Transgenics in Peru and Honduras

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Luigi at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog links to a pretty good, balanced article about GE crops in both Peru and Honduras. Travis Lupik interviewed a bunch of people, including farmers, to write Doctored crops stir Latin American debate, published at Straight. Take a read.

There were a couple slight problems, such as how the article was framed at the beginning – assuming that banning GE crops protects biodiversity. But this is partly addressed later in the article. This was my favorite passage:

When the Straight arrived on a hot day in February, María Mercedes Roca, a professor of biotechnology and an outspoken advocate for GM crops, immediately launched into a defence of GM crops with an attack on conventional farming practices.

“Managing diseases the way we have done for the last four or five decades with chemical pesticides doesn’t work because we are creating resistance to chemicals,” she argued. For Roca, GM crops are an environmentally friendly technology that humans can use to meet growing demands for food.

A former member of Greenpeace and now serving on Honduras’s National Committee for Biosafety, Roca said that Zamorano has conducted biosafety trials for Monsanto. She maintained that risks associated with GM crops have been greatly exaggerated. As an example, she showed the Straight a Honduran newspaper clipping that quoted a member of parliament who claimed that GM maize grown in Honduras was linked to the spread of HIV.

Walking Zamorano’s fields, Roca listed opponents’ concerns about GM crops and then quickly explained why she has concluded that each one is baseless.

The risk of cross-pollination is nothing new to agriculture and has been dealt with for hundreds of years, she explained. At Zamorano, crops are planted at different times, fields growing different crops are separated by a minimum of 20 metres, and four-metre-high walls of king grass separate fields to catch seeds travelling in the wind.

Health and environmental concerns related to Bt-modified crops are equally unfounded, Roca continued, making no effort to hide her frustration. After more than a decade of scientific research and commercial production in the U.S., “there is no evidence that suggests that transgenic crops are worse for the environment or worse for human health than their conventional counterparts,” she claimed.

Roca conceded that the relatively high cost of GM seeds is prohibitive for many poor farmers. But she noted that nobody is forcing anybody to grow GM crops.

For subsistence farmers who don’t have access to high-quality soil, fertilizer, and irrigation, GM crops often don’t make sense, Roca said. “On the other hand, if you even have the bare minimum, it pays. And if you are an industrial producer, it makes every sense.”

A former member of Greenpeace, too! Interesting.

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Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.