Chronologically listed items on this page in descending order:
Argentina slams Monsanto or "attitude" on GMO royalties - Taos Turner - Dow Jones Newswires, March 17, 2005
Argentina: A Case Study on the Impact of Genetically Engineered Soya - Rust,Resistance,Run Down Soils and Rising Costs - Problems Facing Soybean producers in Argentina - Charles M. Benbrook - 8, January 2005.
EUROPE ONCE AGAIN TO THE CONQUEST OF AMERICA. THIS TIME WITH LOCALCOLLABORATION
Argentina forest protest begins - Thursday 29 July 2004
More than 5000 people have already made calls to Argentine embassies worldwide. Keep calling!" MORE INFO & HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Argentina's bitter harvest - New Scientist, 17th April 2004
Soya Solidarity or food apartheid? The business of hunger in Argentina - Benjamin Backwell and Pablo Stefanoni - Le Monde Diplomatique No. 44 Feb 2003
ARGENTINA Residents Say "Stop the Spraying!" - Marcela Valente - Inter Press Service, November 17 2006
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 17 (Tierramerica) - Cultivation of genetically modified soybeans is expanding in Argentina, and with it, the use of herbicides. The "Paren de fumigar" (Stop the Fumigation) campaign warns against agro-chemical spraying in urban areas, as activists collect information about its impacts in order to denounce it. Behind the initiative are the Rural Reflection Group (GRR), the Nature Protection Centre and neighbourhood organisations.
Jorge Rulli, with GRR, told Tierramerica that so far this year the campaign -- which began in January and covers all rural areas -- collected more than 60 complaints. He explained that "it is no accident" that most of them come from the provinces of Cordoba (central Argentina) and Santa Fe (central-east), which along with Buenos Aires province make up the country's epicentre of soybean cultivation -- and the associated use of the herbicide glyphosate. "We want to put together a map showing that (the intensive use of agro-toxins) is a systemic model of rural development that will produce a health catastrophe," Rulli said.
In the last 15 years, genetically modified (GM) soybean farming has extended its zone of influence, and today is Argentina's leading crop, as well as the country's principal export. The latest harvest of 15.5 million hectares consumed 160 million liters of glyphosate -- six times more than a decade ago. The serious problem, according to the groups' complaint, is that this chemical, which kills all plants except for the transgenic crop itself, is sprayed within metres of people's homes. Historically, forests, dairy farms and pastures surrounded the towns, and mitigated the impact of chemical spraying of fields. But now those protective barriers have disappeared.
"We have soybeans to the north, south and east," said Sofia Gatica, who lives in the Ituzaingo Anexo neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cordoba, capital of the province of the same name. Home to 5,000 people, Ituzaingo Anexo is the limit between city and countryside. "I cross the street and that's where the soybeans begin. And of course if they plant it, they also spray it," Gatica said in a conversation with Tierramérica.
According to Argentina's 2005 Law on Agro-Toxins, the limit for spraying pesticides and herbicides is 1,500 metres from populated areas. In 2002, the neighbourhood was declared a health emergency area after a study by the provincial ministry of health found higher incidences of leukemia, lupus, skin hemorrhages and genetic malformations. Another report, presented in March, studied 30 children between the ages of seven and 14 in the neighbourhood. It found the presence of five agro-toxins in their blood, 25 with higher levels than considered safe by the health authorities. Following this investigation, conducted by epidemiologist Edgardo Schneider at the request of the Mothers of Ituzaingo group, the city government "concluded that the neighbourhood had to be evacuated," said Gatica. But the residents remain there, alongside the soybeans, as the crop dusters continue to fly overhead, spraying the fields.
The law also created a registry of those who apply the chemicals, and requires they receive training in chemical management. But the residents say there are excesses and dishonesty in the handling and application of herbicides. Also in circulation are trucks and tractors that empty and clean their tanks at sites in towns, and they drip the chemicals along the way. Furthermore, some municipalities use glyphosate to combat weeds growing between the cracks in the pavement. Some local governments have passed regulations to stop crop spraying near town limits, but residents complain that there aren't enough controls to ensure that farmers obey the rules and that the authorities regularly give in to pressure from the farmers.
The GRR has received complaints from other urbanised areas of Cordoba, including Montecristo, Mendiolaza, Rio Cuarto and San Francisco, and from towns in Santa Fe province, such as San Lorenzo, San Justo, Las Petacas, Piamonte, Alcorta and Máximo Paz. And, most recently, from Buenos Aires province. A study financed by the Ministry of Health, conducted in five towns in southern Santa Fe province, produced some alarming data. According to the Centre for Biodiversity Research, the National University of Rosario, the National Institute of Agricultural Technology and the Italian Hospital of Rosario, there is a "very significant incidence" of cancer and malformation in the area studied. The research, presented in January, showed that in the Santa Fe towns of Alcorta, Bigand, Carreras, Máximo Paz and Santa Teresa there are 10 times more cases of liver cancer than the national average, double the number of pancreatic and lung cancer, and three times more gastric and testicular cancer.
Also recorded were numerous cases of hypospadia (the urethra exits the penis at a point before the tip) and cryptorchism (undescended testicles) -- both are birth defects associated with the use of agrochemicals. Ninety percent of the pathologies are linked to fixed sources of contamination or environmental risk factors, says the report, which confirms that some of those sources, in the rural areas studied, surpass the averages. Today there are 200 people in the neighbourhood who have cancer, according to Mothers of Ituzaingo, who conducted a door-to-door survey, and brought the issue before the Supreme Court of Justice. They are awaiting a decision.
(Originally published Nov. 11 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network. Tierramérica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)
Johnsongrass resistance to glyphosate confirmed in Argentina - By Harry Cline - Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Monsanto has confirmed that a Johnsongrass biotype has become resistant to glyphosate in Northeastern Argentina. The findings were announced recently by companies represented by two of the major fertilizer and agrochemical trade organizations in Argentina and by Monsanto. No Johnsongrass resistance has been identified in the United States. Monsanto took the initiative in researching reports in 2004 of resistance and has worked with the industry to develop recommendations to mitigate the resistance. A preliminary assessment of the affected area identified the problem on 17,000 to 25,000 acres. Monsanto and the agricultural organizations have developed recommendations to mitigate the documented resistance.
Several weed species have been identified as resistant to glyphosate in the U.S. and Monsanto has developed aggressive vegetation management plans to mitigate those situation as well. Among them is an online weed resistance management continuing education course for California and Arizona pest control advisors on the Western Farm Press website. Monsanto also sponsors a major online resistance course for Midwest and Southern corn producers. Information in these courses includes recommendation for chemical control with herbicides other than glyphosate as well as recommendations for mechanical and non-chemical control.
Copyright Western Farm Press
Argentina : Soya-Fication Brings Serious Environmental, Social And Economic Problems - by Alberto Lapolla, Rebelion, 20-07-2006 - Tlaxcala Translation
Genetically modified soya for animal fodder now accounts for 60% of our production of grains and almost the same percentage of land sown with arable crops. Far from being healthy it presents a real and growing problem for the national economy and the protection of our agricultural eco-system and also for the very lives of our people. Our country is one of 19 countries that allow the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) or transgenic seeds. It is also one of 5 that allow it on a large scale. Furthermore, Argentina is the world leader as regards the expansion of GM crops in relation to total production. 99% of the soya sown in our country is RR soya, that is GM soya, so as to make it resistant to the glyphosate herbicide. Since soya is a species with 95 to 99% closed pollination or self-fertilization, it's reasonable to reckon that non-GM soya (organic soya) does not exist in our territory. This alone would already be a serious problem. But there are many more. To start with, production has turned into monocultivation, a dangerous outcome from a strategic economic and environmental point of view of the nation's productive structure.
