1. Cuba: Socialist GM Crops?

  2. Mexico: Controversial Genome Mapping

  3. Uruguay: Fight Against the Dominant Agricultural Model

  4. Central America: No to the Association Agreement with the EU

  5. Costa Rica: Carbon-neutral Discourse Generates Skepticism


1. Cuba: Socialist GM Crops?

Fernando Funes urges for a national debate on
the production and consumption of GM produce.
Photo: http://alocubano.nireblog.com/.

The decision made by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechonology of Cuba (CIBG) to move forward with the production of genetically modified (GM) maize is causing concern among sectors that favor organic agriculture in the country.

"It seems that CIBG will soon be receiving a license to cultivate transgenic corn in Cuba on thousands of hectares and that the introduction of the technology has the complete support of the State," according to the Cuban agro-ecologist Fernando Funes. In an article published by Food First, Funes maintains that the vast majority of the Cuban population is not aware of the decision and urges for a national debate on the production and consumption of GM produce.

"Cuba’s experience with transgenic crops will be similar to those of other countries, where agriculture has less and less of a future, displacing entire populations from the countryside as their land and their ability to develop in a healthy and sovereign manner gets ripped away from them," warns Funes. "The agro-ecological models offer a mosaic of options to solve each problem and an alternative for future food production for the world and the Cuban population."


Funes, Fernando, "Transgenic Food Production in Cuba: The Need for a Participatory and Serious Debate," http://www.foodfirst.org/en/node/2451.

See also:

Centro de Ingenería Genética y Biotecnología de Cuba, http://www.cigb.edu.cu/.



2. Mexico: Controversial Genome Mapping

On May 11, Mexico’s National
Institute of Genomic Medicine
(Inmegen) presented the "Mexican
Genome Map."
Photo: www.sapiensideas.com.

On May 11, in a high profile presentation attended by President Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s National Institute of Genomic Medicine (Inmegen) presented the "Mexican Genome Map." The hope is that the information obtained through this "map" will lead to discoveries in genetic variations between individuals and ethnic populations in Mexico that will in turn facilitate the development of personalized medicine based on the genetic composition of each individual.

However, the subject of human biodiversity is becoming just as political and controversial as the biodiversity of plants and animals. According to Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group, the majority of diseases have little or nothing to do with the genetic makeup of an individual and much more to do with environmental causes. "The development of diseases is not independent of the environment which include nutritional, hygienic, economic, ecological, and cultural elements, as well as many others," states Ribeiro in a column published in the Mexican daily, La Jornada. "Genomic medicine is an extremely fragmented approach that fails to include a large part of the essential elements that must be taken into account when thinking about health and disease."

"The diseases that Inmegen researches (asthma, obesity, cancer, and lupus) involve a great number of socioeconomic and environmental factors, determined by poverty, pollution, malnutrition, toxic components in foods and housing, etc., all of which fall outside of their research."

At any rate, according to Ribeiro, it is unlikely that the benefits of the genome map—if there are any—will be made available to the poor. "All of the tools used to link genetic variations with diseases and for the development of pharmacogenomic medicines are patented by a few pharmaceutical and information technology companies … As such, the results of these studies, assuming they are not completely useless, will be totally out of the reach of the individuals, such as indigenous peoples, that have ultimately contributed their genes in order to increase the profits of diagnostic and pharmaceutical companies."


Ribeiro, Silvia, "La farsa del mapa genómico de los mexicanos," La Jornada, May 23, 2009, http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/49422.


3. Uruguay: Fight Against the Dominant Agricultural Model

On June 5, World Environment Day, Uruguayan environmental activists found little to celebrate. In an open letter signed by a dozen organizations, they defended small scale family farming as indispensable not just for the social and economic stability of the nation, but for the preservation of biodiversity and in the fight against global climate change.

The document was emphatic in its rejection of the dominant agricultural model, based on vast monoculture plantations. "This predominant model is an agricultural model without farmers, based on major transnational capital, large machinery, and the massive use of toxic agrochemicals, that displaces and contaminates the small farmer and leaves no alternative other than to abandon his/her farm."

