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GM soybean: Latin America’s new colonizer

(Friday, March 10, 2006 -- CropChoice news) --

1. First contamination report reveals worldwide illegal spread of genetically engineered crops
2. Britain gives the green light to GM terminator technology
3. Seeds of dispute
4. Monsanto settles lawsuit with University of California over BST
5. GM soybean: Latin America’s new colonizer
6. Syngenta seeking assurances on GMO wheat project

1. First contamination report reveals worldwide illegal spread of genetically engineered crops

2006-03-08 - International

The first report into the extent to which genetically engineered organisms have 'leaked' into the environment reveals a disturbing picture of widespread contamination, illegal planting and negative agricultural side effects. The report is a summary of incidents uncovered by the on-line Contamination Register (1) set up by Greenpeace and GeneWatch UK. It reveals a catalogue of highly disturbing incidents right across the world, including:

  • Pork meat from genetically engineered pigs being sold to consumers
  • Ordinary crops being contaminated with GE crops containing pharmaceuticals
  • Growing and international distribution of illegal antibiotic resistant Maize seeds
  • Planting of outlawed GE crops which have been smuggled into countries
  • Mixing of unapproved GE crops in food, including shipments of food aid
  • Inadvertent mixing of different GE strains even in high profile scientific field trials

The report reveals 113 such cases worldwide, involving 39 countries - twice as many countries as are officially allowed to grow GM crops since they were first commercialised in 1996. Worryingly, the frequency of these cases is increasing, with 11 countries affected in 2005 alone. Contamination has even been found in countries conducting supposedly ''carefully controlled" high-profile farm-scale evaluations, such as the UK.

"This may well only be the tip of the iceberg, as there is no official global or national contamination register so far," said Dr. Sue Mayer of GeneWatch UK, who leads the team of investigators. "Most incidents of contamination are actually kept as confidential business information by companies as well as public authorities."

Greenpeace is calling for a mandatory international register of all such events to be set up, along with the adoption of minimum standards of identification and labelling of all international shipments of GE crops. "Without such biosafety standards ,the global community will have no chance of tracing and recalling dangerous GMOs, should this become necessary." said Benedikt Haerlin of Greenpeace International's Biosafety Protocol delegation.

The publication of the report comes only days before the latest meeting of the 132 countries who have signed the Biosafety Protocol (2), which is to establish standards of safety and information of GE crops in global food and feed trade. At their last meeting an imminent agreement was blocked by only two member states, Brazil and New Zealand. They were backed by the major GE exporting countries USA, Argentina and Canada, who are not members of the Protocol and want to restrict required identification to a meaningless note that a shipment "may contain" GE.

"All of these countries have national legislation to protect themselves from illegal GE imports. Still they want to deny the same rights and level of information to less developed countries, with no national Biosafety-laws and means to enforce them," concluded Haerlin. "Do they really want such unethical double standards and create dumping grounds for unidentified and illegal GE imports? We hope that Brazil, who will be hosting this meeting, will not betray the developing countries and cater to large agro-businesses at the expense of the environment."

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation that uses non-violent creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.


1. The GM Contamination Register is online at http://www.gmcontaminationregister.org . The full report is also available at http://www.greenpeace.org/bsp2006

2. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international treaty to establish minimum international safety standards for genetically engineered organisms ratified by 132 states. http://www.biodiv.org/biosafety

3. An overview of national legislation on imports and labelling of GE organisms world wide including a map of potential GE dumping grounds as well as import and export figures is available online at http://www.greenpeace.org/bsp2006

Source: Greenpeace

2. Britain gives the green light to GM terminator technology

© 2006 newsquest (sunday herald)
By Charlene Sweeney

THE government has abandoned its opposition to so-called "terminator technology", a form of genetic modification that makes harvested seeds sterile, and has opened the door to testing such products. Terminator technology was developed by the biotech industry and is highly controversial because it prevents farmers from saving their own seeds to grow new crops, forcing them to buy seed each season.