Any model based on monocultivation is essentially unsustainable and weak from a structural point of view. However, the expansion of GM soya for animal feed monoculture brings with it other, equally serious problems.The first is the degradation of our productive system : we have stopped being a food-producing country and now produce animal feed, so that other countries - the most industrialized - may produce meat. We have cut back our own meat production - through reducing its area, the number of animals and the quality of the fields assigned to them - to produce "soya-fodder". We assign our very best land - of the best food-producing eco-system in the world - to produce animal feed so other countries may produce and export meat, instead of doing it ourselves.
In the second place, in order to produce soya-fodder we have stopped producing innumerable other foodstuffs. The object of our agricultural production is no longer to produce food for our population and to export the rest, but rather that the country's whole agricultural system is placed at the service of producing raw materials in the form of soya-fodder, as well as oil and natural gas for export to industrialized countries. Argentina decided to abandon its food sovereignty when it lost its economic and political sovereignty.
When Videla's (1) Economy Minister Martinez de la Hoz said "the market will decide if the country is going to produce steel or biscuits " he was referring to this change of model. The scientific, technological industrial nation from before 1976-1989 ceased to exist. With it went the nation that produced food for its large domestic market - its people - and inputs for industry. In a perverse neocolonial process, the country stopped producing steel, trucks, railway carriages, tractors, planes, tanks and ships. Together with the handover of its gas, its oil, its electrical energy, its highways and the destruction of its railways, it stopped producing food like maize, wheat, potatoes, yam, lentils, rice, fruits, garden products, cotton, mutton and foodstuffs in general, so as to make over its whole economy to the production of soya-fodder. So China and the European Union and other industrialized countries rear their cattle and produce meat to supply the gigantic emerging Asian markets, where humanity's future lies, with cheap soya-fodder that we sell them.
In the third place, one must add the high enviromental contamination produced by the direct sowing-RR soya- glyphosate system, since it is based on the permanent use of agrotoxins. The last crop season used at least 150 million litres of glyphosate, 20 million litres of 2-4-D and 6 million litres of endosulfan. These last two added to the other ingredients accompanying glyphosate are highly cancerous. For example we have the serious cases of Ituzaingó Anexo in Córdoba, those of Loma Sene in Formosa and hundreds of cancer cases in Santa Fe.
In the fourth place, in ecological and environmental terms, the whole direct sowing-RR soya-glyphosate system is nothing more than a huge experiment over 15 million hectares to select resistant weeds and unimaginable, irreversible vertical and horizontal genetic contamination.
A fifth aspect of the problem is that the system produces a massive loss of labour : four of every 5 real jobs disappear as a result of the difference in operative time per person per hectare between the traditional system and the direct sowing system since the direct sowing-RR soya system requires just one operative for every 500 hectares.
A sixth aspect linked to the previous one is the destruction of small businesses. Gardens, wild fruit gathering, bee keeping, native and artificial grasses and herbs or other cultivation, every kind of plant is destroyed near the flight paths or other applications of glyphosate as a result of drift, since it is a total herbicide. Nor is RR soya profitable on extensions of less than 300, 350 or 500 hectares depending on the region, which means that small and medium farmers have to lease their land or sell it.
A seventh aspect is the "legal" robbery of ancestral land and the expulsion of people from the countryside. The direct sowing-RR soya-glyphosate system makes possible soya-fodder production in regions and places where before agriculture was not possible; so ancestral communities or those of limited means who got by on their lands from family production and gathering wild fruits are expelled by the mafia-like conspiracy of provincial and communal authorities, gangster-like legal studies and investment funds in the service of international financial capital. They take over enormous extensions of land that some estimates put at 35 million hectares in foreign hands. This clearly illegitimate development, doing away with rights written into the national constitution but not implemented, is bringing violence to the countryside.
This series of factors entails misery, expulsion and destruction of family production together with the enrichment of a tiny section of the population - the country's whole rural population is not even 10% of the national total - seen in four wheel drive SUVs, high cost imported machinery, the construction of mansions and luxury expenses of every kind as well as scarcely legal deals in the majority of the communities caught up in the soya "business". All that is compounded by a brutal concentration of land : 6900 family businesses own 49.7% of the country's land. This wealth of the few joined with the proliferation of hunger and unemployment among the working population is expressed in the thousands of welfare plans for heads of household paid out in small rural communities where unemployment never existed before.
It is good to remember that half the country's population is still below the poverty line and a quarter is in extreme poverty. One final point has to do with the dependence of producers vis-a-vis multinational businesses like Monsanto, owners of the seed patents which subsume the producer into permanent debt. In synthesis this genuine environmental, social and economic catastrophe has been brought about to produce soya-fodder so industrial countries can produce meat at low cost subsidised by hunger, unemployment, illness and environmental devastation for Argentina and the Argentineans.
Note on the author: Alberto Lapolla is an Agronomist-Geneticist
1. General Jorge Rafael Videla led the military junta in Argentina from 1976 to 1981.
Translated from Spanish into English by Toni Solo, a member of Tlaxcala (www.tlaxcala.es), the network of translators for linguistic diversity.This translation is Copyleft.
Seeds of dispute - It's Argentina v Monsanto in the battle for control over GM soy technology, writes Oliver Balch - The Guardian, February 22, 2006
Tensions between Monsanto and Argentina are escalating as the US biotech company steps up its efforts to win back control over booming Latin American soy production. Brazil and Argentina are, after the US, the two largest soy producers in the world. Brazilian farmers planted 9.4m hectares of GM soy last year, an increase of 88% on 2004. But Monsanto's primary concern is Argentina, where 98% of soy production is GM. Almost all of this is based on genetic technology developed by the Missouri-based seed giant and licensed to local manufacturers. It is the story of a love spurned. When Monsanto introduced GM technology in Argentina, 10 years ago, the country's farmers lapped it up. Cultivation of herbicide-resistant soybeans has since grown from six million hectares in 1997 to present levels of around 16m hectares - more than half the country's total agricultural land.
The problem facing Monsanto is how to keep riding Argentina's soy expansion, estimated to hit a record 42m tonnes for the 2005/2006 season. Initially, most of Monsanto's profits were generated through the sale of its Roundup herbicide, which kills weeds but not GM crops. When Monsanto's worldwide patent on the herbicide technology came to an end in 2000, cheaper equivalents began to enter the market and it had to look elsewhere for returns. The answer came in the shape of royalties on the sale of its Roundup Ready soy seeds. This is a model Monsanto employs successfully in the US, adding an additional "technology fee" to seed price to cover the use of its intellectual property. Argentinian farmers, however, are less keen than their US counterparts to stump up the surcharge. Their position is strengthened by Argentina's consistent refusal to register Monsanto's Roundup Ready patent. In 2001, the issue got as far as the country's supreme court. For once, Monsanto lost.
"Argentinian local seed companies are making their own seeds for a lower price", explains Juan Lopez, international coordinator of the Friends of the Earth GM campaign. "Farmers are not ready to pay [the] extra percentage for the technology royalty, because they can get it from the black market. They just don't need Monsanto in Argentina." When Monsanto first entered the Argentinian market, it issued national seed producers with technology transfer agreements to develop its Roundup Ready soy strain. It is seeds from these companies that are finding their way on to the black market, now estimated to represent nearly one-third of all seed sales. The practice of farmers storing seeds from one harvest to the next also dents Monsanto's profits.
