By Fabián Pacheco
The Department of Biotechnology of the State Phytosanitary Service has been unable to adequately monitor the crops of genetically modified organisms that are grown in Costa Rica, for which the national biosecurity faces a situation of chaos, which endangers both farmers and consumers .
Costa Rican Biosecurity: The Wolf Taking Care of the Sheep
The Department of Biotechnology of the State Phytosanitary Service has been unable to adequately monitor the crops of genetically modified organisms (transgenic) that are currently being developed in various parts of Costa Rica, for which the national biosecurity faces a situation of chaos, which puts in danger to both farmers and consumers.
Transgenic plants are plant varieties that have been genetically modified in laboratories to make them more resistant to pests or to give them characteristics different from those of their natural genetic structure.
In Costa Rica, environmental groups have asked the Government to declare a moratorium on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) since the negative impacts that they could have on health and the environment have not been proven with certainty.
Faced with this reality, the State has decided to delegate responsibility for the supervision and control of this type of crops to the private company, which constitutes nonsense taking into account the powerful interests of the private transnational companies that dominate the transgenic market. .
In Costa Rica there is an entity called the National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNB), which studies new requests to introduce transgenics into the country.
This commission advises and gives advice to the competent authorities that would approve or deny the introduction of a transgenic organism.
In the CTNB, not only representatives of the State and private companies participate, but also members of environmental groups that bring the voice and concerns of civil society.
For this reason, the Delta and Pine company has presented a challenge (a type of legal recourse) where it requires the Ministry of Agriculture not to deliver the information presented to introduce two new varieties of transgenic cotton to representatives of our Network or the Costa Rican Federation to conservation of the Environment (FECON), both groups with representation in the CTNB.
What new varieties of cotton do you want to introduce in the country? We will not be able to comment on them in this article because the Phytosanitary Service of the State Ministry of Agriculture pays more attention to the Delta and Pine transgenic seeds corporation than to the Costa Rican Executive Power itself and keeps that information secret.
Without any competent authority on legal matters to rule on the matter, we have simply been denied the information, to which we should have full access because an inter-ministerial decree of the Executive Power of the State establishes it.
Unfortunately, for many public officials the sovereignty of the State in these times seems to be an abstraction. Faced with less corporate pressure, these officials give in without question. Once again the private interest takes precedence over the rights of civil society.
At this time we have presented the matter in the form of an appeal before the Constitutional Chamber, whose resolution would establish a precedent of singular importance in terms of rights of citizen participation.
Meanwhile, the Civic Committee of Cañas (Guanacaste region where multiple varieties of transgenic cotton are planted) has reported to the CTNB outbreaks and leaks of transgenic botanical material already introduced in the country, which is presumably controlled? by the companies and by the corresponding state departments.
The consequences of this lack of control are many and very dangerous.
We can cite, as an example, the fact that people who are unaware of the transgenic origin and the legal restrictions around these plants, innocently harvest transgenic cotton seeds from supposedly restricted and controlled areas.
For this reason, Costa Rica has uncontrolled outbreaks of transgenic material here and there: there are more than 1,400 hectares of transgenic crops scattered throughout different parts of the country under the supervision of a single official from the Department of Biotechnology of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock ( MAG), which presents serious resource limitations to be able to effectively monitor these crops.
Faced with this situation, they have put the wolf to take care of the sheep, that is, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has decided to transfer the responsibility of carrying out the control monitoring to the private company, that is, naively? places national biosecurity in the hands of corporations.
In the Official Gazette "La Gaceta" of July 22, 2005, number 142, the regulation on Agricultural Biosafety Audits of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Costa Rica was published.
Said regulation establishes the creation of companies that offer the monitoring service to companies or institutions that are sowing transgenic organisms in the country.
As the famous saying goes: Who pays for the dance sets the music.
Therefore, the companies that impose the greatest biosecurity restrictions on
transgenic companies will get fewer and fewer hires.
Said biosecurity companies? They will serve private corporate interests more than national interests in order to protect the environment and people from the impacts that transgenic crops present.