A global moratorium on the testing and commercialisation of terminator technology was established under the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in 2000.

However, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently stated that it will examine applications for terminator trials on a " case by case" basis.

Campaigners have accused ministers of putting the interest of biotech industries ahead of the millions of farmers who depend upon saving seeds.

Terminator technology ­ also known as genetic use restriction technologies, or Gurts ­ was developed in the US in the 1990s. In 2000, a global moratorium was established, with an agreement that restrictions should remain until research into the possible socio-economic impact of the technology was carried out.

There have been major fears that it could impoverish small-scale farmers in third world countries who traditionally save their seeds. Seed saving is also practised in countries such as Scotland to preserve seed-line and reduce farm costs.

However, some countries are pushing to be allowed to carry out "case-by-case" assessment. Among the countries known to back such a move are Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Last month the UK signalled that it is also in favour of carrying out trials when Defra posted a revised policy on its website, stating that it would consider applications for terminator field trials. "Decisions on applications to market genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are made on a case-by-case basis taking full account of a scientific assessment of the particular GMO and the risks associated with its use against the criteria in the EU legislation. An application for a GMO incorporating Gurt would be dealt with in the same way as any other GMO," it says.

The turnaround comes only weeks ahead of a meeting in Brazil of the CBD on March 20-31, to consider a new report on the technology and discuss the current moratorium.

A letter sent from the office of First Minister Jack McConnell to a member of the UK Working Group on Terminator Technology which was passed to the Sunday Herald shows that the Scottish Executive also supports the new policy. Like the Westminster document, it undermines the moratorium, stating: " Recognising that there are both potential benefits and risks associated with GM crops, all countries should be able to make their own informed choices."

Last night, campaigners reacted with disbelief. Pete Reilly of GM Freeze said: "There is no logic behind the shift. The government doesn’t appear to have any new information available to justify it ­ they are working in the dark."

He added: "Whitehall has clearly decided that the interests of the biotech companies comes ahead of the millions of people who rely on farm-saved seeds for their livelihoods and food supply."

Mark Ruskell MSP, the Green spokesman on biotechnology, also expressed concern at the turnaround.

"I’m shocked but not surprised that the Executive is toeing the Westminster line in allowing big biotech firms to potentially develop an obscene level of control on the world’s food supply," he said.

"Terminator seeds steal the ability of farmers to support themselves and their communities, it’s hard to think of a technology which could so completely undermine the Executive’s attempts to help countries like Malawi claw their way out of poverty and hunger."

The National Farmers’ Union in Scotland said trials were the only way to ascertain any benefits of GM crops. A spokesman said: "Whether the UK gives the go-ahead must be based on trials."

05 March 2006

3. Seeds of dispute

It's Argentina v Monsanto in the battle for control over GM soy technology, writes Oliver Balch

Wednesday 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 López, 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 (£8.60) 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

4. Monsanto settles lawsuit with University of California over BST

Canadian Press
Monday, February 27, 2006

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Monsanto Co. agreed to pay the University of California more than $100 million US to settle the school's claim that the biotechnology company infringed on its patent related to a hormone that makes cows produce more milk.

The university's board of regents sued Monsanto for patent infringement in 2004, and the case was scheduled to go to trial Monday.

St. Louis-based Monsanto said it agreed to pay the school $100 million in upfront royalties and would pay 15 cents a dose, or at least $5 million annually, to license the patented technology, commonly called BST, in the future. The university's patent expires in 2023.

At issue is the genetically engineered bovine somatotropin hormone, sold under the brand name Posilac. Monsanto says injections of the hormone helps dairy cows produce 10 to 15 per cent more milk.

Monsanto spokesman Andrew Burchett said the company would not disclose annual sales of the hormone. He said he didn't know who initially invented the hormone, but that Monsanto was the first company to produce it commercially and patented the production process. He said that patent predated the university's broader patent, which was granted in 2004.

