December 4, 2008
Regulators in Cuba are expected to approve the initial planting of GM corn, according to Carlos Borroto, deputy director of state-run Institute for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.
Cuba imports around 60 percent of its food, including large amounts of soy, wheat and corn. The US is the communist-ruled island's largest food supplier under an amendment to its trade embargo on Cuba.
Cuban President Raul Castro recently called increased agricultural output a matter of national security as soaring international food prices are expected to drain more than US$2 billion from the government's coffers this year.
Some environmental groups oppose transgenic crops because they say the food may hold unknown long-term health dangers. But GMO supporters say the crops carry no health risks and are the only way to reduce world food shortages.
Borroto said GM corn similar to the Cuban type had already passed strict controls in Japan, Canada and Europe. Cuban laboratories are also in the development stages of producing GM soy, potatoes and tomatoes.
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a non-profit group promoting biotech foods, estimates GMO crops are now grown in 23 countries, mostly by poor farmers in developing countries.
Clive James, a British scientist who was invited to Havana by the Cuban institute said people have a need for more and better food. This technology can provide that option. He believes there is an opportunity for Cuba to do so in the near term.
Cuba's harvests have been battered this year by 3 hurricanes with damages estimated to reach US$10 billion. The storms destroyed 30 percent of the country's crops, causing brief food shortages.