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GMOs in Uruguay

GMOs in Uruguay

By María Isabel Cárcamo

In 1998, the first transgenic crop was introduced in Uruguay: Round up Ready soybeans (RR). This introduction was made without the knowledge of civil society, so the possibility of discussion of the subject was denied, both to the producer unions, as well as to the university, consumers, and NGOs.

GMOs in Uruguay: animals more protected than human beings

The transgenic invasion

In 1998, the first transgenic crop was introduced in Uruguay: Round up Ready soybeans (RR). This introduction was made without the knowledge of civil society, so the possibility of discussion of the subject was denied, both to the producer unions, as well as to the university, consumers, and NGOs.

Year after year its cultivation has increased dramatically, accompanied by the technological package of pesticides. The massive use of pesticides has grown in proportion to the cultivation of transgenic soybeans, causing enormous impacts on human health and the environment.
Among the most widely used pesticides are glyphosate, paraquat, 2,4 D and endosulfan, all of them highly toxic and banned in many countries, both in Europe and Asia.


It is worth mentioning that another of the consequences that this introduction has caused has been the displacement of other traditional crops in Uruguay such as wheat and barley.

Soybeans are followed by transgenic corn. In 2003, the Mon 810 corn was started and in 2004 Bt11 corn was introduced. The introduction of corn was questioned by civil society organizations, which still claim to have more information about the environmental impacts and human life of these crops. To level
parliamentarian severely questioned the introduction of Mon 810 corn
questioning the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries, considering that this new event would not have any benefit for agriculture or economic; even more, it would destroy the slogan that was on the rise at that time: "Uruguay, Natural Country."
Unfortunately, at the time of voting, the majority of the deputies present chose to support the authorization of this event. Organized civil society strongly questioned its introduction, but the debate and the option to participate in this decision were denied, in both events.

Both soybeans and corn are basically produced to be exported as animal feed, although soybeans are increasingly used in processed foods and in the case of Bt11 corn, varieties of sweet corn are marketed.

Insufficient controls

The introduction of transgenics is under the so-called biosecurity framework. Uruguay participated from the beginning in the negotiations for the implementation of Article 19 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which led to the adoption of the Cartagena Protocol on biosafety.

The body in charge of including environmental regulations regarding transgenic crops is the Ministry of Housing, Land Management and the Environment. This body coordinates with other public and private entities the measures to be adopted in the face of risks that could arise.

The introduction into the national territory of genetically manipulated organisms, whatever the form or regime under which it is carried out, is subject to the prior authorization of the competent authority.

In 2000, a decree was drawn up and the Commission for the Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Vegetables was created, as an inter-institutional sphere of analysis and advice, made up of the Ministries of Housing, Land Management and Environment; Livestock, Agriculture and Fishing; and Public Health; in addition to the Institute
National Seed Institute (INASE) and the Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA). Said Commission intervenes in the authorization procedures for any of the possible applications of plants and their genetically modified parts, for the purposes of reviewing and studying risk assessments.

Meanwhile, the introduction, use and manipulation of plants and their genetically modified parts can only be carried out with prior authorization from:
.- The General Directorate of Agricultural Services of the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries, or the National Institute of Seeds.

.- The Ministries of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries and of Economy and Finance, jointly, for production or import for the first time for direct consumption or transformation.

The case of sweet corn for human consumption

In the introduction of Bt11 corn, the regulations established according to the existing regulatory framework were complied with. However, the legal framework makes no mention of whether a different requirement must be met if these crops are for consumption.
direct human.

According to INASE in the country, only those cultivars of forage, cereal and oilseed species that are registered in the National Registry of Cultivars may be marketed, for which they must have previously been evaluated agronomically.


Corn is both a forage crop and a horticultural crop, but nothing is said about horticultural seeds, such as sweet corn intended for human consumption. In Uruguay, transgenic corn Bt11dulce GH 0937 has been sold since October 2004 without being registered by the National Seed Institute (INASE).

According to current regulations, this variety is correctly approved, since it is a variety of corn for horticultural use and therefore does not have a mandatory registration. Horticultural seeds introduced to Uruguay do not need to be registered. Could it be that
animals should be more protected than humans?

Faced with this situation, it is worth asking, how is the concept of biosecurity applied? Is it that biosecurity is fulfilled simply by classifying sweet corn GH 0937 as a horticultural seed and for that reason alone it becomes biologically safe?

The lack of clarity and the lack of seriousness with which the country has faced the introduction of these crops is clearly exposed. Decrees have been drawn up with the objective of evaluating before releasing genetically manipulated crops into the environment, but it was not taken into account that corn is a totally different crop and even more so
when it comes to sweet corn. The effects that these crops can cause both on human health and on the environment have not been taken into account.

The foregoing would be a violation of the Cartagena Protocol, whose article 2 states that “The Parties shall ensure that the development, handling, transport, authorization, transfer and release of any living modified organisms are carried out in a way that
avoid or reduce risks to biological diversity, also taking into account risks to human health. "

A major loophole

In November 2005 RAPAL (Network of Action on Pesticides and their Alternatives for Latin America) together with the Bioptimists Collective, denounced to the authorities irregularities in the sale of sweet corn from the Bt11 event of seeds not registered by the National Seed Institute.

Faced with the facts raised once again, it was discovered that the regulations are not only insufficient but also that the few that exist are not met either.

In effect, since June 20, 2003 there has been a resolution of the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries together with the Ministry of Economy and Finance where it is specified that one of the requirements for the sale of this seed is the labeling: "On the label , that
identifies the container of the corn seed for this event, it must include an explicit reference to the words: "MON 810", of sufficient enhancement and visibility, regardless of any other reference to the variety or characteristic for which that event is coding " . It is worth mentioning that the resolution for the Bt11 is exactly the same with regard to labeling.

The GH 0937 sweet corn for sale in Montevideo was not labeled, the control authorities did not do so and only in November 2005 concrete measures were taken after the denunciation of these irregularities by civil society.

This fact shows that the country is far from complying with a biosafety framework and from having the adequate tools to implement it. Added to this is the specific difficulty that we must face once the transgenic seeds are released, that nature cannot be controlled and there is a greater risk when it comes to corn due to the type of pollination it performs.

The discussion and evaluation of these crops should take place at the level of society as a whole. The development of a regulatory framework and clear policies could help to achieve greater transparency and fill that legal vacuum in which all Uruguayans find ourselves, and in the meantime we are being contaminated and invaded both visually and on our plates by these crops. But the problem of transgenic crops goes far beyond mere regulation and the ultimate goal must be their complete elimination.

Sources consulted
CORN MON 810 (No. 0307/101 M.G.A.P)
http://www.inase.org.uy/
CORN BT 11 (No. 304/290/2004 M.G.A.P.)

Report on the progress made in Uruguay in the field of
UNEP-GEF project Development of a National Biosafety Framework (NBM)
http://www.unep.ch/biosafety/development/countryreports/UYprogressrep.pdf

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention
on biological diversity
http://www.biodiv.org/doc/legal/cartagena-protocol-es.pdf

* Maria Isabel Cárcamo
RAPAL Uruguay
February 7, 2006


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