Cuba as a Biotechnology Island

Isbel Diaz Torres

Transgenic corn is now being grown in Cuba. Photo: Isbel Diaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 16 — Thanks to the recently concluded international congress “Biotechnology Havana 2011,” the Cuban public can know learn — albeit superficially — down what paths we are being dragged by our homegrown bio-technocrats.

As expected, this year’s event was devoted to agricultural biotechnology, which is currently one of the most profitable sectors for transnational producers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

To erase any doubt, this event was held jointly with a trade show, which was clearly the main attraction for the more than 300 foreign delegates attending from 29 countries.

Carlos Borroto, the deputy director of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (IGBC) and a member of the conference’s organizing committee, said his center currently has more than 20 research and development projects focused on agro-biotechnology.

Among these projects are:

– The vaccine against classical swine fever and new antigens for tick control in cattle and the diseases these parasites transmit.

– Stimulation of the immune system of fish and crustaceans.

– The development of injectable vaccines based on recombinant proteins.

– Transgenic rice and other crops resistant to drought and salinity.

– The development of genetically modified corn that is resistant to moths and the herbicide Finale.

– The introduction of transgenic soybeans, a product still under development.

According to published reports, experts have demonstrated the productive results of transgenic maize obtained in six Cuban provinces, as well as the generation of new hybrids with substantial increases in yields and resistance to moths.

Nevertheless consumers could not attend the event and are still unaware of the outcomes. Nor do we have details about the discussion over GMO risk evaluation trials, regulatory issues or the public’s perception of the issues raised there.

From what I’ve been able to uncover, the process carried out by IGBC was riddled with violations that jeopardized the entire investigation. They even had to pay fines for not reporting to regulators about experiments on certain plots of land.

In addition, those experiments were performed in a single season, without replication, and the yield was not compared or contrasted with untreated natural crops.

To make matters worse, a Cuban journalist found campesinos raising transgenic corn in areas outside of the experimental plots in the province of Sancti Spiritus.

Have they shared these facts with the 300 foreign delegates when debating biosafety? If they have failed to even divulge this information to the Cuban press, we can easily imagine the transparency of the discussion.


Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

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