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Cablegate: Colombia Increases Transgenic Crop Cultivation

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UNCLAS BOGOTA 000971

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ECON SENV TBIO CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIA INCREASES TRANSGENIC CROP CULTIVATION

1. (U) SUMMARY: Colombia's planting of Genetically
Modified (GM), or transgenic, crops, while small compared to
some other countries in the region, grew by 23 percent in
2007. Experts believe the increase demonstrates that
Colombia does not oppose GM agriculture, and told us that
local development of GM agricultural products would further
build public support. END SUMMARY

Plantings Up But Still Dwarfed By Other Countries in Region
--------------------------------------------- --------------

2. (U) Colombia's cultivation of transgenics grew from
22,400 hectares to 27,700 hectares in 2007. Colombian GM
planting ranked fourteenth worldwide in 2007, with Colombia's
growth rate double the worldwide average of 12 percent.
Osiris Ocando, Executive Director of Agro-Bio, a non-profit
organization that promotes the use of GM agriculture in
Colombia, lauded the growth. However, she noted that
Colombia will not catch up with leading countries in the
region anytime soon. She pointed out that according to a
recent study by the International Service for the Acquisition
of Agri-Biotech Applications, in 2007 Argentina had over 19
million hectares of GM agriculture under production, Brazil
had 15 million hectares, and Paraguay had over 2.5 million
hectares.

3. (U) GM corn, which the Colombian Institute of
Agriculture only approved for use in early 2007, accounted
for all the new planting. GM cotton, which constitutes 80
percent of Colombia's GM cultivation, actually declined
slightly in 2007. Manuel Guillermo Rico, Executive Director
of CropLife Latin America, explained that Colombia's overall
cotton cultivation declined in 2007 due to market factors
unrelated to GM. However, Rico expects cotton cultivation,
including GM cotton, to bounce back in 2008.

Planting Increase Symbolically Important
----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Rafael Mejia, head of the Sociedad de Agricultores
de Colombia (SAC), an umbrella association of all
agricultural producers, said Colombia needs transgenics to
compete in international markets. Mejia said obtaining
governmental approval for transgenics has not been easy,
particularly given opposition from the Ministry of the
Environment, Housing and Territorial Development. Mejia
called the increase an important sign to the international
business community that Colombia does not reject GM
agriculture.

5. (U) German Velez, Executive Director of Grupo Semillas,
a Colombian NGO opposed to transgenics, called the increase
"bad news" for small farmers. Velez expressed particular
concern over the dramatic growth of GM corn which he worried
will cross-pollinate with non-GM corn. Velez said the
benefits of GM accrue mainly to large agricultural companies
and multinational firms.

Local Support for GM Agriculture Growing
----------------------------------------

6. (U) Nevertheless, Ana Maria Frieri, an attorney in
private practice who works with GM agricultural producers,
expressed optimism over the future of transgenics in
Colombia. She said that GM production of cassava, rice,
roses, sugarcane and coffee will likely start in the near
future. Frieri noted that local agriculture companies
recently began filing for GM patents, and expects public
support for transgenics to increase once the public sees it
as "coming from Juan Valdez instead of Monsanto."
Brownfield

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