lunes, septiembre 22, 2008

This is the country report I presented at GenØk last month


Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
Summer 2008

We at the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety have not been able to gather much objective data on agricultural biotechnology in our territory. But what little information we have obtained is quite worrying.

Puerto Rico is one of the biotechnology industry's favorite sites for GE (genetically engineered) crop experiments. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, the island hosted 2,957 GE crop field tests between 1987 and 2002. At the time, that figure was surpassed only by the states of Iowa (3,831), Illinois (4,104), and Hawaii (4,566).

More recent USDA datashow that as of January 2005 a total of 1,330 field releases had been granted to experimental GM crops in the island, which have resulted in 3,483 field test sites. Of these field releases, 944 were for corn, 262 for soy, 99 for cotton, 15 for rice, 8 for tomato, one for papaya and one for tobacco.

With the exception of Hawaii, no state of the USA has so many of these experiments per square mile. The only states that have had more field releases are Hawaii (5,413), Illinois (5,092) and Iowa (4,659). Consider the vast difference in size: Illinois and Iowa have over 50,000 square miles each, while Puerto Rico has less than 4,000. Puerto Rico has more field releases than California, which has had 1,964 of them, although it is 40 times bigger than Puerto Rico and its Central Valley is probably the world's most productive agricultural zone.

"These are outdoor, uncontrolled experiments," affirmed Bill Freese of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, commenting on the situation in Puerto Rico. "These experimental GE traits are almost certainly contaminating conventional crops just as the commercialized GE traits are. And the experimental GE crops aren't even subject to the cursory rubber-stamp 'approval' process that commercialized GE crops go through, so I think the high concentration of experimental GE crop trials in Puerto Rico is definitely cause for concern."

Why Puerto Rico? Various answers to this question were offered in a symposium organized by the Agricultural Extension Service on biotechnology held in the town of San Germán in 2002. According to Claridad, a local newspaper, several symposium participants stated that the island's friendly tropical climate allows up to four harvests a year, which makes it ideal for agronomists and biotechnology corporations like Dow, Syngenta, Pioneer, and Monsanto. These four companies joined together in 1996 to found the Puerto Rico Seed Research Association.

One of the participants gave a much more provocative reason: he said that Puerto Rico has a "good political climate." The island's general population is ignorant of the existence of GE crops and foods in its diet and fields, which contributes to the "good political climate" that the speaker alluded to.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) named Puerto Rico governor Aníbal Acevedo-Vilá "Governor of the Year" during its 2006 annual convention, held in Chicago.

"Among his recent achievements, Gov. Acevedo-Vilá signed an Executive Order making the promotion and development of the biotechnology industry a public policy priority; instituted an inter-agency task force to address permitting issues for biotechnology companies on a fast-track basis; and, signed a proclamation creating the first annual biotechnology week," gushed the BIO in a press release.

"Acevedo-Vilá and his administration have been champions of building a strong bioscience industry presence in Puerto Rico," said BIO Vice President Patrick Kelly. "Not only does Puerto Rico have the third largest biologic manufacturing capacity in the world, but the Commonwealth also has a significant agricultural industry presence. (His) administration has been successful in creating an environment that will lead Puerto Rico into the forefront of the bioscience industry development well into the new millennium."

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