Jun 2nd 2013, by Sascha Bercovitch – The Venezuelan government will continue its efforts to increase national food production and combat the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) through a new Law on Seeds, president of the Agri-Food Development Subcommittee for the National Assembly Alfredo Ureña announced on Friday.
The law, designed as a reform to legislation from October 2002, aims to preserve Venezuelan biodiversity and contribute to food sovereignty.
“There are a number of studies throughout the world which affirm that the health of humans and animals may be impacted when they consume genetically-modified foods,” Ureña said during an interview with state-run television channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV).
“This is a Law on Seeds that is anti-GMOs, because it is not only Venezuela, but the whole world that is saying that we cannot continue supporting GMOs, not only for the use of food and consumption, but for their technology that makes use of agro-chemical fertilizers.”
Opposition and pro-government groups, however, have expressed concern that the law would open commercial opportunities for the transnational corporation Monsato, known for its weed-killing glysophate, or Roundup. During the 1960s, Monsato, a US multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation, served as a producer of Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the US military as part of its chemical warfare program in Vietnam which contributed to an estimated 400,000 deaths and injuries and 500,000 children born with birth defects.
Both sides cited Article 127 of the Constitution, which prohibits the creation of patents on the genome of any living being, and the actions of President Hugo Chávez in 2004 to prevent the company’s cultivation of 20,000 hectares of Venezuelan land to produce transgenic soybeans.
“They intend to introduce biotechnologies into the country that will affect the gene pool and the nutritional value of traditional crops under the guise of promoting food sovereignty,” said Imerú Alfonzo, for the rightwing party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will), in a statement before the April 14 presidential elections.
Protestors gathered in the Los Museos Square in Caracas last week to express a similar sentiment, as part of an international day of action against Monsanto. “In the second chapter of the law, five articles permit the entrance of GMOs,” one cooperative representative said. “With the National Center for Seeds, they’re going to say, ‘look, you’re registered on my list, so you can bring GMOs into the country.’”
The representative asked that the law be debated in the National Assembly and include the perspectives of farmers and the Venezuelan people.
The group Venezuela Free of GMOs, a national pro-government organization, argued that article 1 of the current law, instead of protecting seeds as cultural and natural heritage, encourages the “production of seeds by researchers and favors the rights of plant breeders, the ones who privatize seeds”. The group argued that most researchers “only have the interests of transnationals in mind”.
Ureña responded positively to the criticism, saying that later this month, during a forum on biodiversity to be held from June 23 to June 28, the government will address the new law and listen to criticism from relevant sectors.
“When we made this draft, we included the article from the previous law which left some flexibility to GMOs, and there was a lot of criticism,” he said. “As a legislative body, we went out into the street, we asked about the laws, we listened to the people. And the people said, ‘you have to be careful with the GMOs’ … That gives us sufficient reason to say to the Venezuelan people that we agree with what the social movements and what the agrarian movements are saying.”