Agriculture Ministry opens public debate on use of genetically modified seeds

December 4, 2008 6:25 pmComments OffViews: 9

The Ministry of Agriculture is calling for a public debate on the use in Peru of genetically modified seeds and crops. It has posted a draft on its website on regulations governing biotechnology and security. The document covers the procedures for importing, trading, producing and research of Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs.

Carlos Leyton, the minister of Agriculture, stressed he has no intention of giving priority to the issue of importing GMOs, or transgenics, to Peru and that he expects the draft to serve as a basis for debates throughout the country.

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment are currently working together to define the viability of using GMOs, a sharp change in policy compared with the battles that were waged over the issue between both ministries earlier this year.

Then minister of agriculture, Ismael Benavides, and his closest advisor on GMOs, scientist Alexander Grobman, were strongly in favor of developing genetically modified crops, particularly for biofuels, but they were strongly opposed by the fledgling Ministry of Environment and its minister, Antonio Brack, who said GMOs were favored by big corporations and big money and had never improved the lives of small farmers.

Executive laws issued late in June this year included a series of decrees that lifted restrictions and tight supervision on the import and use of transgenics in Peru. The decrees were strongly criticized by the Peruvian Environmental Law Society, SPDA. At the same time, Brack argued that importing transgenics would endanger Peru’s biodiversity, particularly in such crops as corn, and took his campaign for a transgenic-free country to the public.

In the October cabinet shuffle, sociologist and then-president of the Arequipa Region, Carlos Leyton, succeeded Benavides in the Ministry of Agriculture and immediately made clear that GMOs were not one of his priorities. He and Brack have met several times to discuss policies.

However, despite the joint team of specialists now working between the two ministries, the new draft regulations still do not include the Ministry of Environment as one of the institutions to be involved in the supervision and decision-making processes governing GMOs.

Dr. Antonieta Gutierrez, a leading professor at the Agrarian University in La Molina, considers the draft outdated because it does not include the Environment ministry, and believes it is important to find other options in order to protect Peru’s biodiversity.

However, Ernesto Bustamante, president of Peru’s College of Biologists, is keen that the regulations be finally made into law in order to begin using GMOs, which he believes will generate great opportunities in Peruvian agriculture.

Leyton believes the country cannot prohibit the use of transgenics across the board, but he also does not believe they should be promoted for massive use. “The needs must be analyzed, case by case,” he said, “and that requires a strict biosecurity framework of regulations.”

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