The recent authorization of the Cuban government for the research, production, use and international trade of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has revived a controversy that began more than a decade ago, when three hectares of transgenic corn were planted for the first time on the island. for research purposes.
Decree Law No. 4/2020, promulgated on July 23, provides for the creation of a National Commission that will be in charge of adopting decisions related to GMOs, as explained to the local press by Antonio Casanova Guilarte, director of environmental control of the Office of Regulation and Environmental Safety of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA).
The Commission will be chaired by CITMA and will have the Ministries of Health and Agriculture among its members. The new entity will have jurisdiction over all activities in the agricultural sector that involve GMOs. During the press conference it was also reported that among the crops to be promoted by this alternative would be corn and soybeans.
When announcing the Decree Law to the national press, Armando Rodríguez Batista, vice minister of CITMA, defined the policy on the use of transgenics in Cuba as “an alternative to develop productivity, consistent with sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty, on the basis of of indigenous research ”.
However, for Silvia Ribeiro, head of ETC Group programs, “It is a decision not at all compatible with sustainable agricultural, social, economic and environmental development, neither in Cuba, nor in any other part of the world”.
The ETC Group monitors the impact of emerging technologies and corporate strategies on biodiversity, agriculture and human rights in various parts of the planet.
Commenting on the transgenic corn produced in Cuba, Ribeiro pointed out to SciDev.Net via email that"Bt crops - which were said to use less pesticides - proved that pests have become resistant in many cases". She is the co-author of the book Transgenics in Cuba. What is gained? What is lost? Texts for a debate, published in 2009.
The decision is made at a difficult time for the Cuban economy, amid a basic food supply crisis exacerbated by the new coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Cuban government, the promotion of the production of GMOs from transgenic seeds produced in the country offers sustainability to this practice.
Newspaper reports indicate that the country spends more than USD 500 million on the importation of raw materials for animal feed and concentrates (more than USD 200 million in corn alone).
The deputy head of CITMA defended the measure, noting that GMOs “They are goods created in Cuba and an option for the production of seeds for agricultural advancement, which makes this policy completely consistent with sustainable development”.
However, Alcides Carrazana, a researcher and agroecologist residing on the outskirts of the city of Bayamo –more than 700 kilometers from Havana– points out that there is no “good transgenic or bad transgenic”.
Via WhatsApp, Carrazana told Scidev.Net that"Transgenic, chemical, mechanization and extension of cultivation is the antithesis of food sovereignty, sustainability and sustainable development in the medium term."
In an article published on the OnCuba platform, Cuban economist Juan Triana wonders if it would be possible on the island "change the technological paradigm that accompanies transgenic cultivation on a global scale", Y "achieve seeds that do not require the massive use of glyphosate or glufosinate ammonium”.
Decades of GMO research
Research with GMOs in Cuba began in the 1980s, when the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) promoted studies in plant transgenesis. In December 2008, three hectares of FR-Bt1 maize were planted in the Caonao Valley, located in the provincial central of Santi Spíritus, in the central area of the country.
From that moment on, several debates arose about the relevance of using transgenic crops or not as an alternative to increase agricultural productivity in the country, a need that has grown in the midst of the current situation, when the restrictions of the United States embargo against Cuba have increased.
During the presentation of the new Decree-Law, Rodríguez Batista said that “Among the fundamental principles of this policy is to incorporate the orderly and controlled use of GMOs in agricultural development programs, as another alternative to increase productivity.”.
However, Ribeiro assured that transgenics, "On average they yield less than the existing hybrids and use much more pesticides, which are also derived from oil and will be expensive in Cuba".