Monsanto could not be contacted for comment on its strategy to regain control of its property rights in Argentina. However, recent developments suggest the US company is pursuing a two-pronged plan. According to the Monsanto website, it is now concentrating on claiming royalties when farmers come to sell their soy crop, rather than when they buy the GM soy seeds. Last year, Monsanto wrote a letter to all exporters and importers explaining its intention to charge a fee of between $15 (GBP8.60) and $18.75 on every tonne of Argentinian soy produced with its Roundup Ready technology. Argentinian soy currently trades at around $178 a tonne. "[Monsanto] reserves the right to begin legal actions, on the assumption of uncovering imports from Latin America of unlicensed Roundup Ready soy, in countries where the said technology is protected by intellectual property rights," a statement by the company reads.
In keeping with the strategy, a ship carrying 5,900 tonnes of GM soy grain, worth an estimated $1m, was detained in Liverpool earlier this month. Monsanto tested the shipment for Roundup Ready technology in the prelude to a lawsuit. Over the past six months, Monsanto has also filed cases for patent infringement in Denmark, the Netherlands and Spain. If Monsanto is successful, campaigners fear, the company could claim part-ownership rights on any product containing the Roundup Ready gene. Given that most highly processed foods contain an element of soy, such a list could potentially include everything from European margarine to Chinese soy sauce. "In the case of Argentina, Monsanto is really challenging its rights over processed food, not just over the seeds. This is something new. It's never happened before," Mr López warns.
The news coincides with a ruling by the World Trade Organisation earlier this month against EU import restrictions on GM crops and food. The second string to the company's strategy is to try to block farmers from storing seeds. It is collaborating with the international biotech industry to remove a de facto UN moratorium currently in place against genetic use restriction technologies (Gurts). Under these so-called "terminator" technologies, plants are genetically programmed to become infertile after a set period of time. "Monsanto is desperate to recapture royalties from its GM seeds, and terminator is the perfect solution because it would be able to biologically ensure that farmers have to return to the market every year," says Lucy Sharratt, coordinator of the Ban Terminator campaign. Following industry lobbying, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is due to consider case-by-case testing of terminator technologies in its annual meeting in Brazil on March 20. The stakes are high. As Ms Sharratt explains: "Instead of suing farmers - which is what Monsanto is doing in North America - for saving seed, it will be able to take a technical solution to what is otherwise a huge financial problem for Monsanto and threatens its future use of genetic engineering."
· Oliver Balch is a Buenos Aires-based journalist specialising in sustainable development and Latin American affairs
Monsanto Stops More Argentine Soy in Europe - firstname.lastname@example.org
BUENOS AIRES - US biotech company Monsanto Co has escalated its battle to collect soybean royalties from Argentina, stopping more shipments to Europe from the South American country and suing for patent violations. Monsanto Argentina told Reuters on Tuesday the company stopped another boatload of Argentine soy two days ago, in Liverpool, England. Last week, Monsanto sued two importers of Argentine soymeal in Spain. The company is seeking economic compensation and recognition in that country of its patent rights for Roundup Ready soybeans, genetically engineered to tolerate exposure to Monsanto's Roundup weed killer. Spokesman Federico Ovejero said Monsanto Argentina remained "willing to work on a local solution but today, in the absence of other solutions, we have decided to take these actions."
Last June, the multinational sued importers of Argentine soy in Denmark and the Netherlands to enforce patents in those countries on its Roundup Ready gene technology, used by nearly all Argentine farmers but which is not patented locally. Europe is the top market for soymeal from Argentina, the world's No.1 soymeal supplier. Argentina's government estimates that 30 percent of the country's farmers buy GMO seeds on the black market, avoiding royalty fees. Local law allows farmers to reuse GMO seeds without paying fees.
Monsanto has been lobbying for two years for a new royalties scheme in Argentina, and stopped charging other companies licensed to use the Roundup Ready technology in their own seed varieties. But the government is unwilling to change the basic structure of payments. A spokeswoman at the Agriculture Secretariat said Argentina will keep working "to show that Monsanto does not have a legal basis for doing the things it does and that it is clearly harming our nation" with its latest moves.
In the last week, Argentina petitioned the Dutch court to participate in the suit as an interested third party, saying the lawsuit harms exports and drains government coffers. The Agriculture Secretariat said on Monday it will try to intervene in the Danish suit as well, "and without a doubt, it will do the same if the company takes action in Spain's national courts." The government is also contemplating suing Monsanto separately in Europe, which buys nearly $2 billion a year of Argentina's soy-related goods.
(Additional reporting by Nicolas Misculin)
Monsanto testing Argentine soy in Europe - St. Louis Business Journal - 13/9/05 - http://stlouis.bizjournals.com/stlouis/stories/2005/09/12/daily22.html
Monsanto Co. is reportedly testing some shipments of soy from Argentina in Europe in an effort to make Argentine farmers pay royalties on its Roundup Ready trait, according to published reports. Monsanto's Argentine unit announced plans earlier this year to charge $15 per ton on shipments of Roundup Ready soy from Argentina in countries where its seeds are patented. The company has patents on its Roundup Ready soy in five European countries, which together imported more than 9 million tons of Argentine soybean products last year. However, the company hasn't been able to reach an agreement with government negotiators.
The Argentine government is working on a resolution to limit farmers' legal right to cull their own seeds and replant them without having to pay royalties, a government official told Reuters news service. In March, Argentine farmers traveled to the European Union in an effort to prevent Monsanto Co. from forcing them to pay royalties on its soybean seeds. They said because Monsanto doesn't have a patent on Roundup Ready soy in Argentina, it should not be able to collect royalties on soy imported into Europe from Argentina.
St. Louis-based Monsanto (NYSE: MON) stopped selling the Roundup Ready soybean seeds in Argentina last year because it was unable to collect royalties and said the business was unprofitable. The company has been unable to obtain a patent on its soy, so most farmers use it without paying royalties. Argentina is the world's third-largest soybean producer behind the United States and Brazil. An estimated 95 percent of the crop in Argentina is planted from genetically modified seeds, most of which are bought in the black market.
Argentina to fight Monsanto in court, suspend soybean talks - TAOS TURNER - Associated Press, July 1 2005
BUENOS AIRES - Argentina, a leading soybean exporter, is suspending talks with U.S. biotechnology company Monsanto Co. over a payment system that would allow the company to collect royalties on the pervasive use of its popular soybean seeds, Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos said Friday. Campos met with journalists at a press conference to discuss lawsuits recently filed by Monsanto in Denmark over the shipment of Argentine soybean products to the country. "Monsanto has shown that it continues to be a national embarrassment," Campos said, adding that the lawsuits have already harmed Argentina's farmers and exporters. "We will fight this, and we'll use the best lawyers we can get to defend ourselves," Campos said.
Tests carried out on the products showed that they were made with Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds, which are used to plant 95 percent of Argentina's soybeans. Monsanto has a patent on Roundup Ready in Denmark and in most other European Union countries, but it has never been able to patent the seeds in Argentina. This has made it hard for the company to get farmers here to pay for the right to use the seeds. Monsanto had said it filed the lawsuits "to clarify its intellectual property rights since some parties (in Argentina) have expressed doubt about those rights."
Those rights, and what they imply legally in Argentina, have been the center of heated and often bitter public talks between Monsanto, Argentine officials, farmers and soybean exporters. At issue is how, and how much, Monsanto should be able collect for the use of its seeds. Monsanto says Argentines properly pay for certified seed only 17 percent of the time, down from 50 percent in 1996, when Roundup Ready was introduced in the local market. Campos said Friday that around 30 percent of the seeds used are legally certified.
Monsanto said earlier this week that the suits are merely meant to support its claim that it has a legal right to collect royalties on its seeds. Moreover, the company said it wants to keep talking with officials and farmers to reach a consensus solution to the problem.
