Let’s Say NO to Transgenic Ag in Cuba

Isbel Díaz Torres

HAVANA TIMES — Genetically modified crops continue to be introduced into Cuban farmlands in a secretive fashion, while domestic consumers and producers are practically left out of all debates surrounding the design of policies and strategies in this area.

A program broadcast on Cuban television some weeks ago, where two of the most renowned figures currently leading the debate around these technologies appeared, does not seem to guarantee that the island’s authorities are aware of the urgent need to cease the use and propagation, at production scales, of transgenic corn and soy, organisms which, outside the controlled environment of the laboratory, no farmer around the world has been able to contain.

The series of debates undertaken by a number of intellectual circles in Havana over a year ago served only to put the business of transgenic crops in the hands of the Cuban military. As we know, the Cuban Armed Forces have every freedom to do and undo what they please, without having to report to the common people or to civil, educational or research institutions.

While it is true that we don’t want the debate surrounding transgenic organisms to polarize people into those who are completely in favor and those who are completely opposed to the practice, something which would simply paralyze the flow and development of ideas and of science itself, it is also true that, without a moratorium that can allow us to delve more deeply into the issue and arrive at a basic consensus, all discussions will be fruitless.

A group of US intellectuals, who became aware of these circumstances while participating at a colloquium in Cuba, issued a public declaration on the issue. This Monday, a small group of Cubans issued another declaration, in support of that statement, which is being distributed to collect more signatures.

Below is the new declaration.

FOR TRANSGENIC-FREE AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES IN CUBA

The undersigned have decided to support a recent initiative launched by US and Cuban intellectuals who, in a recent declaration, expressed their sincere concerns over the introduction into Cuba of agricultural practices based on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

For some years now, Cuban State entities have been promoting the production of transgenic corn, soy and other crops, and have imported transgenic food products that are consumed by the island’s population as part of its daily diet, without informing the public of the nature of these products and the potential repercussions of their use.

Transgenic technology entails the re-establishment of a conventional agricultural model requiring large volumes of inputs, a model which is highly dependent on external decisions and which deprives the farmer of autonomy – something entirely incompatible with Cuba’s agro-ecological practices.

In addition to being unable to guarantee greater yields, GMO-based agriculture damages and causes the loss of agricultural biodiversity and favors the privatization and commercial control of crop seeds.

For over 20 years, Cuba has developed an ecological agricultural model whose full potential has not yet been tapped and which demonstrates the island’s capacity to produce its own technology and follow its own conceptions about food production. To do so, Cuba relies on an internationally recognized community of scientific specialists and limited but highly valuable practical experience.

The experience of other countries, where GMO technology hasn’t reduced hunger or poverty and has, rather, only helped exacerbate existing problems, displacing small farmers, ought to serve as a warning for Cuban authorities and farmers.

Cultural diversity has also suffered from the implementation of this extensive, GMO-based agricultural model, which has proven intolerant towards different ethnic practices wherever it has become hegemonic.

In addition, the World Health Organization has warned that the use of GMOs could spell “potential risks for human health and development”, for “the introduction of a transgene into the receptor organism isn’t precisely a controlled process, and could have varying results with respect to the integration, expression and stability of the transgene in the host.”

The more significant short, mid, and long-term repercussions of the use of GMOs that have been identified to date (contrary to the pronouncement of transnational companies, which do their own, private research), include: the emergence of new allergies and other immunological problems, resistance to antibiotics, the appearance of new food toxins, the reduction of fertility and endocrine complications.

Those who promote the use of GMOs are duty-bound to provide irrefutable proof that these organisms will not have negative consequences for human health or the environment, in the specific conditions of a given location. Such proof has not been produced in Cuba, which, in record time, approved the use of FR-Bt1 corn in the country, ignoring the recommendation of experts and the request for a moratorium in this connection.

For these reasons, we are opposed to the implementation of extensive, GMO-based agricultural practices in Cuba, and we call on the island’s scientific community, Cuban farmers and all citizens to join us in our initiative, and to demand their right to actively participate in decision-making processes related to matters that have a direct impact on their lives.