University of California spokesman Trey Davis said three scientists at UC-San Francisco first isolated the DNA that is used to make the hormone. The researchers are Walter Miller, Joseph Martial and John Baxter.

Monsanto said the agreement will give it the exclusive commercial licence to use the university's patented hormone. The university will have the right to use the hormone in noncommercial research, and the U.S. government will retain some rights because federal funding was used to develop the technology.

The hormone has stirred debate since being approved for commercial use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993. Consumer groups worry the hormone could affect human health, and many milk brands carry labels advertising that they are Posilac-free.

Monsanto said the agreement will not hurt the company's performance this year, affirming its estimated profit of between $2.35 to $2.50 a share. The company's stock gained $1.25, or 1.5 per cent, to $85.89 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

C The Canadian Press 2006

5. GM soybean: Latin America’s new colonizer

Miguel Altieri and Walter Pengue

In Latin America, the frontiers to soybean production are being pushed back aggressively in all directions at a breathtaking rate. Driven by export pressures and supported by government incentives, soybean fields are taking over forests and savannah in an unprecedented manner. The implications of the monoculture model and its supporting machinery for the environment, farmers and communities are discussed below.

In 2005, the biotech industry and its allies celebrated the tenth consecutive year of expansion of genetically modified (GM) crops. The estimated global area of approved GM crops was 90 million hectares, a growth of 11% over the previous year (see map on p14).

In 21 countries, they claim, GM crops have met the expectations of millions of large and small farmers in both industrialised and developing countries; delivering benefits to consumers and society at large through more affordable food, feed and fiber that are more environmentally sustainable. [1]

It is hard to imagine how such expansion in GM crops has met the needs of small farmers or consumers when 60% of the global area of GM crops is devoted to herbicide-tolerant crops. In developing countries, GM crops are mostly grown for export by big farmers, not for local consumption. They are used as animal feed to produce meat consumed mostly by the wealthy.

The Latin America countries growing soybean include Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. The expansion of soybean production is driven by prices, government and agro-industrial support, and demand from importing countries, especially China, which is the world’s largest importer of soybean and soybean products. Brazil and Argentina experienced the biggest growth rates in GM soybean expansion in 2005. [2] The expansion is accompanied by massive transportation infrastructure projects that destroy natural habitats over wide areas, well beyond the deforestation directly caused by soybean cultivation. In Brazil, soybean profits justified the improvement or construction of eight industrial waterways, three railway lines and an extensive network of roads to bring inputs and take away produce. These have attracted private investment in logging, mining, ranching and other practices that severely impact on biodiversity that have not been included in any impact assessment studies. [3]

In Argentina, the agro-industry for transforming soybean into oils and pellets is concentrated in the Rosario region on the Parana river. This area has become the largest soy-processing estate in the world, with all the infrastructure and the environmental impact that entails. Spurred on by the export market, the Argentinean government plans further expansion of the soybean industry, adding another 4 million hectares to the existing 14 million hectares of soy production by 2010. [4]

Soybean deforestation

The area of land in soybean production in Brazil has grown on average at 3.2% or 320,000 hectares per year since 1995, resulting in a total increase of 2.3 million hectares. Today soybean occupies the largest area of any crop, covering 21% of the cultivated land.

The area has increased by a factor of 57 since 1961, and production volume by a factor of 138. In Paraguay, soybeans occupy more than 25% of all agricultural land. All this expansion is at the expense of forests and other habitats. In Argentina, where 5.6 million hectares of non-agricultural land has been converted to soya production in less than ten years, forest conversion rates are three to six times the global average. In Paraguay, much of the Atlantic forest has been cut. [5] In Brazil, the cerrado (woodland-savanna) and the grasslands are rapidly falling victim to the plow.

