Chile aims to export genetically modified
Chile: March 8, 2004
SANTIAGO, Chile - Chile, the biggest exporter
of fresh fruit in the Southern Hemisphere, is developing new gene-modified
foods for sale abroad, despite consumer concerns about such products,
in a bid to compete with richer countries.
The country now uses only traditional farming
methods to produce the $1.5 billion in fruit bound for North America,
Europe and Asia during the northern winter. But Chilean exporters
and scientists at the Global Biotechnology Forum in Chile this week
said they believe they can develop and patent new species of grapes,
nectarines and peaches - using genetic material made in the laboratory
and transferred to the plant - within four years.
"We believe that by 2008 we will have
a transgenic plant and Chile will be ready to cultivate transgenic
crops," said Patricio Arce, a Chilean scientist heading research
to develop cheaper, pest resistant grapes at Santiago's Catholic
Colleagues are doing similar work on other
Conscious of widespread fears about the potential
health and environmental damage from genetically modified organisms,
Chile's plan is to test domestic reaction to the new products first
before venturing into export markets.
Public and private investment in biotechnology
totals about $50 million a year in Chile, very low compared with
developed countries and with regional leaders like Brazil, which
announced on Wednesday it has developed a new genetically modified
But President Ricardo Lagos has started the
ball rolling with a five-year biotechnology plan to boost research
and development focused on Chile's top exports and cash earners
- mining, forestry, salmon, fruit and wine.
The goal is to lower costs and raise volumes
by developing new, hardier plant species and to find new techniques
to fight pests and disease and preserve perishable produce after
"For example, in our export fruit we
have the problem of how long it can last between harvest and arrival
at its final market," Agriculture Minister Jaime Campos told
The biggest market for Chilean fruit is the
United States, where regulations on genetically modified products
are looser than in the European Union, Chile's other big market.
Campos said Chile wants a co-existence of
traditional agriculture, organic farming and and genetic engineering
and plans to tread carefully given the global disputes over trade
and labeling regulations for genetically modified organisms. Consumer
groups criticize the government for bending to business pressure
to quickly develop GMOs. They demand that Chile draft strong laws
to protect shoppers.
"There is an urgent need to educate
the population so that the citizenry - and not the transnationals
that promote these products - decide if they accept or reject these
foods," said the Chilean branch of Consumers International.
Chile, like Brazil, wants to end dependence
on foreign biotechnology firms, such as the U.S.-based Monsanto
Co. (MON.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , saying it has not received
compensation for GMOs developed by foreigners from native Chilean
Chile has 10,000 hectares producing genetically
modified seeds for export and 31 private-sector biotechnology companies
are working with academics on a variety of projects ranging from
improving crops to developing vaccines for salmon and cattle.
Arce predicts that by the time the world
reaches an agreement on GMO trade, Chile will be ready to take advantage
of the new regulations.
Story by Louise Egan
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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