  1. Isbel Diaz Torres. Biologist. CUBA
  2. Jimmy Roque Martinez. Optometrist. CUBA
  3. Mario G. Castillo Santana. Historian. CUBA
  4. Ariel Hidalgo. Teacher. CUBA/EU
  5. Pedro Manuel Gonzalez Reinoso. Literature Promoter. CUBA
  6. Karel Negrete. Jurist. CUBA/France
  7. Julio Tang Zambrana. Historian. CUBA/EU

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.



8 thoughts on “Let’s Say NO to Transgenic Ag in Cuba

  • Sorry, but there is no “need to cease the use and propagation”. Cuba is in a dire need to increase agriculture production to feed its population and using disease-resistant varieties means more crop yields using the exact same resources and labor, so you better provide a damn good reason to reject their use.

    What is needed are better rules to prevent monopolies to take control of all GMO development and enforce stricter safety rules in the approval process of new varieties. Fearmongering, arguments from authority and arguments from ignorance are useless in science and that the kind of “debate” your “intellectuals” are up to. Make them move their armchair-shaped arses to the fields and collect hard evidence backing their position, then we can talk. Until then is just FUD from people that refuse to get on the bandwagon of progress and simply reject changes as a matter of principle.

    Reply
    • “What is needed are better rules to
      prevent monopolies to take control of all GMO development and enforce
      stricter safety rules in the approval process of new varieties. “

      I am sorry. That is exactly the point.
      GM technology depends on big companies making a fast buck return.
      Small farmers will be dependent on few, often monopolist, supplier.

      What is a scandal is that a regime
      claiming to be socialist introduces GM food without a public debate
      including in the media. For all their faults, there is a debate in
      capitalist countries. In Cuba there is not. Who gives Castro &
      co. the right to make decision on behalf of 11 million people on this
      issue. How do we really know that the decision-makers are less
      ignorant than the ones who will have the stuff forced down their
      throats. Besides, why should poor people have to accept that they
      should eat the worst. The campaign for GM food is lacking in ideas
      and goes for the same old lazy options as the apologists for nuclear
      energy.

      Reply
      • Again, the debate in Cuba is about putting food in the table or going to sleep with an empty stomach. Anything that increases yields with minimal investment is good news for them, so their top priority should be to make sure that whatever they introduce is safe.

        And where is your evidence that GMO are worst than “natural” crops? The main crops used as food sources (corn, wheat and rice) differ CONSIDERABLY from their natural varieties because of human manipulation (not that different from GMO, if anything the main difference is the time scale of the changes)

        You are pandering to the “organic” crowd that thinks that natural = good and everything else is evil. FYI, our life expectancy when we eat exclusively organically grown 100% natural food was 40 years. The introduction of herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers correlates with the largest increase in life expectancy and quality in human history and so far there is no evidence that the GMO varieties in use are causing any negative side effects in human health.

        And you did not provide a single valid reason for a relevant debate in GMO, As I mentioned before the opponents usually are people that don’t have a clue of what they are talking about and lack the basic level of knowledge in biology to even understand the concepts involved.

        As with the antivaxxer crowd and the movement against water fluoridation, their fear is irrational and fueled by their own ignorance, and that disqualifies them to take part of ANY debate. As I said before, so far the arguments are fearmongering, arguments from ignorance, arguments from authority and FUD. Lots of FUD, like your baseless assertion that GMO are worse than natural crops. Can you show me the evidence of such thing, please?

        Reply
        • The point you are making seems to be
          that the opponents of GM food are emotional and do not come up with
          any evidence. Having read your comment I find that is exactly what I
          detect in your writing, namely emotive generalisations and no
          concrete evidence.

          You say GM food opponents need to prove
          something. Somehow, are you not confusing the sequence of events
          here. If you introduce a new technology that is not welcomed by
          everyone then the burden of proof lies with you nott he other way
          round.