Forcing small farmers out

Biotech promoters always claim the expansion of soybean cultivation as a measure of the successful adoption of the transgenic technology by farmers. But these data conceal the fact that soybean expansion leads to extreme land and income concentration. In Brazil, soybean cultivation displaces 11 agricultural workers for every one who finds employment in the sector. This is not a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, 2.5 million people were displaced by soybean production in Parana, and 0.3 million in Rio Grande do Sul. Many of these now landless people moved to the Amazon where they cleared pristine forests. In the cerrado region, where transgenic soybean is expanding, there is relatively low displacement because the area is not widely populated. [6]

In Argentina, the situation is quite dramatic. Some 60,000 farms went out of business while the area of Roundup Ready soybean almost tripled. Between 1998 and 2002, one quarter of farms in the country were lost. In one decade, soybean area increased 126% at the expense of dairy, maize, wheat and fruit production. In the 2003/2004 growing season, 13.7 million hectares of soybean were planted but there was a reduction of 2.9 million hectares in maize and 2.15 million hectares in sunflowers. [7] For the biotech industry, huge increases in the soybean area cultivated and more than a doubling of yields per unit area are an economic and agronomic success. For the country, that means more imports of basic foods at teh expense of food sovereignty, and for poor small farmers and consumers, increased food prices and more hunger. [8]

Soybean expansion in Latin America is also related to biopolitics and the power of multinationals. Millions of hectares of Roundup Ready soybean were planted in Brazil during 2002 and 2003, despite a moratorium on GM crops being in effect. Through their political influence, multinationals have managed to expand dramatically the cultivation of transgenic crops in developing countries. During the early years of GM soybean production in Argentina, Monsanto did not, and said they would not, charge farmers royalties to use the technology. But now that farmers are hooked, the multinational is pressuring farmers, via the government, for payment of intellectual property rights, despite the fact that Argentina signed UPOV 78, which allows farmers to save seeds for their own use. Paraguayan farmers have also recently signed an agreement with Monsanto to pay the company $2 per tonne.

Soybean cultivation degrades the soil

Soybean cultivation has always led to erosion, especially in areas where it is not part of a long rotation. Soil loss has reached an average rate of 16 tonnes per hectare per year (t/ha/y) in the US Midwest, far greater than is sustainable; and soil loss levels in Brazil and Argentina are estimated at between 19-30 t/ha/y depending on management, slope and climate. Farmers wrongly believe that no-till systems mean no erosion. No-till agriculture can reduce soil loss, but with the advent of herbicide tolerant soybean, many farmers now cultivate in highly erodible lands. Research shows that despite improved soil cover, erosion and negative changes in soil structure can still be substantial in highly erodible lands if weed cover is reduced.

Large-scale soybean monocultures have rendered Amazonian soils unusable. In areas of poor soils, fertilisers and lime have to be applied heavily within two years. In Bolivia, soybean production is expanding towards the east, and in many areas soils are already compacted and suffering severe soil degradation. One hundred thousand hectares of soybean-exhausted soils were abandoned for cattle-grazing, which in turn further degrades the land. As land is abandoned, farmers move to other areas where they again plant soybeans and repeat the vicious cycle of soil degradation.

In Argentina, intensive soybean cultivation has led to massive soil nutrient depletion. Continuous soybean production has extracted an estimated 1 million tonnes of nitrogen and about 227,000 tonnes of phosphorous. The estimated cost of replenishing this nutrient loss via fertilisers is US$ 910 million. [9] The increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus found in several river basins of Latin America is certainly linked to the increase of soybean production.

A key technical factor in the rapid spread of soybean production in Brazil was the claim that soybean’s symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing rhizobium bacteria in the plant’s root nodules meant that the crop could be grown without fertilisers. What the companies failed to tell farmers was that the glyphosate herbicide packaged with the GM seeds is directly toxic to the bacteria, rendering the soybeans dependent on chemical fertilisers for nitrogen. Moreover, the common practice of converting uncultivated pasture to soybeans results in an overall reduction in the levels of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, again making soybean dependent on synthetic nitrogen.

