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The GMO Debate Rages in Ecuador over Constitutionality of Seeds

On May 22, the world celebrated International Day for Biological Diversity. For Groundswell International and the partners and communities we work with around the world, the day marks the vital connections between stronger farmer management of local seed varieties, seed sovereignty, diversified family farming, as well as human and environmental health.  Debates about the adoption of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) continue around the world. In Ecuador, the GMO debate is particularly heated due to the July 2017 law allowing transgenic seeds into the country for research purposes, which threatens to violate the 2008 constitutional ban on such seeds.

 

According to Stephen Sherwood of our partner organization EkoRural in Ecuador, the Colectivo Agroecologico was provided an audience with Ecuador’s Constitutional Court earlier this month. The Colectivo provided testimony and submitted over six demands of unconstitutionality in relation to the July 2017 seeds law. “In particular,” Sherwood said, “we are concerned about a last-minute provision that would permit research on GMOs, while the 2008 Constitution specifically prohibits the planting of GMO seeds and crops.”

 

Sherwood notes that in many countries, the introduction of genetically modified crops is strongly linked to the erosion of farmers’ rights over their seeds, the growth of larger scale commercial agriculture and to growing dependence of consumers on processed foods. He is working with farmers, consumers groups and sustainable food activists to research and better understand links between how Ecuadorians farm, how they eat, and how it impacts their nutrition and health.  Sherwood and colleagues are studying the arrival of utlra-porcessed foodstuffs in Ecuador (80% of whose ingredients come from GMOs) and their correlation with the obesity epidemic in the country. In relation to obesity, Sherwood observes that “GMO products have been the entry point for increased consumption of highly processed and unhealthy food.  The introduction of GMO seeds and crops would only strengthen that worrisome trend and undermine Ecuador’s other positive public health initiatives to promote healthy, fresh, whole foods.”

 

Local seed varieties controlled by family farmers often translate to communities eating more of the food they grow, and to a more nutritious diet based on farms that are highly diversified with nutritious local crops.  The more farmers adopt commercial agriculture, the more they turn to large-scale monocultivation of cereal crops, that often get exported and turned into processed foods. As a result, they purchase and consume more highly processed and less nutritious foods, which are often imported.

 

Typically, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court has 72 hours from the date of the hearing to state its verdict, in this case whether the seeds law is unconstitutional or not. The court requested an additional 15 days. “We are hesitantly optimistic,” stated Sherwood, as during the hearing the Ministers of the Environment and of Agriculture, and the lawyer of the President’s Administration agreed that two of the articles of the seeds law were, in fact, unconstitutional. Stay tuned as we provide updates on the court’s decision.

 

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