In a unanimous vote the Municipal Council of San Jose passed a motion banning transgenic food from the region. The new measure prohibits the sale, consumption and growth of genetically modified food within the municipality.
The municipality’s decision comes less than a month following the decision from Costa Rica’s National Biosecurity Technical Commission to allow multinational company Monsanto to grow genetically modified corn in the country.
More than half of Costa Rica’s local authorities or cantons have voted to ban GM crops in protest against Monsanto gaining a foothold in the country.
Over 2/3rds of Costa Rica has banned GM.
Latest reports are that 56 of the 81 cantons have outlawed GM crops in support of popular demonstrations against Monsanto using Costa Rica as a nursery to grow GM seed for export.
The backlash against GMs began in late 2012 when a Monsanto subsidiary, Delta & Pine Land, asked for permission to plant about five acres of maize with four GM seed varieties giving herbicide tolerance and insect resistance.
This sparked a rash of protests across the country, and hundreds of people massed in front of the National Technical Commission of Biosafety (CTNBio) headquarters, the body in charge of the applications for the release of GMOs. CTNBio has been heavily criticised for limiting access to information and participation in discussions about GM seeds.
Eventually, CTNBio said Monsanto could go ahead. Protesters were furious that the decision followed others allowing GM cotton, soybeans, bananas, and pineapples to grow in the country. The acreage is small but the symbolism is huge: allowing Monsanto in could increase large scale commercial exploitation of Costa Rica’s extraordinary environment.
Monsanto gets a foot in the door.
As soon as word spread that Monsanto had the green light, the backlash began. Besides environmental groups, the agriculture and biology departments at the University of Costa Rica, as well as the Costa Rican Agronomy Engineers Association, wrote letters warning of the inherent dangers of using seeds provided by scientists working in labs rather than nature.
On the same day Monsanto was granted its permission, the cantons of Aserri, San Jose, and San Rafael de Heredia banned GMs from their soil.
Opposition fury boiled over with an appeal to the constitutional court, arguing that CTNBio should make information about the release of GM seeds public, questioning the regulation of CTNBio and criticising the allocation of licences to plant GM seeds (1). As of July this year, the constitutional court has suspended CTNBio’s original approval until a ruling is made on the issue.
To highlight the opposition to these releases, a march was organised. It lasted one week, and covered 125 miles from Gauancaste to San jose, the country’s capital. The marchers swelled in numbers as they reached the capital, and more than 300 people arrived in San Jose in time for a decision about the moratorium on GMOs in the canton.
There is genuine concern that should authorities give the green light for the cultivation of GMOs, particularly corn (maize) would damage the cultural heritage of native seeds, and may also expose the public to health risks.
Protests against GM crops in Costa Rica are not new. In 2004, green groups won a concession from the government which allowed two of their members and one from the environment ministry to sit on the panel at CTNBio.
Costa Rica signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in 2000 and it became law in 2007. The ministry of agriculture is working on a draft agreement which would regulate imports of US GM grains and other products.
Environmentalists have called for legislation to ban the import of transgenic grains, and to label GM foods. Costa Rica imports more than $300 million in commodities that may contain transgenic ingredients each year. Processed food imports, many of which contain ingredients derived from biotech commodities, are growing, and according to the Central America Data website,10,600 hectares of GM crops have been cultivated for biotech research or for seed production in the last 20yrs.(2)
Threat to biodiversity.
So far, the law has not stopped the planting or import of GM products into a country with abundant flora and fauna. As Professor Bert Kohlmann from the EARTH University in Costa Rica has written; “what makes Costa Rica special is its species density (number of species per unit of area). Using this measure, Costa Rica could probably occupy the first place in the world.”
Many see Monsanto’s arrival as a threat to this. “This giant multinational corporation controls the dissemination of seeds and is probably trying to do the same in Costa Rica as they have done in North America,” said Jenny Giddy, who founded the Cloudbridge nature reserve in Costa Rica with her late husband, Professor Ian Giddy. “Monsanto may make it very difficult for farmers to grow heritage crops.”
The Costa Rica government, said Ms Giddy, has excellent intentions, aiming to protect much more of the country than most other countries in the world. “But the environment ministry is not funded as well as it might be and it is hard for them to enforce regulations.”
Threat to centre of origin for maize.
Part of the opposition to the application for trials of corn (maize) by Monsanto, come from those who argue that Costa Rica is part of Mesoamerica, the centre of the origin of maize.
As with all anti-GM campaigns there is an element of resistance because of threat of corporate control of the food supply, and while many feel that this is the only reason for opposition, the fierce campaigning by Costa Ricans to defend their heritage and environment shows that the threat of GMOs has far wider implications than just monopolisation of seeds.
It looks like Costa Rica is determined to defend the last third of their country against GM and Monsanto, After all 60% have voted to make it illegal to plant GMOs within the Canton lines in just the past three months.
We wish them every luck.
This article originally appeared at GMEducation.org and is republished here with their written permission.
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