Monocultures and ecological vulnerability

The link between biodiversity reduction caused by the monoculture expansion and increased insect pest outbreaks and disease epidemics is well established. In poor and genetically homogenous landscapes insects and pathogens find ideal conditions to thrive. This leads to the increased use of pesticides, which after a while are no longer effective due to the development of pest-resistance or ecological upsets typical of the pesticide treadmill. Pesticides also cause major problems of soil and water pollution, elimination of biodiversity and human poisoning. The humid and warm conditions of the Amazon are also favourable for fungal growth, resulting in the increased used of fungicides. In Brazil, the soybean crop is increasingly being affected by stem canker and sudden death syndrome.

Soybean rust is a new fungal disease increasingly affecting soybeans in South America, which is increasing fungicide applications. In addition, since 1992, more than 2 million hectares have been infected by cyst nematodes. Many of these pest problems are linked to the genetic uniformity and increased vulnerability of soybean monocultures, and also to the direct effects of Roundup on the soil ecology, through the depression of mycorrhizal [10] fungal populations and the elimination of antagonists that keep many soil-borne pathogens under control. [11]

A quarter of all pesticides applied in Brazil are used on soybean, which amounted to 50,000 tonnes in 2002. Pesticide use is increasing at a rate of 22% per year. While biotech promoters claim that one application of Roundup is all that is needed for whole season weed control, studies show that in areas of transgenic soybean, the total amount and number of herbicide applications have incr-eased. In the USA, the use of glyphosate rose from 6.3 million pounds in 1995 to 41.8 million pounds in 2000. In Argentina, Roundup applications reached an estimated 160 million litre equivalents in the 2004 growing-season. Herbicide usage is expected to increase as weeds develop resistance to Roundup.

Yields of transgenic soybean average 2.3 to 2.6 t/ha in the region, about 6% less than conventional varieties, and are especially low under drought conditions. Due to pleiotropic effects (stems splitting under high temperatures and water stress), transgenic soybean suffer 25% higher losses than conventional soybean. Some 72% of the yields of transgenic soybeans were lost in the 2004/2005 drought in Rio Grande do Sul, which is expected to translate into a 95% drop in exports with dramatic economic consequences. Most farmers have already defaulted on one third of government loans.

Other ecological impacts

By creating crops resistant to its herbicides, a biotech company can expand the market for its patented chemicals. The market value of herbicide-tolerant crops increased 10-fold between 1995 and 2000, from $75 to $805 million. In 2002, herbicide-tolerant soybean occupied 36.5 million hectares around the world, making it by far the number one GM crop in terms of area. [12] Global herbicide sales (especially glyphosate) continue to increase. The continuous use of herbicides, and especially the use of glyphosate with herbicide-tolerant crops, can lead to serious ecological problems. When a single herbicide is used repeatedly on a crop, the chances of herbicide-resistance developing in weed populations greatly increases. About 216 cases of pesticide resistance have been reported in one or more herbicide chemical families. [13]

Given industry pressures to increase herbicide sales, the acreage treated with broad-spectrum herbicides will expand, exacerbating the resis-tance problem. Weed resistance has already been documented with Australian populations of annual ryegrass, quackgrass, birdsfoot trefoil, Cirsium arvense, and Eleusine indica. [14] In the Argentinian pampas, eight species of weeds, among them two species of Verbena and one species of Ipomoea, already exhibit resistance to glyphosate. [15]

Herbicide resistance becomes more of a problem as weeds are exposed to fewer and fewer herbicides. Transgenic soybean reinforces this trend on account of market forces. In fact, weed populations can even adapt to tolerate or "avoid" certain herbicides. In the US state of Iowa, populations of common waterhemp have demonstrated delayed germination, which allows them to avoid planned glyphosate applications. The GM crop itself may also assume ‘vounteer’ weed status. In Canada, volunteer canola resistant to three herbicides (glyphosate, imidazolinone, and glufosinolate) has been detected. Farmers have to resort to the highly toxic 2,4-D to control the volunteer canola. In northern Argentina, there are several "superweeds" than demonstrate this kind of "stacked’ or "multiple" resistance to glyphosate.

