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Groups oppose genetically modified pineapple

March 4, 2011

A request seeking to grow genetically modified pineapple in Costa Rica for commercial purposes has been facing strong opposition from environmental and political leaders across the country.

The initiative is so polemical that a group of lawmakers from several political parties issued a joint statement Feb. 16 against the request, made by a company named L.M. Veintiuno, S.A.

On Dec. 8, 2010, the company requested permits that would allow it to “partly” commercialize genetically modified pineapples it had previously produced under a research-only permit granted in 2005. The requests were made to the National Biotechnology Program (PNB), a government agency responsible for assessing the pubic health and safety impact of genetically modified products in Costa Rica. The company’s genetically modified pineapple contains more carotenoids than a non-transgenic pineapple.

Carotenoids are nutrients that also serve as antioxidants and can be found in the pigment that colors other fruits and vegetables, such as carrots.

The company is seeking “semi-commercial planting of the best selected lines” in a 49-acre field belonging to the Del Monte Development Corporation (Pindeco). The first crops of genetically modified pineapples would be processed in September if the permits are granted.

The company invited government officials to visit its facilities.

The Tico Times sought more details of the project from Luis Gómez, corporate relations vice president at Pindeco, but by press time he had not answered questions sent to him.

If the company obtains the permits, this would be the first time genetically modified crops would be grown in Costa Rica for purposes other than research. But the company is facing tough political resistance.

“Costa Rica does not have the regulatory nor auditing capacity to inspect and sanction lack of controls in projects of this nature,” said Jose María Villalta, lawmaker for the Broad Front Party and an outspoken critic of genetically modified crops. “This is a serious matter and the government should not grant the permits.”

“Plus, the regular pineapple industry is constantly embroiled in environmental scandals because of alleged water pollution and forest destruction. Even Europe’s got problems with this issue, despite having many more controls in place than we do,” he said.

But the pineapple industry is pushing its agenda for genetically modified produce forward, despite strong public opposition, because genetically modified crops could potentially mean big profits for multinational companies, said Fabián Pacheco, member of the Costa Rican Ecologist Front and a member of the PNB. 

“Once these pineapples are exported, they become a patentable life form, and the genetic heritage becomes a registered trademark. These products destabilize the environment by introducing products that nature would have never created,” Pacheco said.

“The main dilemma here is whether private interests are above the common good. Genetically modified experiments have not turned out to be a success story in the country,” he said.

Several years ago, genetically modified cottonseed developed in the northern province of Guanacaste for export to the United States spread to small farms and grew out of farmers’ control, leading to biological crop contamination.

“In the case of the cottonseed, there is no way to isolate what’s already been spread in the environment, and we are fearful it may happen to the pineapples,” said Claudio Monge, member of the Legislative Assembly’s environmental commission. “In my opinion those incidents are not accidental, because once a transgenic product is used naively by small farmers, the farmers are subject to lawsuits, as has happened in places like Canada and the United States.”

Currently, there is no deadline for a final ruling on whether or not to grant the permits. In the meantime, politicians, environmentalist and farmers wait for the next chapter in Costa Rica’s ongoing debate over the future of genetically modified crops.

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