Monsanto shares fell 49 cents to close at $62.38 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
The Pieces of the New “Model” are Becoming Visible - Rural Reflection Group - Argentina - December 16, 2004
It is evident that European society does not understand the Latin American agricultural reality. Likewise, in South America there is an “idealist” view of European agriculture and its “multifunctionality”.
A series of letters by Robin Maynard, founder of the independent farmers movement in the United Kingdom (www.farm.org), published by The Ecologist in November (Vol. 34, Nº 9, pp 25-29), clearly shows how contradictory the European reality is. This environmentalist and struggler for agriculture for over 15 years, curiously feels that he has one foot on each of the irreconcilable positions that are found today in the British agricultural sector, in Europe and, we could add, in Latin America. In his letters, RM analyzes the evolution of European agriculture during the postwar period, when the agro-industrial path was followed by replacing human labor with agrochemicals, veterinary drugs, and machinery. The result was a rapid increase in yields, but also a corresponding, catastrophic decline in diversity, health, landscape quality, wildlife, soil and water. Those were times of glory for many farmers, whose increased production took advantage of a seemingly limitless flow of subsidies, courtesy of the taxpayer. But the deterioration of the environmental, wildlife and water is only half of the picture. In the UK, at the end of the Second World War there were 500,000 agricultural enterprises. By 1998, mixed farming had declined to 12,000 of a total of 240,000 viable agricultural enterprises. Today there are less than 11,000.
Mixed agriculture, with rotation of crops and livestock to allow for fallow periods, maintains fertility and prevents the spread of of and shortens the cycles of disease. It also produces diversity of habitats and provides the food that sustains wildlife. Robin Maynard asserts that instead of recognizing the benefits of mixed farming and putting efforts into developing it, in the post-war period politicians supported the agro-toxin and machinery lobby, opting to replace mixed agriculture for production on an industrial scale. He quotes civil servants declaring that “more than half the farmers of the UK have to quit farming," adding that agricultural companies should grow as this was a positive development. The British government still believes that the US model of agriculture is the only viable one. This means that anything less than 1500 2000 hectares, for each crop, is probably insufficient. Based on studies by the same North Americans, RM affirms that wherever agribusiness dominates, neighboring villages die. Increased mechanization means there is less local employment, and the profits from big agricultural enterprises are channeled directly to the headquarters of corporations and banks in the distant cities.
In the last of his eight letters, the British environmentalist points out that farmers’ incomes in the United Kingdom have fallen by 59% in the last 25 years, and in this context one cannot blame farmers for being so obsessed with prices.
It is the subsidies that conceal the costs that the current model of agriculture no longer covers. It is a handful of enormous agro-toxin, food processing, and retailing enterprises that dominate the agrifood sector, charging farmers high prices for inputs and tools and paying them low prices for their produce, relying on the taxpayer to fund the difference. According to RM, today it is only the biggest and most efficient enterprises that can compete without the help of subsidies in a free market world. If food can be produced more cheaply overseas, this is what must be done. Organic producers can only survive by supplying niche markets. The others have to abandon the production of food and turn to providing “environmental services”, “ecosystem services”, managing the landscape in exchange for an annual payment, at least as long as the Treasury and the taxpayers (European) will tolerate farmers as a kind of "park ranger".
Linking these arguments to the “100 million tons of sustainable soya”, carbon sequestration and no-till farming (“siembra directa”) , we can begin to see the situation with a certain clarity. In (an article in) the November 27, 2004 edition of Clarin Rural, some key aspects of the global project can be found: "There will be a deficit of soya....Some of the soya that is exported should first be milled in Argentina....Sustainable soya in no-till farming “captures carbon....Demand for organic soy is growing from the North...." The article makes an appeal for lifting the taxes on imported soy to be milled in Argentina, because milling adds value and therefore shouldn’t be taxed. And the article further argues that unprocessed soya should be exported via Brazil and Paraguay by way of the Parana-Paraguay waterway
Lynn Clarkson, from Clarkson Grain, when visiting Argentina, had a dramatic warning about the possibility that rust might attack organic soy. He claims that for the production of organic soya “Argentina is more interesting than Brazil because of its latitude similar to that of the United States”. He says that for that reason, poultry and swine corporations advise buying Argentinean cereals for the production of organic feed. Moving away from the issue of rust, Clarkson goes on giving a “classic” definition of what is meant by "organic production" in Argentina: “Organic soy production would be developed in newly cleared land where it is easier and faster to obtain organic certification, since it would farmed on practically virgin lands, where agrochemicals or fertilizers have never been used." For those of us who consider natural, biological or organic production as a way of conceiving of “life” that begins with the proposition of respecting nature’s rythms and nature itself, how can we consider a system to be organic if it begins by clearing land? However, for the (minions of the) “100 Million Sustainable Soy” project, forests “degraded” by the “unscrupulous” farmers that inhabit them would, after being cleared, start producing sustainable soy that could in turn alleviate the hunger of who buy organic chicken and pork in the central (i.e. consuming) countries. In such a “sustainable model”, “organic” soy production would play a key role.
Another piece of the model appeared in the Campo de La Nación supplement (Nov. 27, 2004, p. 10), under the contradictory title “Sustainable Agriculture Exports”, signed by a person holding a Masters in Sustainable Agricultural Systems Management from Purdue University (USA). There detailed research on agricultural lands can be discovered - "hapludolls, haplustolls, argiudols y argiustolls", soil terms given to farming lands receiving 700 mm of rain - and that those lands “can be found [Surprise, surprise!] in Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán, Santiago del Estero and Chaco and Formosa, 10,400,000 hectares of land in total, 3,900,000 of which are already under cultivation.” The rest, however, is partially occupied by natural cover, provoking the greed of those who worry about sustainability: “Let’s not do with our agriculture lands what Indians [we suppose they are referring to the Hindu] have done with their sacred cows”. The “expert” goes on to say that "we can’t afford the luxury of having million of hectares under Provincial parks and millions of Argentineans living in state of indigence and ignorance”. It’s evident that the die has been cast for the few remaining forest areas. Nobody makes a link to the floods in Chaco, that within a few hours swept away 300,000 hectares of cleared “pampas” with the same “supportive soy spirit”.
1. To speak of producing soy is, according to recent experience, to speak of monoculture. This has nothing to do with organic production.
2. Except for Unilever, that promises to make a juice for the Argentineans who can afford buying “organic juice”, Argentinean organic soya is for industrial use, for the production of animal feed, a component in the agro-alimentary chain of soy. Such use has little or nothing to do with the idea of “organic” or the “organic agriculture” that ought be about small and medium “local” farmers.
3. Industrial raw materials must be “cheap” and “in bulk”, that is, they must be commodities. An organic product can NEVER be considered a commodity. Thus, Argentinean soya becomes a commodity, but NOT organic.
4. In the United States there was already an attempt to allow GMOs to be part of organic production. As the United States lowers its standards, we should to be prepared for Argentinean Agriculture Secretary also accepting GMOs within organic production.
5. We have corroborated that several environmentalists believe that the money from the Inter-American Bank, the World Bank, FAO and UNDP do not have any predetermined intent, and for them its completely “natural” to request such money for “sustainable projects”, or - as I just found out- for an ecologic reserve in Pilar.
The last details of the model are falling into place. The picture is completed by a half-page ad, depicting the all-too-familiar image of an abandoned train station warehouse, with a sign that reads: “Hey, this could become a carpentry workshop. Can you imagine how nice?” and, adding in smaller print, “Can you imagine the noise, the sawdust, the carpenters making school benches for the school where their children can learn for a better future…" What does this have to do with the MODEL? It is the Max Joint Program: a program with so many benefits that everyone benefits. Round Up’s commitment requires that for each box of Round Up Max herbicide sold in a given community, US$1 will be allocated for these joint projects”. In another words, the future is secured by glyphosate, and the greater the consumption of Round Up Max, the more money will be available to build carpenter workshops and the more school benches our community will have… But, they do not mention, where is the community?