Biotech companies claim that when properly applied, herbicides should not pose a threat to humans or the environment. But in practice, the large-scale planting of GM crops encourages the aerial application of herbicides and much of what is sprayed is wasted through drift and leaching. The companies contend that glyphosate degrades rapidly in the soil, does not accumulate in ground water, has no effect on non-target organisms, and leaves no residue in food, water or soil. Yet glyphosate has been reported to be toxic to some non-target species in the soil ­ both to beneficial predators such as spiders, mites, and carabid and coccinellid beetles, and to detritivores such as earthworms, including microfauna as well as to aquatic organisms, including fish.

Glyphosate is a systemic herbicide (which means it is absorbed into and moves through the whole plant), so it is carried into the harvested parts of plants. Exactly how much glyphosate is present in the seeds of herbicide-tolerant corn or soybeans is not known, as grain products are not included in conventional market surveys for pesticide residues. The fact that this and other herbicides are known to accumulate in fruits and tubers raises questions about food safety, especially now that more than 100 million pounds of this herbicide are used annually in the US alone. [16] Even in the absence of immediate (acute) effects, it might take 40 years for a potential carcinogen to act in enough people for it to be detected as a cause. Moreover, research shows that glyphosate seems to act in a similar fashion to antibiotics by altering soil biology in a yet unknown way and causing effects like:

  • Reducing the ability of soybeans and clover to fix nitrogen.
  • Rendering bean plants more vulnerable to disease.
  • Reducing growth of beneficial soil-dwelling mycorrhizal fungi, which are key for helping plants extract phosphorous from the soil.

Farm-scale evaluations in the UK showed that herbicide-resistant crop management within and in the margins of beet and oilseed rape production led to reductions in beetle, butterfly and bee populations. Counts of predacious carabid beetles that feed on weed seeds were also smaller in GM crop fields. The abundance of invertebrates that are food for mammals, birds, and other invertebrates were also found to be generally lower in herbicide-resistant beet and oilseed rape. [17] The absence of flowering weeds in GM fields can have serious consequences for beneficial insects which require pollen and nectar for survival.


Soybean expansion in Latin America represents a recent and powerful threat to biodiversity in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. GM soybeans are much more environmentally damaging than other crops, partly because of their unsustainable production requirements, and partly because their export focus requires massive transportation infrastructure projects, which open up vast tracts of land to other environmentally unsound economic and extractive activities.

The production of herbicide-resistant soybean leads to environmental problems such as deforestation, soil degradation, pesticide and genetic contamination. Socio-economic consequences include severe concentration of land and income, the expulsion of rural populations to the Amazonian frontier and to urban areas, compounding the concentration of the poor in cities. Soybean expansion also diverts government funds otherwise usable in education, health, and alternative, far more sustainable agroecological methods.

The multiple impacts of soybean expansion also reduce the food security potential of target countries. Much of the land previously devoted to grain, dairy products or fruits has been converted to soybean for exports. As long as these countries continue to embrace neoliberal models of development and respond to demand from the globalised economy, the rapid proliferation of soybean will increase, and so will the associated ecological and social impacts.

1 Clive James (2005), Global review of commercialised transgenic crops: 2005. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application Briefs, No 23-2002. Ithaca , New York.

2 Ibid.

3 PM Fearnside (2001), "Soybean cultivation as a threat to the environment in Brazil", Environmental Conservation 28: 23-28.

4 Charles Benbrook (2005), Rust, resistance, run down soils, and rising costs ­ problems facing soybean producers in Argentina. Ag BioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper No. 8.

