Havana meeting on The Impact of Agricultural Biotechnology on Environmental and Food Security

On 1-4 April 2004, Pugwash Meeting no. 294 was held in Havana, Cuba.

2nd Pugwash Workshop: The Impact of Agricultural
Biotechnology on Environmental and Food Security

Workshop Summary Report by Jeffrey Boutwell

The incorporation of modern biotechnology and genetic engineering into agricultural production processes has generated new ethical, economic, social and environmental dilemmas confronting societies all over the world. Research into these biotechnologies has sparked an intense debate on the benefits and risks of implementing transgenic technologies into the world’s agricultural production, raising questions about the extent of our current knowledge as to the long-term effects of genetically modified organisms.

In May 2002, Pugwash organized an initial workshop on these issues, held in Mexico City, to focus especially on new developments in agricultural biotechnology as these relate to farming practices and food production in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. In particular, the biological and genetic diversity of Mexico, both in wild and domesticated varieties (especially maize), made the country an ideal venue for international workshops on these issues.

As a result of the Mexico workshop discussions (see the Pugwash website or the Pugwash Newsletter, vol. 39, no. 1, December 2002, pp. 55-59 for a full report of the workshop), participants identified six key principles which they felt should guide research and policymaking regarding agricultural biotechnology:

  1. Current knowledge is insufficient for assessing the benefits and risks of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), especially in light of the long-term consequences these technologies may pose for the biosphere and future generations.
  2. To that end, independent research and institutional capacity building within society is needed to identify and implement short– and long term research and to analyze, monitor and evaluate the environmental, economical, health and socio-cultural aspects of biotechnology developments.
  3. Because many of the short-term and long-term consequences of GMOs remain unknown, certain activities should not be undertaken until more is known of their biological and social consequences. For example, current efforts to develop GM maize that produces non-edible industrial chemicals or pharmaceuticals are of grave concern because maize is an open pollinated, widely cultivated staple crop.
  4. Mechanisms are needed to ensure access, by all sectors of society, to complete and appropriate information on agricultural and biotechnology developments and applications to all sectors of society. Of particular importance for evaluating and monitoring these is the deposit of, and access to, viable biological materials and detailed sequence information of the new genetic constructs of all GMOs.
  5. Multiple strategies employing traditional and newly developed technologies, capacities and institutions, rather than over-reliance on one particular technology, need to be evaluated and promoted to ensure socially and ecologically sustainable agriculture. Strategies such as niche marketing, inter-cropping, precision and integrated farming, and techniques to conserve germplasm should be promoted and supported.
  6. Informed participation by the agricultural, consumer and all sectors of society in the decision-making process regarding GMOs requires greater transparency, accountability and credibility on the part of scientists, government and the private sector.

Given the complexity of the subject and its evolving nature in light of new scientific and technological developments, the Pugwash Conferences organized a second workshop that was held at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba from 1-4 April 2004. Pugwash is grateful to our Cuban colleagues and hosts – including Orlando Fundora Lopez and Nestor Acosta Tieles of the Cuban Pugwash Group, and Carlos Borroto Nordelo and Merardo Pujol of the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology – for their warmth and hospitality.

More than 30 scientists and specialists in agricultural and biotechnology issues participated in the workshop, coming from 10 different countries. A good deal of effort was given to invite participants representing a wide range of views, including skeptics of GMOs from academia and government to proponents from government and industry. Rather than summarize the disparate views that constituted the workshop discussion, Pugwash is making available the extremely informative power point presentations that were given during the workshop. These are listed in the following section, and are available both on the Pugwash website and on CD-Rom by contacting the Pugwash office in Washington, DC, at pugwashdc@aol.com.

Pugwash is very grateful to the Christopher Reynolds Foundation of New York for its support of the workshop in particular, and of the concept of free scientific exchange and travel between countries in general.


Overview of the Biosafety Regulatory Frameworks in LAC countries: Abstract by Rodrigo Artunduaga-S

Unintended movement of genes producing industrial biochemicals in plants by Norman C. Ellstrand

Capacity Building in Biotechnology: The Case of the United Nations University Programme “Biotechnology for Latin America and the Caribbean”, and its Research and Training Network on Biosafety RNBIO by José Luis Ramírez and Juan Dellacha



Nestor Acosta Tieles, Cuban Pugwash Group, Physician, and Vice President for the Commission of Scientists of the Cuban Movement for Peace and People’s Sovereignty (MOVPAZ), Havana, Cuba,

Renato Andreotti, Pesquisador Méd. Vet. -Doutor Em Ciéncias, Ministry of Agriculture, Pecuaria e Abastececimento Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria, Embrapa, Centro Nacional De Pesquisa De Gado De Corte, Brasil

Rodrigo Artunduaga, Instituto Colombiano Agropecuario Coordinador Bioseguridad y Recursos Genéticos Agrícolas, Colombia

Jose Altshuler, President, Cuban Society for the History of Science and Technology, Cuba

Marta Ayala, International Collaboration/Recombinant Antibodies Department, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

Lesley Blancas, NSF post-doctoral Fellow, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, Mexico-USA

Carlos Borroto Nordelo, Deputy Director, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

Jeffrey Boutwell, Executive Director, Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, USA

Moises Burachik, Ministry of Agriculture, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Carlos Camaño, Prod. Agroindustriales, SENASA, Argentina

Candice Cotton, Legislative Assistant, U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, USA

Luis Manuel Cuñarro, Center for the Study of Defense Information, Cuba,

José Rodriguez Dueñas, Director, National Center for Biosafety, Cuba

David Ellar, Professor, Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, UK

Norman C. Ellstrand, Department of Botany & Plant Sciences, University of California, Riverside. Director, Biotechnology Impacts Center, USA

Mario Pablo Estrada, Head, Aquatic Organisms Biotech lab, Animal Division, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

Orlando Fundora Lopez, Chair, Cuban Pugwash Group, and President, Cuban Movement for Peace and People’s Sovereignty, Havana, Cuba,

Robert B. Horsch, Vice President, Product and Technology Cooperation, Monsanto Company, USA,

Martha Krebs, Science Strategies, USA

Dr. Quentin B. Kubicek, Manager, Regulatory Affairs & Policy Development, DuPont Ag. & Nutrition, USA

Ondina León, Deputy Director, Center for Animal and Plant Health, Cuba

Rebeca Martínez, Aquatic Organisms Biotech Lab, Animal Division, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

Nicolás Medina, Senior Researcher, Dept. of Plant Nutrition and Biofertilizers, National Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Cuba

Carlos Muñoz, Unidad de Biotecnologia, Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, Centro Regional de Investigacion, Chile

Maria Cristina Perez, Executive Director, National Program for Agricultural Biotechnology, Cuba

Merardo Pujol, Head, Plant Division, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

José Luis Ramírez, Director Centro de Biotecnología, Instituto de Estudios Avanzados, Venezuela

Maria Elena Rodriguez, Specialist of the Ministry of Science and Technology, CITMA, Cuba

Pilar Rodríguez, Head, Animal Division, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

Angela Estela Sosa, Biosafety Specialist, Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Cuba

Terje Traavik, Professor of Gene Ecology, School of Medicine, University of Tromsö.
Scientific Director, GenÖk-Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology, Norway