Genetically Modified Organisms in Chile

Francisco A. Laguna & Annapurna Nandyal

This week, our series on transgenic foods and crops continues with a discussion about Chile.

Chile has turned food production into a global business, emerging as one of the world’s major food exporters.  Go into any supermarket and you will find an abundance of Chilean produce (and wine).  We’ve experienced that not only in the U.S., but also in China and Vietnam.

Map of Chile Photo Credit: The World Factbook

Map of Chile
Photo Credit: The World Factbook

About 13% of the population is employed in the agricultural sector, and, in 2012, agriculture was almost 4% of GDP.  Major agricultural products include grapes, apples, pears, onions, wheat, corn, oats, peaches, garlic, asparagus and beans.

Chile started producing genetically engineered seeds in 1996.  Now, it is the 5th largest producer of GM seeds, valued at some US$ 370 million per year.  An estimated 60,000 hectares has been planted with biotech maize, canola and soybean.  In-country, universities and laboratories are working on engineering citrus, potatoes, grapes, nectarines and peaches.

Interestingly, all GM seeds grown in the country are exclusively for export.  Chile does not allow the domestic use of transgenic seeds, and the law governing the production and exportation of biotechnology seeds is strictly enforced. 

In contrast, Chile lacks effective legislation governing the importation of GM food products and products derived from GMOs.  Although the Congress has considered several draft bills regulating transgenic food products, no decisions or meaningful discussions have occurred since 2005.

Photo Credit: Auztrel via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Auztrel via Wikimedia Commons

Given the importance of agriculture to the Chilean economy, sector representatives argue that these matters should be regulated in a comprehensive and sensible manner.  Lawmakers have commented that currently, Chile is in the worst position vis-à-vis GMOs:  it can produce GM seeds, but only for export purposes – no domestic use is allowed; and transgenic foods are being freely imported into the country without effective regulation, disclosure or labeling requirements.

Under the current administration of Sebastian Piñera, the Ministry of Agriculture is leading an effort to reignite discussions of existing draft GM legislation, with little result to date.  The Ministry’s Oficina de Estudios y Políticas Agrarias (ODEPA) (Office of Agriculture Studies and Policies) is coordinating this effort.

Photo Credit: John O'Neill via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: John O’Neill via Wikimedia Commons

Despite a lack of movement on the regulations governing GMOs, the Chilean Senate is currently reviewing a bill that would allow multinational corporations to patent GM seeds in Chile.  It has already been approved by the lower House of Representatives.  Dubbed “Monsanto’s Law”, opponents argue that patent rights would allow corporations to set the price of seeds and restrict users.

Chile needs to address the disparities and voids in the legal treatment of GM crops.  It should develop laws that allow for the sale of the very biotech seeds grown in-country for export and establish a mechanism for the regulated importation of transgenic foods.

TransLegal works extensively in Chile, assisting our clients in understanding the regulations governing GMOs for food, animal feed and industrial use as well as the rules for the collection of genetic samples under the Convention for Biological Diversity.  Our clients include biotechnology, food, feed and pharmaceutical companies.  Call us with your questions concerning Chile.

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