5 C Jason (2004), World agriculture and the Environment. Island Press. Washington.

6 PF Donald (2004), "Biodiversity impacts of some agricultural commodity production systems," Conser-vation Biology 18:17-37.

7 Walter Pengue (2005), "Transgenic crops in Argentina: the ecological and social debt," Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 25: 314-322.

8 JF Jordan (2001), "Genetic engineering, the farm crisis and world hunger," BioScience 52: 523-529.

9 Walter Pengue (2005), "Transgenic crops in Argentina: the ecological and social debt," Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 25: 314-322.

10 Symbiotic associations between fungi and plant roots.

11 Miguel Altieri (2004), Genetic engineering in agriculture: the myths, environmental risks and alternatives, Food First Books, Oakland.

12 Clive James (2004), Global review of commercialised transgenic crops: 2004. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Application Briefs, No 23-2002. Ithaca , New York.

13 Jane Rissler and Margaret Mellon (1996), The ecological risks of engineered crops, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.

14 Miguel Altieri (2004), Genetic engineering in agriculture: the myths, environmental risks and alternatives, Food First Books, Oakland.

15 Walter Pengue (2005), "Transgenic crops in Argentina: the ecological and social debt," Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society 25: 314-322.

16 http://bogota.usembassy.gov/wwwsglyp.shtml

17 www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse/index.htm

Miguel Altieri is professor of agroecology at the University of California in Berkeley.

His latest book in the agroecology theme, Genetic Engineering in Agriculture: The myths, environmental risks, and alternatives, was published by Food First in 2004. He can be contacted at agroeco3@nature.berkeley.edu.

Walter Pengue is Professor of Agriculture and Ecology at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina. He has written extensively on Latim America’s soybean invasion. He can be contacted at wapengue@sinectis.com.ar.

6. Syngenta seeking assurances on GMO wheat project

Thursday, February 23, 2006
By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY - Syngenta Seeds is at least six years away from rolling out what would be the world's first genetically modified wheat seed, and the company is now trying to determine if it should continue with the controversial project, a company seed breeding official said on Wednesday.

Rollie Sears, senior development manager for Syngenta Seeds, said Syngenta has recorded good results from five years of field trials for a type of genetically modified wheat that is resistant to fusarium disease, which has cost U.S. wheat farmers millions of dollars in losses in the last several years.

But continued aversion to scientific tinkering with the key food crop in some sectors has made Syngenta skittish, and if the company is to proceed, it must gain the support of major food companies and other players in wheat processing, Sears said. Syngenta already has sought, and received, a pledge of support from U.S. wheat growers and export marketing leaders, but needs further assurances before it determines whether it will seek regulatory approval for the fusarium-resistant wheat, according to Sears.

"lt takes a cooperative effort from the entire industry to launch the first biotech trait in wheat, "said Sears, who was attending a Wheat Quality Council meeting in Kansas City.

Two years ago Syngenta rival Monsanto Co. aborted plans to commercialize a transgenic wheat that was resistant to herbicide. The retreat came in the face of stiff opposition from buyers of U.S. wheat and farmers who feared they would lose customers for their crop.

Currently there are no transgenic wheat varieties planted commercially anywhere in the world. But increasingly U.S. wheat farmers are clamoring for wheat technological advancements to help them grow wheat more profitably.

National Association of Wheat Growers chief executive officer Daren Coppock said the profitability of wheat farming is in decline and consequently farmers are increasingly replacing wheat acreage with corn, soybeans and other crops. Without advancements to help farmers fight disease and drought and other problems, wheat farmers will continue to struggle to survive, he said.

"We have a problem," said Coppock. "We don't have the luxury of dancing around this topic anymore."

Syngenta Seeds is part of Swiss agrochemicals firm Syngenta, which was created six years ago by the merger of the agrochemicals businesses of AstraZeneca and Novartis. lt vies with Bayer's CropScience for the number-one spot in the global agrochemicals market.