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SOUTH AMERICAN MINISTERS REFUSE MONSANTO ROYALTY PLAN - Reuters, April 4 2005
BUENOS AIRES - Farm ministers from Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay -- the world's top soybean exporters behind the United States -- on Friday shunned a bid by US biotech pioneer Monsanto to charge royalties on genetically modified soybeans when they are harvested. Royalties "should only be charged when farmers buy seeds," said a statement issued by Argentina after a special meeting of the Southern Agricultural Council in Cartagena, Colombia at the request of Argentine Agriculture Secretary Miguel Campos. The meeting arose from a protracted battle between Argentina and Monsanto over GMO soy royalties. Chile's Agriculture Minister Jaime Campos also attended, as did lower-level Uruguayan and Bolivian officials.
Monsanto officials in Buenos Aires declined to comment. The St. Louis, Missouri-based company wants Argentine farmers to pay technology fees for its herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready soybeans.
The statement did not refer specifically to soybeans, and could include other crops such as wheat. Argentina approved Roundup Ready soy for planting in 1996 and Monsanto used to embed the royalties charge into soybean seed prices. But because the black market for soy seeds is so great, the company stopped selling such seeds altogether in 2003. Many other companies continue to sell soy seeds containing Roundup Ready genes, however, paying licensing fees to Monsanto. Only 20 percent of Argentina's $1 billion, annual soybean seed trade is legal.
Months-long talks to set royalties collapsed last month when Monsanto warned Argentine exporters it aimed to impose a $15-per-tonne fine on Argentine shipments of Roundup Ready beans in European nations where the gene is patented. In February, the firm had proposed a $1-per-tonne charge on Argentine soy and soy derivatives in 2005, rising to $2.50 per tonne between 2006 and 2011. Argentina's Campos responded by threatening to take Monsanto to court if it levies fines in European ports. Campos, who insists technology fees should be charged as part of the seed price, rallied five neighboring countries to his side. South American officials "urged farmers in the region to reject accords to pay any kind of royalties compensation on harvested grains," the statement said.
Last month, farmers in Paraguay agreed to pay royalties to Monsanto for Roundup Ready soybeans grown this season. But the company has yet to reach a national accord in Brazil, where GMO crops were just recently approved. Argentina has drafted a legislative bill to crack down on the illegal seed trade.
On Thursday, Campos met in Colombia with US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who expressed concern over Argentina's lack of royalties payments, according to a statement issued afterward by Argentina's Agriculture Secretariat. Johanns said this puts US farmers who pay royalties at a competitive disadvantage. But the Secretariat statement said Campos replied that US subsidies on farm production and exports are even less fair.
© 2005 Reuters Limited.
Argentina slams Monsanto for "attitude" on GMO royalties - Taos Turner - Dow Jones Newswires, March 17, 2005
Argentina: A Case Study on the Impact of Genetically Engineered Soya - Rust,Resistance,Run Down Soils and Rising Costs - Problems Facing Soybean producers in Argentina - Charles M. Benbrook, Benbrook Consulting Services, AgBioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper Number 8, January 2005. Download report as pdf file (1.3MB). Lilian Joensen (Grupo de Reflexión Rural) Argentina, Stella Semino, (Grupo de Reflexión Rural) Argentina. Helena Paul (EcoNexus for the Gaia Foundation) - The Gaia Foundation, 6 Heathgate Place, Agincourt Road, London. NW3 2NU UK - http://www.gaiafoundation.org - March 2005. Download in pdf (448kb).
BUENOS AIRES -The Argentine government late Wednesday was cited as slamming U.S.-based biotechnology giant Monsanto Co. for having a "hoodlum-like attitude" in its effort to ensure that local farmers pay royalties for using genetically modified soybean seeds designed by the company. The story explains that Monsanto has had trouble collecting royalties since the seeds were introduced here in 1996. In a renewed collection effort, Monsanto recently began telling exporters that it would impose a $15-per-metric-ton fee on soybean exports. If exporters decline to pay the fee, they will face the prospect of being sued in the courts of European countries that import Argentine soybeans, Monsanto says. Monsanto says it has the legal right to collect royalties on Argentine exports when they reach the ports of countries that recognize the company's
Monsanto does not have a patent on the seeds, known as Roundup Ready soy, in Argentina. The Agriculture Secretariat was quoted as saying in a statement late Wednesday that, "Unfortunately, and despite all the meetings and conversations we've had while trying to come up with a legal framework for the sale of seeds, Monsanto persists in its hoodlum-like attitude, one which stands afar from normal business practices," and that it would not tolerate Monsanto's "bravado."
EUROPE ONCE AGAIN TO THE CONQUEST OF AMERICA. THIS TIME WITH LOCALCOLLABORATION.
We call ourselves GRR, Rural Reflection Group, in relation to a proposal made by a conglomerate of NGOs and cereal and biotechnology companies from Argentina and Europe to implement a model of sustainable soya.
Transgenic soya monocultures lead, inevitably, to depopulation of rural areas, increased deforestation, soil desertification and, therefore, more hunger among the population. Companies, as well as important government officials, including the Agriculture Secretary, INTA (1), SENASA (2) and CONICET (3) are committed in the joint effort to elaborate a major national project on biotechnology that will bring increased dependence on the imposed model and greater dependence on inputs from transnational companies. This is a historic moment of special significance, when companies are openly proposing to increase the production from seventy million to one hundred million of grain for exporting. This would require adding perhaps ten or more million hectares to the current 15 million of hectares of transgenic crops. To achieve such an objective and, at the same time, avoid an ecological catastrophe or a social uprising, the companies and the government need the help of NGOs. This new stage that has already begun in Argentina, lead by WWF -with the first call for proposals to Fundación Vida Silvestre and with the attendance of FARN (4), Greenpeace, University of Buenos Aires Agriculture Department and several companies- has been dubbed "Sustainable Soya".
This new coalition emerges as a soya neo-colonization project. In it, each actor contributes according to its own interests, but they all seem to concur on GMOs and on the role assigned to Argentina within the framework of globalization. Some environmental organizations will seek to preserve the untouched areas of national parks and to negotiate the remaining areas by establishing guidelines and experts to avoid the collapse of ecosystems. Public officials from scientific and technologic organizations will go after a naïve project on biotechnology -as is if it wasn’t already patented the last lab procedure-, and thus, placing the remains of the State in the service of transnational interests. The agriculture producers will seek to secure their own piece of the pie, challenging the rent on the land and determined not to pay royalties over the seed, while seizing the opportunity to multiple their troops through calls for an 'agrarian reform' that respects the soya model. In the meanwhile, many urban labor leaders, totally blind to the model of transgenic monocultures, keep on boasting on better distribution of profits and on the need of a 'distributive shock' that enables consumption to take off, while, at the same time, denounce messes and corruption -such as under billing in grain exports- suggesting that through increased taxes and customs controls it would be possible to raise enough resources to solve more pressing social problems. The Rotary Club and Caritas continue, in the meanwhile, with their plans of installing 'mechanical cows' (5) in hospitals and in areas of extreme poverty, as well as adding soy-based foods to indigent childrens’ canteen menus. By doing that, the Rotary Club and Caritas contribute to legitimizing the model of genetically engineered monocultures among the poorest and, at the same time, establish a double standard in the people’s diet, standard in which the poor wind up with transgenic forage. Each and every one of those actors contribute to the model’s continuance; they are all responsible through positive action or omission and have become accomplices of the multinational companies that dominate our export market and that have turned our country into a forage 'lousy little forage republic'.