UNEP - GEF obstructs civil participation
For their part, the executors of the project "Development of a National Biosafety Framework for Costa Rica" (UNEP-GEF) are preparing a bill before the Legislative Assembly that, if approved, would make the National Technical Commission of Biosecurity (CTNB) of the country.
The CTNB is an important platform where the Biodiversity Coordination Network and the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON) actively participate, whose members do not represent business but environmental interests.
The participation within the CTNB of these two social organizations has been vital to maintain a healthy balance in the debate concerning national biosecurity.
This participation is one of the most important achievements in terms of advocacy on participation and national biosecurity that the indigenous, peasant and environmental movement has reached in Costa Rica.
As if the exclusion of civil society were not enough, this proposed law would incorporate the Ministry of Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Economy, Industry and Commerce into the new entity that would replace the role of the CTNB.
We believe that these ministries have priority political and economic criteria that would hinder healthy decision-making on biosafety. How can the Ministry of Economy contribute to the evaluation of adverse impacts of transgenic organisms?
It should be noted that the same Cartagena Protocol (protocol that gives rise to the implementation of projects to establish national biosafety frameworks facilitated by UNEP-GEF in our region) clearly establishes the participation of civil society, taking into account economic and cultural of indigenous communities.
Therefore, the exclusion of these sectors reveals the absolute decline, not only in the product (Proposed Law of Modified Living Organisms and their Derivatives), but in the process itself as the project was executed: UNEP-GEF to establish a biosafety framework in Costa Rica.
Given the situation described above, one might ask: Who would represent the sectors of civil society? Who would represent the indigenous and peasant sector?
The proposed law in question would establish a really weak and therefore dangerous definition of precaution.
This definition that the UNEP - GEF project intends to bequeath to Costa Rica is set forth below:
Caution: Lack of scientific knowledge and studies or scientific consensus shall not necessarily be interpreted as indicative of a certain level of risk or the existence of an acceptable risk.
It is not possible that a definition of “precaution” contributes to the introduction of transgenic organisms for which there is not sufficient scientific evidence regarding safety, especially when we are talking about risks or impacts that could be irreversible.
From the environmental sector, we consider that biotechnology corporations are the ones that should have the responsibility of guaranteeing absolute security over their inventions.
If they can't do it, they shouldn't turn our tables and our fields into an open-air experiment.
We believe that objective and responsible legislation should stipulate the burden of proof on corporations.
This concept has been implemented in the biosafety frameworks of multiple countries in the world and in the proposed law in question it is conspicuous by its absence.
It is unacceptable for private profit to override public welfare. Therefore, a definition of precaution as established in the UNEP-GEF bill is unacceptable in Costa Rica.
Transgenic pineapple vs. Free Communities
The CTNB recently received a request to introduce transgenic pineapple
in the canton of Buenos Aires de Puntarenas.
The request will be evaluated by said commission, although the final decision is in the hands of the State Phytosanitary Service.
It should be noted that there are other communities, such as Paraíso de Cartago, which is the first municipality free of transgenic organisms in the country through official means by a municipal decree.
There are also many more places in Costa Rica that are GMO free.
In Santa Bárbara de Santa Cruz de Guanacaste, a group of people grouped around an interesting and visionary solar energy project, have decided to declare their kitchens, their homes and their fields free of transgenics.
We call on the other municipalities in the region to close their agricultural frontier to transgenic seeds. We are calling to close the doors of our homes to the seeds of corporate domination, we are calling to close the doors to the seeds that alter the order of life.
Saying no to GMOs is one more step on the path to the sustainability of our peoples, because the appropriation through patents on life is immoral and violates the basic rights of our peoples.
The best way to do biosecurity is to close the doors to GMOs, for this, true community biosecurity frameworks must be established.
Biosecurity is not just a matter for a small sector of academics meeting in committees. Biosecurity is a matter for each and every one of us.
* Ing. Agro. Fabian Pacheco: Representative of the Biodiversity Coordination Network of Costa Rica before the National Technical Commission for Biosafety (CTNB).