Peru’s congress has approved a new law banning the cultivation of transgenic seeds but genetically-modified (GM) imports will still be allowed, Web site Agraria.pe reported.

Scientist Dr Alexander Grobman Tversky has criticized the move as cutting the lifeblood of several Peruvian innovations such as moth-resistant potatoes and leaf spot-resistant papayas, in an interview with website Agronecociosperu.com.

“This disease (leaf spot) is wiping out thousands of hectares of papaya in the jungle. Around 50 project profiles have been developed that use the tool of genetic engineering and could be conducted with different crops and livestock,” Grobman Tversky was quoted as saying.

“If the potato created in Peru is not accepted here it could be brought to other countries like India. Regarding the GM papaya, the strains of the virus that attack papayas are different in every country, so Colombia, the Philippines and Vietnam are developing their own transgenic papayas that are resistant to the virus, as was done in Hawaii.

“A moratorium of any length of time for GM crops benefits Peru’s competing countries, and certain NGOs whose funds come from external financing.”

The Romanian-born scientist, who is president of Semillas Penta Del Peru S.A., told Agronegocios Peru transgenic food development was an important means to fight hunger, while the moratorium would also lead to large financial losses for the country.

“There are around one billion hungry or malnourished people in the world. Every year there are around 100 million more mouths to feed. The expansion of agriculture is limited by a lack of adequate land, unless more forests are harvested. The availability of irrigation water is increasingly scarce,” he was qutoed as saying.

“There are several national costs in the delay of accepting GM crops that can be quantified economically, like what was done by the IFPRI (International Food Polciy Research Institute) and Goncalves in Brazil, calculating that the delay of six years in Brazil to develop GM soybeans behind Argentina, led to a loss of US$6 billion.”

He said Peru also had six universities offering postgraduate programs in modern biotechnology, but the new law created a disincentive for students to study in the area and could lead to a brain drain.

The law will be in effect for the next 10 years with the aim of preventing negative effects on biodiversity, while a technical commission has also been created to evaluate and prevent risks from the use of transgenics, Agraria reported.

The evaluation report will need to be submitted within the next two years, while the Ministry for Environment will still need to set an environmental land management policy in relation to the moratorium.