We need to restore our national dignity and denounce the soya model and the role of exporter of commodities and the biotechnological experiment that we have imposed upon ourselves. We need to rebuild the State to take back charge of International Trade Comptroller office and reorganize the National Grain Commission so that we can impose minimum pricing for food intended for the tables of Argentineans -such as lentils, rice or dairy- that are no longer produced or that face a severe production crisis. We need to go back to producing seeds, recovering our lost genetic patrimony and the basis of a different agriculture model, in which the proposed goals are food sovereignty and local development.
We radically reject the paper issued by WWF last September in Gland, Switzerland, that with the title Soy boom: doom or boon for South America’s forests and savannah, presents us a model of 'sustainable soya'. (6) We reject it because it represents attitude of resignation and acceptance towards the soya global model, a model in which transnational agribusiness comprises all phases of production and commercialization: from production and sale of seeds, distribution of pesticides, the harvesting, sowing and spraying machinery, to the domination of ports of export. For Europe, such production of forage soya results in loss of food quality, the industrial production of beef with genetically modified forages and a further deterioration of rural life. For the countries in South America, the commoditization model manifests itself brutally as a threat of soil desertification, collapse of the agricultural ecosystems and hunger for our peoples.
We reject it because it ignores the social effects of soya -a crop that was never part of the Argentinean diet- as well as the fact that current monocultures are causing innumerable job losses and gigantic migration of rural populations to the big urban areas. Also because the reports ignores that cattle ranching was pushed by soya to marginal areas and to floodable low lands and, worst of all, it ignores the feedlot corrals where the cattle, instead of being fed on pastures, are being fattened with grains particularly soya- and by adding antibiotics and hormones. Because it ignores that Argentina used to be one of the world’s largest certified organic producers, until an agriculture system based on agrochemicals and GMOs changed its profile in international commerce. It also ignores that organic corn can no longer be produced due to contamination. And that Argentina’s honey has been displaced in international market due to chemical residues found in it. Because our country was once 'the breadbasket of the world'; but now, thanks to soya, we have degraded into a lousy little forage republic.
Because it is naïve and unviable to think that the desertification risk can be lowered through the proposed rotation with cattle. Over millions of hectares of monocultures the soya businessmen have destroyed fences, water dispensers and mills used for obtaining the farm’s drinking water. The soya monoculture model has only one drive: lowering costs and increasing profits at the expense of natural resources.
This model that has been put in place - an agriculture without farmers, with land concentration and with massive depopulation of rural towns -cannot be turned back by the means proposed in the paper. In reality, the aim of WWF’s members is not to change the model, but instead, to enable its consummation in the largest agricultural territory withoutproducing the expected and feared social uprising. Furthermore, WWF’s paper uncovers its cynical speculations when it states: "it is expected that the demand for soya export, to be used primarily as animal feed, will double within the next 20 years". By accepting an argument originated in a reality constructed by transnational corporations, WWF aims to sentence the entire south section of our continent to a role of nothing more than forage producers, without alternatives for defending our food security and food sovereignty. WWF only takes into account the needs of the North, without looking into Argentina’s growing poverty and hunger. The objective is to multiply the forage production capacity while preserving at least one section of the forests and ecosystems. Pretending make sustainable the growing soya production is, at best, naïve.
WWF’s document states: "The study shows that it is possible to achieve higher production of soy without destroying nature", said Matthias Diemer, Head of WWF’s Forest Conversion Initiative. "The development of more intensive and efficient land use along existing roads and near important population centres will reduce the need to clear virgin habitats". However, the report also stresses that for such a scenario to happen and work, soy producers, investors, buyers, and regulators will have to support, adopt, and promote more sustainable practices, including encouraging local governments to effectively enforce environmental and land-use laws and regulations. It would seem, truly, that the writers of the report have not checked what is actually happening in the field in Argentina in relation to soya. One of the phenomena of extension of monoculture is its sweeping away of the greenbelts of big and small cities which -comprised of dairy, poultry and vegetable farms- used to not only be source of local food, but worked as buffer zones mitigating the impacts of agriculture. Today, soya generally reaches the edges of towns, therefore the spraying of glyphosate, Paraquat and Endosulfan have a direct impact of the populations, resulting in countless cases of cancer, malformations, terminal illnesses, miscarriages, etc. In many small villages surrounded by the green desert of soya, the spraying airplanes would do not bother to interrupt their spraying while flying over urban areas, putting the populations under the direct impact and terrible consequences of the herbicides.
We are resolved to construct a notion of State within sovereignty and social justice. The only way out from the situation created by soya that our countries have, apart from a violent claim of land tenure after a social uprising caused by hunger and extreme poverty, would be the citizens decision to rebuild the State that has been destroyed during the Neoliberal era, and in such a rebuilt State, regulating international commerce currently in the hands of transnational corporations, setting minimum prices for foods comprising the peoples food patrimony, encouraging production of seeds and promoting massive repopulation plans in currently empty areas, along with integrated local development programs.
WWFs sustainable soya proposals that we reject reflect the shameful collaboration attempt of environmental groups and NGOs from the First World with the big transnational corporations. However, such corporations need collaborators because they are mindful that their future is more and more uncertain and that the public is becoming increasingly aware of the threat that patenting of the seeds and of the food to which they are accustomed represents to their lives. WWF and other big NGOs in Europe as well in Latin America pretend to maintain the model, while setting some rules directed both to mitigatethe models impacts and to moderate its unavoidable consequences. We, on the contrary, as Rural Reflection Group have declared war on a model that manifests itself in monoculture, expulsion of farmer families, massive deforestation and land conversion, unsustainable, input-dependent agriculture systems that transform us in big factories where the populations live off the surplus and discarded materials. We are a massive experiment of biotechnological packages, a lab country for the biotech multinational corporations, a colonial Argentina. We are determined to restore our food sovereignty and to rebuild a national project.
The export triumphs of today’s Argentina are, at the same time, its greatest failure, because they deny the country’s healthy food producing tradition and because they condemn us to hunger and misery. But, in the same way that our country fails when it is no longer what it once was, when it is no longer itself, Europe should also be aware that when it imposes its forage compulsive extraction model to countries like Argentina, isn’t any longer what once was, it transforms itself in something else. The globalized Europe that seeks to sustain its 'Americanized' way of life by forcing us into a role of commodity supplier in order to pay an external debt that was imposed upon ourselves during the military dictatorship, at the cost of State Terrorism and thirty thousand missing people, in reality is no longer Europe, or perhaps worse, a most sinister and perverse manifestation of itself.
CRR Rural Reflection Group - 11th October 2004 - firstname.lastname@example.org - email@example.com
(1) INTA: National Institute of Technological Agriculture.
(2) SENASA: Agroalimentary Health and Quality National Service
(3) ONICET: National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research
(4) FARN: Environment and Natural Resources Foundation. English: < http://www.farn.org.ar/en_index.html>
(5) Mechanic cow (vaca mecánica) is a term used in Argentina to refer to a domestically made piece of equipment for the production of soy milk and other soy-derived products.
(6) Soy boom: doom or boon for South America’s forests and savannah is the title of WWF’s press release (dated September 3, 2004) announcing a study that had been commissioned by WWF’s Forest Conversion Initiative. The name of the study is Managing the Soy Boom: Two scenarios of soy production expansion in South America, by Jan Maarten Dros (June 2004). The press release can be found at: http://www.panda.org/news_facts/newsroom/news.cfm?uNewsID=14910 A link to download the report can be found in the press release. As stated in page 4, the study was sponsored by the Coop Naturaplan Fund - http://naturaplan.coop.ch - part of Coop Switzerland's commitment to sustainable soy.
