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[MONTEVIDEO] The new Ecuadorian Constitution, approved on September 28th by two-thirds of voters, has declared the country GMO free and will limit its biotechnology — dividing opinions in the Ecuadorian scientific community.

Article 401 of the new constitution states Ecuador is "free of GM seeds and crops; only by way of exception and in case of national interest, duly reasoned by the President of the Republic and passed by the National Assembly, will GM seeds and crops be introduced in the country."

The article goes on to mention biotechnology and points out that "the State will regulate, under strict biosafety rules, the use and development of modern biotechnology and its products, as well as its testing and commercialisation".

"The use of experimental or dangerous biotechnology is not permitted in Ecuador," the text finally reads. The Ecuadorian scientist and former minister of Public Health Plutarco Naranjo told SciDev.Net that article 401 of the new constitution is "quite general and ambiguous", although he agreed with the idea of limiting the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).           

"Legislation based upon the new constitution will necessarily have to specify what is considered to be experimental or dangerous biotechnology," he said.

"As regards the growth of GM crops for commercial purposes and imports for human consumption, both matters should be left aside until these activities become authorised by the European Union. In my opinion, GMO imports for animal feed should go on, but not their growth for commercial purposes," he added.

Meanwhile, Julio César Delgado, director general of the Autonomous National Institute of Agricultural Research of Ecuador (INIAP), told the Ecuadorian newspaper Hoy that the aforementioned article hinders biotechnological development.

"Asia has legalised golden rice enhanced with vitamin A, which has helped reduce prevalence rates of childhood blindness. During the Iraq War, supermarkets offered a variety of products. These are the benefits of GMOs," he told Hoy.

In the same publication, María de Lourdes Torres, professor of plant molecular biology at San Francisco de Quito University (USFQ), asserted that GMOs should be addressed on their own instead of being included in the constitution.

Constitution limits biotechnology (Hoy) [in Spanish]

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