origin of corn. The document “Combating transgenic contamination around the world”, by GRAIN and published in Solidarity Notebook 3: “Food crisis. The antagonistic solutions ”, by the compiler Ariel Dacal of the Editorial Caminos of the Martin Luther King Memorial Center, makes it very clear the strategies that communities in Mexico have had to use in their fight against contamination caused by transgenic corn. Similar actions are also raised in Thailand, the Philippines and in western Canada; always against transgenic contamination.

It is necessary that it be very clear that biotechnology is not questioned, much less the great and essential achievements that have been achieved around the production of vaccines and other contributions to the health sector, to which I hope we all give the deserved recognition. It reflects particularly on the attempted large-scale introduction of transgenic FR Bt1 maize in Cuban fields. I also warn that the impartialities of FAO, of the main academies of the world and of other international organizations that deal with this matter are very little credible; for which I refer readers to the article: "Transgenics within the perverse model of neocolonyism and domination", recently published in Rebelión.

If we really want to move into the era of food and environmental sovereignty –which is also the only alternative-, we have to get rid of scientific pride, individual leadership, verticalism, impositions. You have to think about the earth and ourselves in unison. Let's modify everything, but differently, towards balance. We are not infatuated with looking for complicated and dubious alternatives. Let's take advantage of our vast biodiversity. Let's not underestimate what nature created for us as paradise. Nor do we dedicate ourselves to looking for possible solutions for supposed problems that are impossible to solve, unless it is not with the solutions that we have created. Let's stop challenging the rules and norms of nature. Let's use your natural paradigm more. Let's understand that nature can live perfectly without us, maybe even better. We will definitely find the spaces for joint reflection, but clear of presumptuous arrogance, and yes full of legitimate humility to arrive at worthy solutions.

Narciso Aguilera Marín, Agricultural Engineer, with a master's degree in biotechnology. Cuba

Editor's Notes:

(1) Fidel Castro Ruz, «The follies of our time», Reflection of the Commander in Chief, Cuba Debate, 04/25/2010:
http://www.cubadebate.cu/reflexiones-fidel/2010/04/25/las-locuras-de-nuestra-epoca/

(2) Alexis Rojas: "Letter from Fidel to a Juventud Rebelde journalist", Juventud Rebelde, June 12, 2008. (http://www.juventudrebelde.cu/cuba/2008-06-12/carta-de- fidel-a-journalist-de-joven-rebelde /), quoted in Transgénicos ¿Qué se gana? What is lost? Texts for a debate in Cuba. Fernando R. Funes-Monzote and Eduardo F. Freyre Roach (eds.). Aquarium Publications - Félix Varela Center, Havana 2009: p. 32-33 (of 320 p.)

(3) http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=106382

(4) Transgenics, what do you gain? What is lost? Texts for a debate in Cuba
http://www.rebelion.org/docs/106765.pdf


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