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Argentina forest protest begins - Thursday 29 July 2004
Campaigners from environmental group Greenpeace launched a protest this week in Argentina's north western forests, in response to biotech company Monsanto using the land to plant genetically modified soya. Using trail bikes, the activists found bulldozers in Salta, by the Great Chaco and Yungas forests. They then chained the bulldozers, immobilising them. Combined, the two forests are largest in South America, behind the Amazon. Millions of people live in the Great Chaco and Yungas, and rely on the forest's natural biodiversity for their livelihoods. The forests are also home to numerous vulnerable animal species such as jaguars, and contain rich plant life. "We're here to stop these jaguar forests being destroyed and the land turned into a genetically engineered soya desert," said Emiliano Ezcurra from Greenpeace Argentina. "Every hour, a forest area the size of twenty football fields is cleared in Argentina. Important ecosystems are destroyed, people lose their homes and wildlife is endangered," he added. The protest is intended to last several days.
More than 5000 people have already made calls to Argentine embassies worldwide. Keep calling!" MORE INFO & HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Federico Mirre, Ambassador, The Argentian Embassy, London, UK.
3rd August 2004
DEFORESTATION IN NORTHERN ARGENTINA
Dear Mr Ambassador,
It has come to our attention that indiscriminate deforestation is occurring in Northern Argentina. We wish to join with other voices to register our concern and dismay at this state of affairs. Not only are eco-systems under threat by the destruction of one of the last remaining forests in your country but also the displacement of small farmers and indigenous peoples is only adding to the social and economic woes and acute distress in your nation. That the destruction of forests and its rich and unique biodiversity has terrible environmental consequences that are acknowledged by mainstream public opinion across the world, and the traumatic displacements of population that accompanies this process is becoming viewed increasingly as unacceptable (and not as the inevitable march of progress), should all contribute to the total halt of such devastating trends. That these destructive tendencies are being pursued to grow soya-beans, predominantly, if not totally, GM soya-beans, requiring heavy inputs of agri-chemicals, which in turn degrades and contaminates the soil and the precarious agricultural eco-system would appear to be just adding woe upon woe.
The GM soya monoculture that your countrys agricultural sector has been relentlessly furthering for nearly a decade now has created an image that is growing across the world of a Soya Republic (see Soya Solidarity or food apartheid? The business of hunger in Argentina by Benjamin Backwell and Pablo Stefanoni - Le Monde Diplomatique No. 44 Feb 2003). This growing view is shaming the name of Argentina in the same way as Banana Republic was once used in a derogatory way about other, more northern countries on your continent. That the United Fruit Company was once the real pariah and that Monsanto, occupying a not dissimilar position, has become the new culprit, is not missed by many.
We urge you to represent these concerns to your government in Argentina and to request that an immediate moratorium be placed on deforestation across the whole of Argentina. All the provinces of Argentina should cease from this destructive programme as the province of Santiago del Estero has recently done. Turning your great country into an agricultural desert for a handful of beans in the long run will profit no one. The rejection of GM crops and food by people across the globe will only mean one thing for Argentina: a boycott of its soya produce. Argentina deserves better. Stop the fruitless deforestation now.
Munlochy GM Vigil
Argentina's bitter harvest - New Scientist, 17th April 2004
When genetically modified soya came on the scene it seemed like a heaven-sent solution to Argentina's agricultural problems. Now soya is being blamed for an environmental crisisthatis threatening the country's fragile economic recovery. Sue Branford discovers how it all went wrong
A YEAR ago, Colonia Loma Senes was just another rural backwater in the north of Argentina. But that was before the toxic cloud arrived. "The poison got blown onto our plots and into our houses," recalls local farmer Sandoval Filemon. "Straight away our eyes started smarting. The children's bare legs came out in rashes." The following morning the village awoke to a scene of desolation. "Almost all of our crops were badly damaged. I couldn't believe my eyes," says Sandoval's wife, Eugenia. Over the next few days and weeks chickens and pigs died, and sows and nanny goats gave birth to dead or deformed young. Months later banana trees were deformed and stunted and were still not bearing edible fruit.
The villagers quickly pointed the finger at a neighbouring farm whose tenants were growing genetically modified soya, engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. A month later, agronomists from the nearby National University of Formosa visited the scene and confirmed the villagers' suspicions. The researchers concluded that the neighbouring farmers, like thousands of others growing GM soya in Argentina, had been forced to take drastic action against resistant weeds and had carelessly drenched the land - and nearby Colonia Loma Senes - with a mixture of powerful herbicides.
The villagers took their neighbours to court and won an order banning further spraying. The judge also found the tenants guilty of "causing considerable harm to crops and human health". But it was a pyrrhic victory. In September, new tenants took over the land and started spraying again. When challenged, the farmers said that the ban did not apply to them, which was technically true.
Colonia Loma Senes is not an isolated case. Over the past eight years, GM soya farmers have taken over a huge proportion of Argentina's arable land, leading to regular complaints by peasant families that their crops have been harmed by glyphosate and other herbicides.
"We really don't know how much damage is being done throughout the country, because the authorities are not monitoring the situation properly," says Walter Pengue, an agro-ecologist from the University of Buenos Aires who has studied the impact of GM soya. But he predicts that such incidents will become more common as a consequence of Argentina's rush into GM soya. And other experts are warning of potential problems that include the emergence of herbicide-resistant weeds and destruction of the soil's natural micro-organisms.
GM technology is not entirely to blame for Argentina's agricultural woes. Economic problems have also played their part. But the country's experience with GM soya holds worrying lessons for the rest of the world, particularly developing countries such as Brazil, the world's second largest soya producer after the US. After refusing for years to authorise GM technology, Brazil is now rethinking its policy. Farmers in the south have been illegally planting GM soya smuggled over from Argentina, attracted by reports of higher yields and lower production costs. This has left the government with little option but to accept the cultivation of GM soya as a fait accompli. Last year it reluctantly gave temporary authorisation for the sale of GM soya on the domestic market and is now debating the finer details of permanent approval. Argentina's experience suggests that Brazil would do well to opt for tight controls with rigorous environmental impact studies.
In 1997, Argentina became one of the first countries to authorise GM crops, when Monsanto's Roundup Ready soya was introduced there and in the US. This GM variety is resistant to glyphosate, which Monsanto sells under the trade name Roundup. Argentina's farmers jumped at the new technology, which seemed just what they needed to solve some of their most pressing problems. Since the late 1980s, Argentina's largest and most fertile farming region, the Pampas, had been suffering from serious soil erosion. About half of the 5 million hectares of the Pampas's core grain-producing region was suffering severe erosion, according to the country's National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA), and yields on these lands had fallen by at least a third. To try and alleviate the problem, farmers were experimenting with no-tilling - a system in which seed is sown directly on the land without ploughing or any other form of cultivation. But with no ploughing, weeds were starting to get out of control, and the farmers were at a loss as to what to do.
Roundup Ready soya seemed a solution made in heaven. Farmers were able to make the no-till system work because, instead of needing five or six applications of various herbicides, they could spray only twice with glyphosate at key moments in the season. What's more, the seed companies made the move into Roundup Ready easy by supplying the seeds, machinery and pesticides in a single convenient "technological package". The new technology was also cheap. While farmers in the US paid a premium of at least 35 per cent to plant GM varieties, Argentina had not at that time signed an international patent agreement so Monsanto was able to charge only a modest fee or risk being undercut by companies making generic copies of its technology .