          Let us not forget that this website is
          not about GM food as such but about Cuba. You have at no point
          addressed my criticism of the lack of public debate in Cuba. Is that
          not a concern of yours?

          You have also ignored that my focus of
          criticism is not about health but about the dependence that people in
          Cuba will enter towards multinationals. It is easy to introduce GM
          seeds far trickier to get rid if them. Cuba needs to improve
          agricultural production and stay self-reliant. DM food will not
          provide that. It will be an impediment. As Isbel says:”The
          experience of other countries, where GMO technology hasn’t reduced
          hunger or poverty and has, rather, only helped exacerbate existing
          problems, displacing small farmers, ought to serve as a warning for
          Cuban authorities and farmers. – “

          The
          experience of other countries, where GMO technology hasn’t reduced
          hunger or poverty and has, rather, only helped exacerbate existing
          problems, displacing small farmers, ought to serve as a warning for
          Cuban authorities and farmers.”

          Reply
          • No, my argument is simple and can be resumed in one line: what is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

            Before a country starts planting a GMO crops, their own equivalent to the US FDA carries a protocol of tests to make sure the crop is safe for human consumption and is not a danger to the local ecosystem.

            The discussion I’m talking about is not about theoretical doom caused by rogue scientists or biological weapon programs, is about GMO crops that have been properly tested and certified as safe for human consumption by the competent authorities and people opposed to them by their own bogus reasons.

            In every discussion, the side that is making an assertion has the burden to prove it correct. The scientist that developed the varieties ALREADY proved that the modification produced the intended behavior and that the result is safe for human consumption, then the GOVERNMENTS run their own protocols to verify the claims and granted their own approval.

            In the other hand, scaremongering claims that GMOs are dangerous and dismiss all the existing data collected and don’t bother doing any research backing their position.

            “You have at no point addressed my criticism of the lack of public debate in Cuba. Is that not a concern of yours?”

            You have missed my point completely. A public debate on a topic like this is completely useless since the 99% of the population lacks the minimum level of preparation to understand what the discussion is about.

            Yes, discussion is necessary and of course, it must be public or it will be useless, but it must be a discussion between informed parts, where arguments and counterarguments are properly understood, and risks and benefits are properly assessed.

            “You have also ignored that my focus of criticism is not about health but about the dependence that people in
            Cuba will enter towards multinationals. ”

            I’m not concerned, they will either ignore IP from us or develop their own (after all Cuba is mildly competent in biotechnology), but I don’t see their government importing normal seeds, much less GMO ones in a regular basis. They simply lack the economic resources to do so and thats one of the reasons why their agriculture is in poor shape.

            His argument about the allegedly damage that comes with the introduction of GMOs is useless without the circumstances of the process and hard data to back it, data that as usual he didn’t bother to provide.

            So paint me skeptic if you want, but I only see baseless FUD, not valid reasons. He is just using empty words and obscure threats to block the introduction of varieties with the potential to increase production and alleviate the food crisis in Cuba.

          • What is your concrete evidence for all of this? Provide some actual academic journal documentation or other evidence. Also, your piece/argumentation would be totally valid If I got to see some evidence on the safety of human consumption.

            Assuming that these studies documented are mostly short-term studies, it would be nice to see some long-term studies that are considered to have 10+ years worth of analysis and studying completed…

  • This is a debatable topic and not one where there is an obvious answer.

    We must always keep in mind that three of Cuba’s biggest problems are breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Reply
  • Too late. they are already there.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Photo of the Day

Photo of the Day
Picture 1 of 1

Clouds, Havana, Cuba.  By Usha Subbiah (India).  Camera: iPad

Submit your pictures to our Photo of the Day section
You don’t have to be a professional photographer, just send an image (in black and white or color), with a photo caption indicating where it was taken (city and country), type of camera or cell you used, and a small description about it.
Note: it is better for our format if you send horizontal orientation pictures. Even square will work but vertical is a problem.
Send your picture with your name and birth country, or where you reside, to this email address: [email protected]