Concern for the welfare of the poor is the reason given by many of the speakers scheduled to participate in the forthcoming Study Week in on GM crops in Rome in May 2009 which is being organised by the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences. This is why, according to the abstracts, that the majority of the speakers wish to dismantle the present regulatory framework as it applies to GM crops. In his abstract entitled, “Gene-Splicing is Over-Regulated, But Science Shows a Better Way,” Henry I Miller writes that, “the amount of regulatory scrutiny is inversely proportional to risk. We need reform that will right the wrongs that have done such violence not only to research and development but to the interests of the poorest among us.” The same theme dominates Wayne Parrott’s abstract “GMO Myths and Realities.” According to his abstracts everyone seems to be against GM crop, and their motivation is suspect. Even the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank comes in for a tongue lashing.
I will be interested to see how any of the above speakers will substantiate their claims about capacity of GM food to feed the poor in the light of the exhaustive studies conducted recently by a Study on Organic Agriculture in Africa. This confirms the findings of a study by the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which was published in April 2008, that organic and not GM farming is the way of the future.
Looking at the list of speakers for this Study Week it is worth noting that none of the speakers have any competence in the areas of development studies and poverty alleviation. Why are there no experts from Caritas Internationalis or other Catholic Development Organisations?. Furthermore, the Introductory document lamely admits that this is not a “scientific conference.” It is not even a competent forum, since it lacks expertise in crucial areas. In fact it is a cabal of like-minded geneticists and biotechnologists, many of whom have close connections with biotech corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta.
But is there any truth about the claims that GM crops will reduce poverty? In an article in Latinameric Press entitled “Transgenics sweeps the nation, (November 13, 2008) Andres Gaudin writes that, “even though campesina and indigenous organisaitons, family co-operatives and environmental groups in the Southern Cone (of Latin America) have warned about the risks transgentic monocultures poses – unemployment, poverty, food sovereignty, health and soil degradation – governments in the region continue to push these genetically modified crops for one reason. The tax on soy, wheat, corn and sunflower seeds are expected to total US$70 billion for the Southern Cone countries in 2009.”
Traditionally soy was not a significant crop in the Southern Cone until the 1990s. In the mid-1990s GM soy took off because Monsanto lured farmers in Argentina with an attractive offer that GM soy seeds would be cheaper than the non-GM varieties. The researcher Renee Isabal Mengo analysed the social and environmental impact of GM soy in an article in the publication Ecoportal, in February 2008, entitled “The Republic of Argentina, Social, Environmental and Productive Impact of the Soya Expansion.” Among other things she found that, the expansion of soy was causing soil and the destruction of biodiversity on the environmental side. In terms of its social impact, soy plantations were forcing poor people to flee to cities. The production of soy is highly mechanised need much fewer workers. Soy was also concentrating ever larger tracks of land in the hands of a few rich people. She reported that government studies have found the 8 out of 10 unemployed people who live in the poverty belt around Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Rosario are campesinos displaced by GM soya. Soy plantations have undermined traditional livestock farms. The number of cattle fell from 54 million in the mid-1990s to 44 million in 2009. This study claimed that the expansion of soy plantations was responsible for the destruction of 1.1 million hectares of native forests. ng-The-Planet.html
Half of Argentina’s farming land is now planted with soy. Most is grown by large scale farms for biodiesel or for export as animal feed to Europe and China. Small farms and farmers that grew lentils, dairy, wheat, maize and fruit are displaced. Hunger and malnutrition are increasing.
Soy requires only 1 worker for every 500 hectares and is estimated to displace 10 times the amount of workers previously employed. It is farmed intensively with huge machines. Vast land areas and constant expansion are needed to provide profits. Land can be obtained by renting or deforestation. Once fertility is depleted the farms move on. Massive road, rail and port infrastructure building has been undertaken to deal with the soy exports. This opens up the forest to logging, mining, ranching and lures people who have been displaced by the soy farms.
Pesticides used on GM soy are poisoning the air, soil and water and causing illnesses. The use of the pesticide Roundup has increased 14 fold from 13.9 million litres in 1996 to 200 million litres in 2008. Over the same time the increase in soy has been 5 fold. Superweeds, resistant to herbicides, are being created and more toxic poisons are being used.
Last year women held a two day workshop in Argentina, on a privatised railway track in Santa Fe that transports soy. They did this to show how soy is bringing food insecurity and misery to women and children and to protest the privatisation of the railway.
Several local groups are working against soy but are being harassed. In Brazil, Catholic priest Father Ediberto Sena is fighting off attempts by grain trading giant Cargill to extend further into the Amazon.
The issue is increasingly being brought to Europe as this is where much of the soy ends up. Greenpeace recently tried to shame the World Wildlife Fund into withdrawing its support for the controversial “Roundtable on Responsible Soy” a greenwash group for soy producers.
Also the group “La Soja mata – Soy kills” is showing first world consumers how their biofuels and cheap and abundant meat are being provided.
Via Campesina, the international movement for small farmers, has launched a “Combat Monsanto – building a world free of Monsanto” campaign.
The biotech and agribusiness industries insist on telling us that GM will feed the world. Many people believe this. However the biggest beneficiaries to date have been the companies themselves. The net income of Monsanto – the owner of the Roundup Ready GM technology, doubled to $1.12 billion in the three months to February 2008 compared to 2007.
Cargill, the multinational grain trader and agribusiness powerhouse, currently being defied by Father Ediberto Sena, increased its net earnings 86% to $1.03 billion over the same period.
www. Resourgence.org/magazine/articles2803. poisoni
On the health side, the Argentine Paediatric Society has recommended that GM soy should not be consumed by humans, especially children. It’s studies show that GM soy impedes the absorption of calcium, iron, vitamin B-12 and zinc. It also brings on early puberty in girls.
On every indices, Mengo’s data contradicts the contentions of the pro-GMO speakers who will make presentations at the Pontifical Academy’s Study-Week. Surely Bishop Sanchez, who is from South America, should investigate these findings thoroughly before giving a rostrum to promoters of biotech agriculture.