Soy Meat, but Transgenic?

A bag of yogurt provided by Cuban children from 7 to 14 years of age.

Isbel Diaz Torres

A great report on Cuban television stirred up comments among people.  It was about an intensive and extensive soya production program being undertaken by the Military Agricultural Enterprise and that employs Brazilian technology.

Soya became famous in Cuba during the economic crisis of the 1990s.  Using this grain, which has a high vegetable protein content, an attempt was made to meet the nutritional needs of a population severely affected by food shortage.

Various uses of soya included mixing it with ground meat and blending it into the yogurt given to children from seven to fourteen years of age.  Oil from the grain also began to appear in our diet.

The acceptance or rejection of food with soya has been varied since it was never part of our traditional diet.  Many families came up with successful solutions to support the strange tasteless ground soy meat , while others simply won’t eat it.  Its oil, however, is generally well accepted by the public.

Why do we need more soya now?  According to the report, its production would allow us to avoid having to import 150,000 tons of the grain from the United States – a savings of $72 million USD (Cuba currently pays to $480 per ton for the product).  For this, the Cuban company CUBASOY will sow more than 1.2 million acres in the province of Ciego de Avila.

Such an ambitious project as this has required major investments, which have included recruiting Brazilian technicians and purchasing an entire factory from that South American country for drying the grain.  In fact, the whole system is mechanized: tractors, planting machinery, equipment for phytosanitary applications, and much more.  Indeed 90 percent of the equipment comes from Brazil.  Would it be wise here to speak of a “monopoly”?

It has been necessary to build roads, lay 32 miles of electric lines and dig new wells.  Irrigation will be supplied with water from the Zaza reservoir, though 40 percent of the water will come from the region’s subsoil.

The areas to be planted were recovered after years of neglect and abandonment.  The plague of the Marabou (a thorny bush) had wreaked havoc.  The soil, red and high in iron, is of a low quality, meaning that it will require large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides.  In 2010, the areas that had been cultivated demanded 4,200 tons of chemicals for the control of plagues, while in 2011 they will receive some 5,800 tons.

The impact on the land will be devastating, especially if two harvests are undertaken annually as planned.  In an attempt to relieve the consequences that these aggressive practices pose, soy plantings will be rotated with corn.  This other grain product will be dedicated to the production of noodles and flour.

The project will expand up until 2013, especially if it meets the strict projections dictated by the executive director of the Agricultural Enterprize. General Rubén Martínez Puente

Division insists “on discipline and order, because to produce this grain discipline and order is necessary.”

But worst of all, viewed as a total technological package, is that this involves transgenic soya from Brazil.  But did they forget to mention that on the television report?  Could it have been an innocent oversight on the part of journalist Gladys Rubio? And the corn?  Will it be the FR-Bt1 transgenic variety that Cuban scientists are developing?

There are questions, lots of questions, but the severe look of General Martínez Puente on the TV and opera music in the background leave no doubt: it will have to be a success.

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.


5 thoughts on “Soy Meat, but Transgenic?

  • April 5, 2011 at 4:09 pm
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    My intuition has always kept me away from soy foods. Common sense informs us that processed food are bad for use and that fresh, organic, whole foods are good for us. Our bodies cannot handle the molecular structure of processed foods and chemicals. There are always scientists who will tell us that their manipulations are good for us, as is the case with nuclear generated energy. And there are always better scientists that understand the inherent dangers. Unfortunately, as individuals, we cannot escape the decisions of those who sit in positions of power. They recklessly do what they want to do. And they try to convince you that it is for your own good. And many people are easily influenced, as their training from childhood is to obey those in positions of authority.

    Thank you for writing this article, Isbel. You’re a dove.

    To Casey Strong: Experimentation with strict safeguards? We live in a world that experiments in an extremely irresponsible and dishonest manner. I’ve seen it over and over again, especially in the field of medicine. I’d like to believe you, Casey, but, just as I would like to believe that there is a god, I simply can’t.

  • March 14, 2011 at 11:34 am
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    Casey: The false perception of transgenic food as THE SOLUTION has been promoted by the large companies that sell food, seeds and medications. That perception has no basis at all. When you see the increases of transgenic food production since the 90s, it goes along with the increasing poverty and hunger in the world, and also with the profits of those companies. The problem is not the amount of food, but its distribution.
    Another question is the safety of the process. The existing protocols can’t guarantee that safety right now. Furthermore, they don’t study the interactions of the new organisms with others in the agro systems nor nature. As a rule, Cuban institutions hide the direct information from press, from ecologists, and even form other scientists.
    What else is there?: the ecological agriculture developed in Cuba when the 90s crisis. Concerned Cuban scientists developed new knowledge and practices from the lack of fuel and electric energy. They recovered traditional agricultural practices from farmers and incorporated them to holistic systems. We have PhD and masters with serious publications on that topic.
    Cuba is a paradigm of sustainability agriculture for many countries in Latin America, but we just don’t apply it.

  • March 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm
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    May I second what Casey Strong has stated, especially the question “what else is there”?

    About the devastating effects of the plan on the already poor soil, I don’t understand the logic of the proposed rotation of soy and corn. It is well known that the rotation of corn–which takes nitrogen out of the soil–with a legume like beans or peas–which puts nitrogen back–is a standard agricultural practice. Assuming that soy beans are a legume, this sounds okay in general. But that is not all there is to crop rotation.

    As I remember from growing up in farming country, a piece of growing land is left fallow (idle) every third year. This helps the land recover its productive and nutritional vitality, and prolongs its productive life over the decades. What seems to be revealed by the article is that two crops per year are being planned for already poor soil and, although standard crop rotation is planned, the question arises as to just how it is possible to achieve proper rotation–including the one-third fallow time–on such a semi-annual schedule.

    I wonder if this might be one of those schemes thought up by persons in charge who substitute bureaucratic enthusiasm and false promises for practical reality?

  • March 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm
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    Transgenic agricultural products are a definite concern for most people aware of their existence and increased usage, but the question I constantly ask myself is “what else is there” what else can be done to produce the quantity and variety of foodstuffs that our modern World demands.

    I believe that Genetic Engineering can be an incredible benefit to Mankind. As with all things it must be monitored and not abused. In my opinion our Futures are inexorably linked to Genetically Engineered and modified products. The Health Care sector is one of the most important of all places where this technology must be applied.
    And for the benefit of all of us basic research and experimentation with strict safeguards must continue.

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