GM crops in Colombia
On June 19, 2013 Monsanto the provider company of products for agriculture received the World Food Prize which recognizes the work and achievements of those who work to improve the quality, availability or increasing food production. Since I heard this news the issue had been around in my head, because I know a little about the history and actions of this and other transnational companies which control much of world’s agriculture.
A few days ago I was doing market and I told my mom about what I know about the products we buy, but I realized that was not so clear and I felt the need not only to understand well the implications of the economic liberalization in the field of food in Colombia, but also to clearly explain to those who are interested, whether to be proactive or just to be clear about what we are eating.
A GM is a living organism that doesn’t exists in nature because it has been artificially created through genetic engineering techniques, to isolate parts of DNA from one species to feed into another. This is done so that the new crops develop skills that would normally be out of reach, and to achieve two basic objectives: to produce toxic substances to control pests and to tolerate herbicides, which are products that are used to manipulate the growth of unwanted plants.
The main argument by which these genetic changes are made means that GM crops should be more productive, optimize the use of nonrenewable resources and can contribute to a solution to end world hunger.
Monsanto is not the only transnational company that has ventured into the business of agriculture, yet it is clear that it has tackled it transversally, controlling the majority of GM crops in the world. So the business works:
Monsanto produces sterile seeds for GM crops. This means that farmers can not harvest the crop seeds, as these do not exist, and therefore can not start a new agricultural cycle, unless they buy Monsanto seeds again.
These seeds are tolerant to glyphosate, a herbicide that prevents the growth of weeds, but at the same time has presented irregularities in the testing process to check if it is toxic to humans.
Glyphosate is produced and marketed by Monsanto under the trade name Roundup.
The herbicide-tolerant plants require farmers to use more pesticides to control weeds, and this chemical pollution can lead to the extinction of some species that have been generated by natural selection in natives cultures and local producers. On the other hand, this agricultural model has been created by the United States, and is intended to apply in other south american countries, using the Free Trade Agreements that have been signed with the North American country. The farmers must compete with agricultural multinationals, and they must also buy the seeds that will be used to grow, thanks to the 1032 Act passed in Colombia. This law protects the intellectual property of the “improved” seeds stating that only those who are certified and patented are legal, and any other similar thing, even the original seed that was modified, it is illegal.
In short, farmers who plant with seeds that have been harvested and stored from previous crops could become criminals, forcing them into the vicious circle of Monsanto’s business, with a high probability of finishing broken or displaced. From the foregoing also detach health implications, as yet the extent of GM crops is unknown, and side effects have occurred in the consumption of these foods, and where it is grown with these seeds, related to allergies , antibiotic resistance and pollution from overuse of chemicals.
GM crops in Colombia
The Colombian landscape in this area was more hopeful until the late 90s, as the country was self-sustaining in terms of agriculture, however, conditions began to change after economic liberalization. Colombia has been importing transgenic corn and soybeans as for more than 15 years, and communication about this issue for society is not the right one, since production companies and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) oppose GM products labeling as such.
Even though a risk assessment process to let GM crops in the country exists, in 2005 the government issued a decree which was opposed by several NGOs, requiring licensing of all transgenic crops from entering and monitoring Monsanto’s activities in Colombia , the National Biosafety Technical Council reviewed the appeal and the process is no longer consistent. Now the risks to the environment and public health are even worse.
There is an obvious problem of communication, since the sectors involved have restricted access to information, not only from the transgenic product labels, and society should at least know this.
Initiatives to counter the impact on our society
Many NGOs and activist groups have risen to defend our national heritage. This is the case of the indigenous community Zenú, who in 2005 managed to declare the indigenous San Andrés de Sotavento as GE Free Territory, to protect biodiversity over 20 varieties of corn.
It is important that before pursuing initiatives in which we participate to contribute to local food producers, we review our spending habits and understand which GM food we have in our lives, because if we can choose a natural product regardless of price, this is the best way to help.
Anyway there are campaigns and organizations supporting biodiversity and native Colombian agriculture, with which we can link up and participate as we like to protect local production. This is what we can do:
Link up to the campaign for the protection of biodiversity and food sovereignty, Semillas de Identidad
Visit the agroecological shop ColyFlor
Get to know Grupo Semillas
Support local organic markets and initiatives through digital media
Ofrescos is a young company committed to the food security of Colombia. They have an online delivery website through which you can order fresh products every day. They have a line of organic fruits, vegetables and some cereals with which we can contribute and support local production, in addition to eating delicious.
La Canasta is another option to buy home agroecological products. They have an online system to order baskets for 1-4 people, with around 15 products from fruits, vegetables and eggs, and also can request additional coffee, cheeses, jams, rice, among others, who do a very thorough market .