"Fighting against climate change implies fighting against this monoculture model that results in the destruction of our soil, mountains, natural meadowlands, water, and family farmers."

The letter ends stating: "The signing organizations call on the entire population to unite and support small farmers so that they may remain on their lands. If they remain on their farms, we will guarantee that our lands will continue to produce food for the people and not for monoculture products or monoculture forestry that only create desolation, destruction of the social fabric, and environmental degradation."

One of the signing organizations, RAPAL Uruguay, is dismayed with the news that the Uruguayan government is open to authorizing the entrance of the U.S. transnational, Monsanto. Allowing Monsanto to enter Uruguay would signal the introduction of GM seeds to the country by a corporation that dominates the field of agricultural biotechnology around the globe. "While there is talk of a natural Uruguay, there is a continued use of toxic agrochemicals and GM cultivation on a massive level, none of which is ‘natural’," states a May 29 communiqué. "While there is talk of a productive Uruguay, our agricultural sector is at the mercy of transnational corporations like Monsanto."


Uruguayan organizations, "¿Día del Medio ambiente o Ambiente partido al Medio?" June 5, 2009, http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/49699.

RAPAL Uruguay, "Del Uruguay natural al transgénico y del Uruguay productivo al de la Monsanto," May 29, 2009, http://webs.chasque.net/~rapaluy1/transgenicos/Uruguay/Monsanto.html.

See also:



4. Central America: No to the Association Agreement with the EU

Central American campesino organizations have carried out an important role
in the opposition to the proposed Free Trade Agreement with the EU.
Photo: http://lahistoriadeldia.wordpress.com.

Central American civil society is intensifying its opposition campaign to the proposed Free Trade Agreement between Central America and the European Union, also known as the Association Agreement. Campesino organizations associated with Vía Campesina have carried out an important role in the campaign.

"The so-called ‘Association Agreement’ is nothing more than a Free Trade Agreement that has liberalization in favor of multinational companies and the privatization of natural resources and public services … as main goals," states Vía Campesina.

"Even though this agreement includes human rights or environmental clauses, it is clear that the goal is to allow the multinational companies to take power over public services, natural resources, the financial system, biodiversity, and the genetic resources that are abundant in the Central American region."

In particular, Vía Campesina worries that transnational agro-business interests will use the agreement to impose an agricultural export and predatory model on Central America. The organization also warns that this model includes the indispensable element of imposed patents that could threaten original seeds, ancestral knowledge, the sovereignty of communities/indigenous peoples, and the production of healthy foods.


Vía Campesina, "Social Movements Reject the Free Trade Agreement EU-Central America," April 8, 2009, http://www.viacampesina.org/main_en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=699&Itemid=1.

For Further Reading:



5. Costa Rica: Escepticismo ante el discurso del carbono neutral

In an article published in the magazine Biodiversidad, Sustento y Culturas, Javier Baltodano, of Amigos de la Tierra Costa Rica, questions the use of carbon markets/stocks to combat climate change.

"Despite the seriousness of the subject, both governments and corporations often approach it through a double discourse. Instead of assuming the challenge with responsibility and promoting real, concrete reductions of emissions through diminishing the use of fossil fuels, they limit them through this game of offsets and carbon markets. This way they maintain the same levels of CO2 consumption and production while indulging themselves, or due to marketing interests, they continue to buy the reductions that someone else has supposedly carried out."

Baltodano criticizes the schemes in which the planting of trees is used as a means of compensating for carbon emitted in another part of the world in particular. "They do not specify that it’s not a forest they are planting, but rather plantations of monoculture trees that use large amounts of agricultural investment and destroy the local biodiversity."

He maintains that carbon markets do not produce any reduction of the dependency on fossil fuels or protect forests. Baltonado prefers the solution of food sovereignty "localized within campesino plots, agro-forestry systems, and local markets that drastically reduce the need for massive transport and agrochemicals."


Javier Baltodano, "El doble discurso del carbono neutral," Biodiversidad, Sustento y Culturas, April 2009, Página 25, http://www.grain.org/biodiversidad/?id=433.