miércoles, 5 de abril de 2017

The secret of corn

A research over the ground of Professional Formation students reveals a use of transgenics in Cantabria far higher than the already known, largely forbidden.

A few months ago, Fernando Portal, a teacher from Torrelavega, posed a statistical analysis and lab project to his students of the Alimentation and Dietetics degree of Gutiérrez Aragón Secondary School about the corn varieties found in Cantabria, a really extended cultivation, oriented to the feeding of the region’s wide livestock. Portal is one of Cantabria’s best well-known teachers due to his initiative, rigor and ability of innovation. Repeatedly awarded in contests, such as the Young Researchers of Mollina, the St. Victor’s Investigation awards or the Santillana’s Innovation awards, Portal started his investigation about corn with the approach of other projects. Rigorous countryside studies, exhaustive lab work, strict statistic compendium and constructive conclusions.

Cantabria is an area where, in theory, it has been bet on a sustainable and natural agriculture in the recent years. Even though this region has not been declared as GMO free (as Asturias or the Basque Country), data from the Environment Department and counselling claim that only 14 of the 67.626 transgenic cultivation hectares in Spain belong to Cantabria (less than 1% cultivated in the region). In corn’s case, the only permitted variety for its cultivation is MON 810, which produces a toxin made by a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, which encodes the protein Cry1Ab, turning the corn resistant to drill insect’s plague. Another transgenic found in the market is MON 863, a non-permitted variety in our country that protects corn from Diabrotica beetle’s larvae. These insects damage the plant by eating its roots. For that, the seed contains a gene from Bacilus thuringiensis, which encodes the protein Cry3Bb1. To determine which seeds were used in Cantabria, Portal proposed to his students an intense countryside research taking samples of 98 farms from different representative municipalities of the whole area. Samples taken in collaboration with the farmers themselves were analyzed by the lateral flow chromatographic immunoassay technique, in order to find the presence of Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb proteins, which show the existence of MON 810 and MON 863 transgenics, respectively.

638 of the 760 HA studied by Portal’s group (84%, 45 times more than the ones registered in the ministry and counselling) contained transgenic corn. But that was not the most worrying thing. 77,6%of samples tested positive to the forbidden transgenic MON863. 46,9% of analysed samples showed both at the same time.

The group of students preparing the project couldn’t believe the results. Portal asked them for a revision of the methodology (reagents, custody, records and proceedings). Taking new samples, the analysis was repeated, so was the result.

Sources needed to be tracked and an explanation was required to be found. Farmers had acquired the seeds from cooperatives or specialised shops. A poll made on farmers who gave samples revealed another two interesting facts. Seeds were different from ones used by the producers in their own orchards, oriented to self-consumption. In  those, 98,8% of samples were natural, not transgenic. The answer was given by a breeder “We prefer the most natural for home consumption.” Did the other one have an advantage? When “Enredados” reporters have followed the news, they have checked that agrarian cooperatives have bought this seeds for years, because multinationals have introduced them in the market under the reasoning of a higher resistance and productivity. However, this seeds (mostly transgenic) protect from the drill’s plague, non-existent in Cantabria’s mountain areas, as a report from Montsanto recognises.

Gutiérrez Aragón students didn’t daunt. A complete report with all proofs was given to the Environment counselling, and another was given to other environmental groups. But curiously, there was no answer, nor alarm. Everyone knew some forbidden Montsanto circulated out there. As sure as not in the revealed quantity. “Portal’s students should have made a mistake”. But that procedure mistake has never been found.

Some months have passed. Sources from the counselling have confirmed the existence of that report, like the ecologists, today integrated in a wide environment defence platform in Cantabria (Cantabria is not sold). But nobody knows what has been done afterwards. “I think the tests were repeated, but we don’t know the result, neither what happened to the students’ information” said CNSV spokesman.

Since 2009, diverse scientific reports have revealed health and environment deterioration of Mon810, something that has leaded to the prohibition of its use by the German government, followed by another seven governments.Reason was discovered in 1999 by the American University of Cornell, which offered information about the transgenic’s pollen that affected protected species, specially the monarch butterfly, very threatened in our region. Along with it, the permanence of toxins in soil provokes cultivation’s resistance to pesticides, as Andow and Hilbeck demonstrated in 2004. This research showed those resistances, being selective, were going to allow some insect species to move from their habitat to others, creating great imbalances between species, as the one teacher G. Pérez Fariños posed in 2010, after a Velimorod work sponsored by the Austrian agriculture ministry, which the European Commission took into account itself.

Portal’s research had also an important statistical component which allowed discovering that just 12% of farmers showed to have the right knowledge about the type of corn they were cultivating and being aware that they were using transgenics. Of all participants in the sample, only 13% were against the use of this seeds. Nowadays we know, as Seralini demonstrated in 2008, that this types of corn provoke toxic effects on the organs, and that its use is not justified by the fight against no plague in our region. We know that these modalities of seed have perverse effects on ecosystems, that pollen is extended by the wind polluting other sowing zones. Nevertheless, a little or nothing has been done to investigate the track discovered by these students. Why are they mere students from an upper module? Do we have to repeat the mistake when everybody ignored the ones who discovered the hole in the ozone layer?


Javier Ruiz Vila, Maria Campero, Maria Muñiz, Lucia Ruiz Vila
Colegio La Paz, Torrelavega (Cantabria)

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