The majority of farms using genetically modified cotton, corn and soy seeds, also known as GMOs, are located in Guanacaste, in the areas around Cañas, Las Juntas and Liberia, according to a map produced by the State Phytosanitary Service (SFE – Servicio Fitosanitario del Estao) and obtained by The Voice of Guanacaste.
For years, ecological and academic activists that question the seeds’ impact on the environment and nearby communities have hoped to find more information about the plantings, as residents in those areas have the right to know what is being cultivated close to their home and workplace.
They argue that the country has no capacity to ensure that the planting of GMOs is done in a safe manner, that fields where they are planted cannot be cleansed in the future to plant something else in the same location, that GMOs endanger the country’s biodiversity, and that there is no scientific evidence that GMOs do not cause health problems.
Information regarding the location of the farms “is considered secret,” according to Professor Jaime Garcia of the Environmental Education Center of the State Distance Learning University (UNED – Universidad Estatal a Distancia) and the University of Costa Rica’s School of Biology (Escuela de Biologia de la Universidad de Costa Rica).
The Voice of Guanacaste obtained a map with the location of the farms in Costa Rica where GMO seeds are used, provided by the SFE. It is provided at the bottom of this article.
Critics of GMO are also skeptical regarding the secretive nature of the permit process.
For example, Garcia argued that the permits “have no expiration date, and follow-up reports for the plantings authorized for GMOs are not analyzed internally by the National Technical Biosecurity Commission (Comision Tecnica Nacional de Bioseguridad), although afterwards the authorized areas and locations for plantings are changed.”
However, Alex May, an SFE official, stated that a company has to request another permit to change farms. He emphasized that “one of the most regulated activities in Costa Rica is GMO research and use. In Costa Rica’s case, GMO seeds are not planted for human consumption, but only for export. From the moment the seed enters [the country], is planted, harvest and packed, everything is regulated,” affirmed May.
Secrecy or not, it seems that the Constitutional Court is in agreement with Garcia, as on September 11, the court ruled that the Phytosanitary Protection Regulations are unconstitutional because they violate Costa Ricans’ rights, as the technical information given by companies requesting permits to plant GMO crops is confidential.
The ruling was made on January 31 of 2013, and stated that article 132 of the Phytosanitary Protection Regulations Law “grossly violates the right of citizen participation, particularly the rights of every person participating in those matters in which possible environmental impacts are discussed.”
The parties presenting the unconstitutionality suit included the Costa Rican Organic Agriculture Movement, the Biodiversity Coordination Network, the National Indigenous Food Association, ecological groups and the ex-representative and ex-Broad Front presidential candidate Jose Maria Villalta.
They said that, “By constitutional mandate, information related to projects that affect the environment is public. Without access to technical information given to justify a permit or for the use of GMOs, it is impossible to evaluate if the permit was awarded correctly or poorly, if the resolution granting the permit was well-founded or not, simply because there has been no good access to tests or the technical basis on which the resolution is sustained.”
Sofia Barquero, legislative advisor for Broad Front Representative Edgardo Araya, explained to the The Voice of Guanacaste that “access to public files is free in Costa Rica, but in this case the studies made to allow a permit to be granted for the use of GMOs is secret.”
Everything is Still the Same
Ecologists celebrated because they believed the process would change.
Groups such as the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON – Federacion Costarricense para la Conservacion del Ambiente) stated that the resolution guaranteed that from now on, procedures used to authorize the use of GMOs would be accessible for all, and indicated that permits to use GMO corn being processed would not be granted until rules were adjusted to the court’s ruling.
Some of the permits being processed belong to the company Delta & Pine, which wants to plant several varieties of GMO corn, including MON-88017, MON-603, MON 863 and MON 89034 in Upala and Cañas. The National Technical Biosecurity Commission gave its approval, but the planting has not been completed due to the ruling of unconstitutionality.
But according to SEF’s Alex May, who is also the president of the National Technical Biosecurity Commission, for now, nothing will change regarding the permits.
May explained to The Voice that if article 132, which is a regulation dating back to 1998, is repealed, the 2006 Cartagena Protocol will be used, which is a newer, broader law.
The Cartagena Protocol “intends to precisely establish what is the management of confidential information, and it establishes what is confidential and what is not and how this kind of documentation should be handled,” said May.
“What was unconstitutional was an article of a regulation and now there is a law that has more legal impact, which offsets that kind of issue. So from the point of view of practice, we haven’t seen anything different in what is happening,” specified May.
The official hopes that the complete constitutional court resolution is issued in two to three weeks.
Asked whether the permit process will change, May responded, “Absolutely not. We have to keep working, providing service to businesses, to companies, we have to keep studying and fulfilling our functions established by the Phytosanitary Protection Law. Permits are going to move,” said May.