A little Throwback Thursday from Portugal this week.

Several years ago three Global Farmer Network members from Portugal were among those featured by CIB – Centro de Informacao de Biotechnologia as to why they chose to plant biotech crops – or crop as one variety of maize (MON810) is still allowed to be grown in the European Union and that’s primarily in Spain and Portugal.

Maria Gabriela Cruz is the recipient of the 2010 Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award, Joao Grilo and Jose Rasquilha both attended the 2009 Global Farmer Roundtable. All three do a great job briefly explaining their viewpoints.
Even though it’s from 2011 and while the translation between Portuguese and English can be a bit rough at times, the main points come across easily enough and are as relevant today as they were back then.

19 OCTOBER, 2011
Portuguese farmers want freedom to choose sustainable technologies

Maria Gabriela Cruz
President of APOSOLO – Portuguese Association for the Mobilization of Soil Conservation
Generate agricultural exploitation in Elvas

I grow Bt corn for several reasons. Among them: I have a greater guarantee of production, since the drill can not attack the plants and consequently reduce the number of kilograms of maize per hectare; I like to use environmentally friendly farming practices and using Bt maize I am no longer obliged to make two or three applications of insecticide in the fields; not applying insecticide reduces the exposure of my collaborators to agrochemicals; not by applying insecticide reduces the consumption of fuel in the transport, manufacture and application of the insecticides, thus reducing the carbon emissions.

Other varieties of maize and other genetically modified crops in Europe, such as herbicide and insecticide-resistant crops, would be very important. Bt crops with the advantages I have already mentioned for corn and besides that glyphosate is the herbicide with less environmental impact as it is not residual and its molecule easily decomposes in the soil. It would also be important to approve other genetically modified varieties, such as: tolerant to water stress, which would reduce farmers’ water consumption; those resistant to salinity, because there are regions in Portugal where there is the problem of the presence of high salt in the soil; resistant insects, which would decrease for example the need to treat seeds with phyto-drugs.

Non-authorization of these GM crops by the European Union will result in a lack of competitiveness on the part of European farmers compared to their counterparts in other countries, such as farmers in North and South America, China, South Africa, etc. To be able to produce certain crops, in which Portuguese farmers already have a great deal of know-how, such as sugar beet and cotton, would have a very positive impact on farmers’ income in the environment (because they are very important crops for crop rotation) and the rural world by allowing a higher rate of employment by the agricultural sector.

The approval of GM crops in Europe would also be very important for science, which, being encouraged to continue researching and creating new biotech plant events, would be able to respond faster and more effectively to the problems farmers face in controlling weeds, pests and diseases, and water stress. In addition, it would produce nutritionally richer products to combat nutrient deficiencies. Take, for example, golden rice enriched in provitamin A for populations in Asia and Africa with blindness problems. It would also allow better products to be created for consumers with diseases such as diabetes, gluten intolerance, etc.

João Grilo
Director of Aposolo – Portuguese Association for the Mobilization of Soil Conservation

Generate agricultural holding in Montemor-o-Velho, Coimbra
In 2006 I cultivated 20% of my area with Bt maize, the results obtained exceeded expectations and since then I have practically sown the entire area with Bt maize, since it is included in a Production Zone, respecting this the area of refuge with conventional maize.
My farm is located in the Mondego Valley, a region where there is a strong presence of the pest (drill and pestle) in maize. With the use of Bt maize I can have a greater dominance of the crop avoiding the treatment with chemical insecticides and exposure to them, I can produce healthier plants with fewer split stems which greatly facilitates harvesting and a higher profitability in the production with better quality of grain (free of mycotoxins produced by fungi that settle in the wounds of plants attacked by insect larvae).
In view of the required coexistence measures (distance between cornfields, border lines, use of different FAO classes and staggered seeding), Production Zones are the only way to make Bt maize viable in excessively the reality of most of the farms in the central and northern part of Portugal.

It would be extremely important to have more “events” of maize, as well as other genetically modified crops in Europe and Portugal, so that greater sustainability of Portuguese agriculture is possible.

Throughout my professional career I have established some contacts with foreign colleagues who have the privilege of having at their disposal GM varieties more advanced than ours and with other type of “events”, varieties that we are not allowed to produce, but only to consume in the European Union. I see in them a lot of professional competence, but nothing superior to the level of Portuguese professional farmers. We all work for the same market, but with rules in which the inequality is very great and in this theme once again Europe and Portugal are in the “tail”. I am convinced that in the short term the authorization of such crops will be inevitable.

José Maria Rasquilha ,
Director of Anpromis – National Association of Maize and Sorghum Producers
Generate agricultural holding in Elvas

Cultivation GM corn for some years, that is, since the crop was authorized by the Official Bodies (2005). I have no doubt that the control of Pragas (pirale / sesamia), which directly cause significant losses in the crop, especially in intensively cultivated areas of maize, is only possible in an effective, economic and environmental way, if it is done through varieties genetically modified.

It will be essential to approve the cultivation of new GM varieties in the corn crop, because only then will we be competitive with the other countries that already cultivate them, as is the case in Argentina, Brazil and the USA. Even because later we end up importing, for consumption, the product coming from these same varieties.

Continuing with the corn Bt Mon 810, which should have anything like about 20 years of use, and which is the only authorized in National soil, means to stay stagnant in time and space. There are now dozens of new GM varieties of maize and other crops, already fully tested throughout the American continent, with Europe having to authorize its cultivation to become competitive globally.