Driven by the world's apparently insatiable demand for soya to feed to cattle, Argentinian farmers stampeded into soya, one of the few profitable sectors in a depressed economy. Desperate to join in, urban investors rented land from impoverished smallholders and turned it over to soya. Anta, the farming group that did the damage to Colonia Loma Senes, benefited from such schemes.
By 2002 almost half of Argentina's arable land -11.6 million hectares - was planted with soya, almost all of it GM, compared with just 37,700 hectares of soya in 1971. Soya moved beyond the Pampas into more environmentally fragile areas, especially in the northern provinces of Chaco, Santiago del Estero, Salta and Formosa. Not even Monsanto had imagined that the move into Roundup Ready soya would be so rapid.
At first everything looked rosy. From 1997 to 2002 the area under soya cultivation increased by 75 per cent and yields increased by 173 per cent (see Diagram, p 43). In the early years there were also clear environmental benefits. Soil erosion declined, thanks to the no-till method, and farmers moved from more damaging herbicides to glyphosate, widely regarded as one of the least toxic herbicides available.
Even when world soya prices started to decline as global supply increased, Argentinian farmers continued to do well financially. Monsanto progressively cut the price of Roundup and by 2001 it was selling at less than half its 1996 price. Overall, Argentina's farmers made a profit of about $5 billion by adopting Roundup Ready soya.
Some years ago, however, a few agronomists started to sound alarm bells, warning that the wholesale and unmonitored shift into Roundup Ready soya was causing unforeseen problems. In a study published in 2001 by the Northwest Science and Environmental Policy Center, a non-profit organisation in Sandpoint, Idaho, agricultural economics consultant Charles Benbrook reported that Roundup Ready soya growers in Argentina were using more than twice as much herbicide as conventional soya farmers, largely because of unexpected problems with tolerant weeds. He also found that they were applying glyphosate more frequently than their US counterparts - 2.3 versus 1.3 applications a year. Saying that "history shows us that excessive reliance on any single strategy of weed or insect management will fail in the long run, in the face of ecological and genetic responses", he advised Argentinian farmers to reduce their Roundup Ready acreage by as much as half in order to cut glyphosate usage. If they did not, he warned, they would run the risk of serious problems. Among his predictions were shifts in the composition of weed species, the emergence of resistant superweeds, and changes in soil microbiology.
The warning fell on deaf ears. Argentina's economy was in deep trouble, and with soya now its main export earner the government was in no mood to intervene. The area under Roundup Ready has continued to grow, and farmers hurt by the collapse of Argentina's currency at the end of 2001 are increasingly moving into soya monoculture, as other crops for the domestic market have become unprofitable. Glyphosate use continues to rise. Pengue estimates consumption reached 150 million litres in 2003, up from just 13.9 million litres in 1997.
Initially Pengue believed that with careful rotation of crops and adequate controls over the way the herbicide was applied, the move to glyphosate would benefit the environment. But he is now concerned that the unmonitored use of this one herbicide is leading to the problems predicted by Benbrook. In a study into the impact of Roundup Ready soya on weeds, Delma Faccini of the National University of Rosario found that several previously uncommon species of glyphosatetolerant weed had increased in abundance. In another study, agronomists from INTA's office in Venado Tuerto, near Rosario, found that farmers were having to use higher concentrations of glyphosate. For now, the problem appears to be limited to the proliferation of weeds that are naturally resistant, but some agronomists are warning that it is only a matter of time before glyphosate resistance is transferred to other weed species, turning them into superweeds.
The third problem that was predicted by Benbrook - changes in soil microbiology - also appears to be happening. "Because so much herbicide is being used, soil bacteria are declining and the soil is becoming inert, which is inhibiting the usual process of decomposition," says agronomist Adolfo Boy from the Grupo de Reflexion Rural, a group of agronomists opposed to GM farming. "In some farms the dead vegetation even has to be brushed off the land." He also believes that slugs, snails and fungi are moving into the newly available ecological niche.
Similar problems are occurring to some extent in the US. According to Joe Cummins, a geneticist from the University of Western Ontario in Canada, studies of the impact of herbicides, particularly glyphosate, on soil microbial communities have revealed increasing colonisation of the roots of Roundup Ready soya with the fungus Fusarium in Midwestern fields.
Argentina's farmers are also having to deal with the proliferation of "volunteer" soya, which sprouts from seeds dropped during harvest and which cannot be eradicated with normal doses of glyphosate. This has created marketing opportunities for other agrochemical companies such as Syngenta, which has been placing adverts with the slogan "Soya is a weed" advising farmers to use a mixture of paraquat and atrazine to eradicate volunteer soya. Other companies, including Dow AgroSciences, are recommending mixing glyphosate with other herbicides, such as metsulfuron and clopyralid.
Not all scientists in Argentina are convinced that the farmers' problems have been caused by heavy use of glyphosate, and others say that the difficulties are not yet critical. "We are experiencing some problems of tolerant weeds, but they are not on a large enough scale to affect overall yields seriously or to jeopardise the future of soya farming," says Carlos Senigalesi, director of investigative projects at INTA. He believes it is the tendency for farmers to grow nothing but soya, rather than the prevalence of GM strains, which is at the root of the problem. "Monoculture is not good for the soils or for biodiversity and the government should be encouraging farmers to return to crop rotation," Senigalesi says. "But here everything is left to the market. Farmers have no proper guidance from the authorities. There are no subsidies or minimum prices. I think we must be the only country in the world where the authorities do not have a proper plan for agriculture but leave everything to market forces."
For the first time however, INTA recently expressed concern. In a report published in December it criticised "the disorderly process of agricultural development", warning that if nothing was done, a decline in production was inevitable and that the country's "stock of natural resources will suffer a (possibly irreversible) degradation both in quantity and quality". It called for changes in farming practices in the Pampas, saying that the combination of no-till with soya monoculture was "not a sustainable alternative to crop rotation farming". It also warned that, in the north, soya farming "is not compatible with the sustainability of farming".
Monsanto's Argentinian headquarters has refused to comment directly on these accusations. But the company has expressed concern about the situation, saying it believes that crop rotation is more sustainable than monoculture. It is also starting to suffer from the lack of government controls. In January it unexpectedly halted sales of Roundup Ready soya, saying that farmers were buying about half of their seeds on the black market and depriving the company of royalties.
To Benbrook, this adds up to a very worrying outlook. "Argentina faces big agronomic problems that it has neither the resources nor the expertise to solve," he says. "The country has adopted GM technology more rapidly and more radically than any other country in the world. It didn't take proper safeguards to manage resistance and to protect the fertility of its soils. Based on the current use of Roundup Ready, I don't think its agriculture is sustainable for more than another couple of years."
Argentina used to be one of the world's major suppliers of food, particularly wheat and beef. But the "soyarisation" of the economy, as the Argentinians call it, has changed that.
About 150,000 small farmers have been driven off the land. Production of many staples, including milk, rice, maize, potatoes and lentils, has fallen sharply.
Many see Argentina's experience as a warning of what can happen when production of a single commodity for the world market takes precedence over concern for food security. When this commodity is produced in a system of near monoculture, with the use of a new and relatively untested technology provided by multinational companies, the vulnerability of the country is compounded. As yet, few countries have opted for GM technology: the US and Argentina together account for 84 per cent of the GM crops planted in the world. But as others, including the UK, seem increasingly prepared to authorise the commercial growing of GM crops, they may be well advised to look to Argentina to see how it can go wrong.
(Sue Branford is a freelance journalist specialising in Latin America)
For more on this see the earlier publication:
Soya Solidarity or food apartheid? The business of hunger in Argentina - Benjamin Backwell (political expert, journalist) and Pablo Stefanoni (economist, journalist) for ‘Le Monde Diplomatique No. 44 Feb 2003 - Download in pdf here