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By Pedro Rivera Ramos
The production, release and consumption of transgenic organisms or foods implies, without a doubt, a serious and real threat to all areas of life on Earth, thus pointing to the unleashing of unsuspected consequences.
Hand in hand with recombinant DNA technologies, which some exaggeratedly qualify as genetic engineering, so-called transgenic organisms have been making their appearance in the world, characterized by the fact that genes have been incorporated into their genome by purely artificial means (transgenesis). strangers that belong to other living things. Thus, and with the techniques available that do not exclude chance and chance, transgenic bacteria, animals and plants have been developed, the latter being the most impressive achievement exhibited in the genetic "redesign" of living organisms. The main peculiarity of this process is that for the first time horizontal gene transfer (exchange of genetic material from animals to plants and vice versa) is made possible, putting an end to the insurmountable barriers that until that moment had been meticulously cultivated by natural mechanisms of evolution. Supporters and enthusiasts of these techniques of genetic manipulation do not seem to have cared much about this very cautious and amazing behavior of Nature. That is why two decades after the first successful genetic engineering experiments and guided by a clearly mercantilist conception of science and technology, the first commercial planting of a transgenic plant (tobacco) was produced in China in 1992. the world.
The production, release and consumption of transgenic organisms or foods implies, without a doubt, a serious and real threat to all areas of life on Earth, thus pointing to the unleashing of unsuspected consequences. The incalculable risks and dangers that transgenic technology entails for all living beings and their activities, derive from the use of techniques whose fundamental bases are being increasingly undermined. The disclosure of the tests that demonstrate the existence of instability in transgenic lines; the results of the Human Genome Project (HGP) that have led to questioning the guiding principle of inheritance, a gene a trait and the courageous experiments carried out by scientists Arpad Pusztai in Scotland and John Losey in the United States, who among others have shown the harmful effects of transgenic foods and crops, are just some of the facts that have been shaking the foundations of so-called genetic engineering.
But the greatest danger to everything living on the planet comes from the almost absolute control that a handful of transnational companies have been exercising over the research, production and commercialization of transgenic organisms and their applications in fields as diverse as medicine, food, seeds, industry, technology and pesticides. These gigantic corporations, with an economic power that in many cases exceed the gross domestic product of many Third World countries, have been pushing with great force the imposition of an intellectual property system - in accordance with their transgenic "innovations" - where the Most outstanding place is occupied by patents on all existing forms of life (plants, animals and genes) and on the ancestral and scientific knowledge that belongs to all of humanity.
This emphasis on obtaining monopoly or exclusive rights over living organisms already existing in Nature, based only on the slight modifications that, recently introduced in them, tend to ignore, on the one hand, the contributions made by producers and local communities across countless generations and, on the other, the biopiracy surrounding almost all of these genetic resources. Such behavior, typical of the model of human coexistence that prevails today and that, guided by the desire for excessive profit, aims to complete the process of dispossession of the biological wealth of the nations of the South, through a totally irrational patent system, absolutely unethical and excessively immoral, which is far from the one born more than five centuries ago.
It is unquestionable that transgenic products have been entering Panamanian territory for some time. Even though the official information is non-existent, we have strong suspicions that they have already reached our diet, are part of that of many animals of economic importance and have made their debut in our fields of crops. All this is happening while Panamanian society as a whole is denied information and debate on the implications and consequences that transgenic technology can have on human health, the environment and agriculture, mainly.
Nowadays, finding transgenic foods on the shelves of our main supermarkets is becoming an almost daily fact, as a result of the growing commercial ties that Panama has with the United States, Argentina and Canada, three of the main producing and exporting nations of organisms. transgenics in the world. In this way and immersed in the greatest ignorance, Panamanian citizens acquire transgenic ingredients incorporated into corn flakes, chocolates, cookies, milk, sweets, pre-cooked potatoes, canned corn and most of the soy-based food products, which finally they end up in their stomachs, regardless of their degree of innocuousness or safety.
Biodiversity and Panamanian agriculture are also areas in which the impact of transgenic crops and patents on life and knowledge will have damaging and devastating effects. We estimate that in our country there is a real threat of contamination and genetic erosion over almost 10,000 plant species, many of which are pre-Hispanic and wild in nature with great medicinal value or related to food crops. This threat extends to a sector as vital as agriculture, which employs 25% of the economically active population and which, constituting the livelihood of more than 48% of Panamanians, can suffer dire consequences derived not only from transgenic crops producers of food, but of the so-called pharmaceutical crops (producers of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs).
Regarding the latter, it is most likely that both the National Biosafety Commission created in 2002 (will it be working?) And the Seed Committee of the Ministry of Agricultural Development, completely ignore that in the western provinces of Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro There are farm owners who have offered their land for the planting of second-generation transgenics (biopharmaceuticals), without caring at all the incalculable risks to which all agricultural and health activities of the Nation expose.
At present, our country "negotiates" a free trade agreement with the United States that, if concluded, will subordinate us to a series of demands and conditions that, drawn up from the mercantile and privatizing logic prevailing in North American transnational corporations, are closely associated with the transgenic organisms, patents and intellectual property. From there, transgenics will be able to enter and circulate freely in the national territory, which will prevent them from being monitored; There will be a strengthening of the monoculture system and a decrease in the natural mechanisms of control and protection against pests; There will be an even greater subjection of agricultural producers to highly dependent technological packages; Irreversible losses will be caused in agricultural biodiversity, the cornerstone of food security, and the country will be forced to breach the commitments acquired with the Cartagena Protocol or Biosafety, which entered into force in 2003.
The FTA with the United States will cause sanitary and phytosanitary measures, true shields for the protection of people, animals and plants, to be reduced to an expression that will allow the massive entry of meat and dairy products, from North American agricultural establishments that in most continue to use the dangerous recombinant bovine growth hormone (the same hormone associated with breast and prostate cancer in humans).
In the same way, we will witness a contamination and erosion of our local and traditional varieties, which will inevitably become extinct, while a monopoly control over the production and commercialization of seeds will rapidly take shape with devastating effects on small and medium agricultural production. The genetic resources and the ancestral knowledge that, linked to them, have been managed and preserved for countless generations by the peasant and indigenous communities, under the protection of the FTA, will first be stolen and patented from us, and then with extraordinary cynicism, will come the demands of royalties on the biocolonial loot.
The situation of the FTA represents the most propitious occasion that in recent times has been presented to Panamanian society, so that, among other things, it begins a profound process of defense of national production and of protection, conservation and maintenance of agricultural biodiversity and of the traditional agricultural systems linked to it; conduct a rigorous review of your existing food production systems; carry out with the urgency that the moment demands, the debate on the social, political and technical consequences of the release into the environment of transgenic organisms, or their dangerous incorporation into the diet of Panamanians and Panamanians.
* The author is an agronomist and professor at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences - University of Panama