GMOs continue to feed protest in South America
Transmitted by the whitefly Bemisia tabaci, the virus is the cause of a disease that attacks beans and whose characteristic symptoms are yellow-green mosaic of leaves, stunted growth, or distorted pods. The disease, which causes severe yield losses (40 up to 100%), represents, as we can imagine, a serious problem for bean farmers in Latin America. The new plant, developed after ten years of research by a public research institution, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), has been presented as the first 100% national transgenic technology in the country.
At first glance, if we consider the fact that Brazil is the biggest dry beans producer and consumer in the world, the news of a virus resistant bean seems to be very positive news. The new plants promise indeed to solve one of the major problems that afflict farmers of beans; and especially small-scale farmers who cover about 80% of the production. Furthermore, we have also to take into account that in Latin America beans are a recurring ingredient in the preparation of several local dishes. For many people they represent one of the main sources, if not the only one, of nutrients like protein, phosphorus, iron, vitamin B1, and fibre.
Notwithstanding these premises not everyone welcomed the approbation of the new genetically modified bean. Critics, and among these AS-PTA Agricultura Familiar e Agroecologica, Brazilian member of the AgriCultures Network, warned of a deficit of studies that properly address possible side-effects for human health. Studies that given the enormous consume of beans by the population should, instead, be more than satisfactory. Absence of adequate studies has been criticised also for the fact that there is a chance that the new plant could eventually lead to some mutations in the virus. A virus that developing resistance could increase the possibility of yield losses and cause undesirable consequences for the natural environment.
What should make us reflect is that among the people present during the voting for the introduction of the transgenic bean there were also the representative from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology: the first one requested for diligence, while the second one opted for abstention.
Another criticized aspect was also an inadequate involvement of civil society organizations and small-scale farmers representatives during the decision making process. Even though developers and boosters presented the new plant as a blessing for both consumers and family farmers, opponents replied that those that should in the end decide if this is really the case are indeed consumers and family farmer. However in this case, they were not given the opportunity to have their voices heard.
Brazil is everything but new to GMOs. A survey conducted by Celeres, an agribusiness consulting company, shows a trend in which, for plantations such as soybean, corn, and cotton, genetically modified plantations will soon occupy the majority of cultivated areas in the country. Yet, notwithstanding the enormous employment of this biotechnology in the country, the debate about GMOs seems to be unending and reinvigorates every time a new product is developed.
The situation reflects not only a lack of consensus about the pros and cons of this technology, either among the public opinion and the scientific community; but also when discuss GMOs it is not possible to generalize. Per se what is known as genetic modification (which in the scientific literature is preferentially called genetic engineering) is nothing more that a method to manipulate and transfer genes from an organism to another. Inevitably, whether the manipulation of genes can have positive or negative outcomes has to be assessed case by case.
- "Under controversy, Brazil approves the first virus resistant GM bean" - AS-PTA e-newsletter
- CTNBio approves transgenic beans developed by Embrapa - Bulletin from the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and innovation (in Portuguese)