During the last 20 years, Argentina has been the point of entry through which GMOs have spread out over the Southern Cone. To understand the role this country has played in the most spectacular advance by a crop ever witnessed since the beginnings of industrial agriculture, it is indispensable to note the introduction of “Roundup Ready” (RR) soybeans – which resist Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide – into this country almost simultaneously with their approval in the United States in 1996. Argentina was the beachhead from which RR soy illegally invaded South America, coming to occupy over 46 million hectares of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia within the space of two decades. They were helped along on this course by a lack of public debate and by corporate capture of the regulatory apparatus, leading to arbitrary adjustments of the legal framework to suit the corporations’ requirements.
We have previously, and at length, discussed the social and environmental impacts of this expansioni: destruction of biodiversity, pollution, land concentration, displacement of farmers, destruction of regional economies, and increased corporate power. In this article, we present some significant developments that have occurred in the last year. These developments demonstrate that Argentina continues to be a global proving ground for GMOs even as public resistance grows. Argentina is becoming a mirror in which the world can behold its own future.
On the one hand, the government of Argentina has announced with great fanfare the introduction of new GMOs allegedly different from the existing ones in three ways: 1) the transgenes do not code for herbicide resistance or production of the Bt toxin; 2) some of them are claimed to promise yield increases, and 3) they have not been developed by corporations but by universities and public research institutes. These, however, are pretexts under which to continue imposing the same agribusiness model on our country.
On the other hand, public doubt and resistance is multiplying every day in many walks of life, while all appearances are that the GM model of agriculture is showing signs of strain. It is not as invincible as it once appeared.
The model has failed! Long live the model!
Herbicide-resistant weeds – foreseen by Monsanto vice-president Robert Fraley as early as 2007ii – are now a reality. And, as we anticipated from the outset, the solution being proposed for this problem is to introduce new GMOs resistant to other herbicides.
The most dramatic case is the approval in April 2015 of a soybean with stacked resistance to three herbicides: glyphosate, glufosinate, and 2,4-D by Dow AgroSciences. This soybean will, in all likelihood, cause a radical increase in herbicide use. Particularly concerning is the return of 2,4-D, a suspected human toxin notorious as a component of the defoliant Agent Orange used by the United States in the Vietnam War.
In GRAIN’s article “Soy 2,4-D: waging war on peasants,”iii we warned of the implications of the approval of this new soybean, stating that “these new GMOs will mean the application of millions more litres of herbicides even more toxic than glyphosate, confirming the existence of a war against those peasants still holding out against the advance of agribusiness. But this time the scale of the assault is reaching a new peak of intensity.” 2,4-D soy has now been approved and is ready to be used for the further contamination of Argentina’s land. The only thing standing in the way of this product being rolled out is confirmation that China will buy the products.
But Argentina has not stopped at approving all the GMOs submitted by Big Biotech Corporations since 1996 (more than 30, all of them either herbicide-resistant or Bt maize, soy or cotton). It has now developed allegedly “public” GMO varieties independent of the corporations.
On 6 October 2015, two new GMOs were approved, and significant pressure is being exerted for the approval of a glyphosate-resistant sugarcane variety.
What are these new GMOs?
1. Drought-resistant soy
This soybean was developed at the Universidad Nacional del Litoral (UNL) by a research team headed by Dr. Raquel Chan and funded by the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (Conicet). This soybean contains a sunflower gene related to the plant’s natural response to abiotic stress conditions such as drought and salinity.
The patent on this soybean is owned by the government of Argentina through Conicet and the UNL, who have licensed it to the Argentine company Bioceres for 20 years. Gustavo Grobocopatel, the Argentine “King of Soy,” is one of the owners of Bioceres. But this soybean will largely be marketed under an agreement between Bioceres and the US biotech firm Arcadia to create a joint venture called Verdeca. The new company is involved in the development, release, and international marketing of transgenic soy varieties, drought-resistant soy being foremost among them.
Thus, there is no real independence from the large agribusiness corporations, and ultimate control of the product always remains in their hands. A concrete example of this is the agreement between Arcadia and Monsanto to grant the latter the use of the “Nitrogen Use Efficiency Technology in canola”iv in exchange for royalty payments.