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Uruguay: Impacts of almost a decade of transgenic crops

Uruguay: Impacts of almost a decade of transgenic crops


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By Fernando Queirós

GMOs are in our fields, on our tables, in fuels for automobiles and agricultural machinery, in any supermarket. No state agency warns about this invisible and irreversible genetic contamination, with unpredictable effects, imposed without the necessary reflection and debate on a matter of importance for human survival such as food and ecosystem health.

Moratorium on new events


On January 29, the Executive Branch decreed the 18-month suspension of the entry of new genetically modified organisms of plant origin. Since 1999, transgenic crops have been developed in Uruguay: Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and two varieties of corn: BT Mon 810 from the multinational company Monsanto, approved in June 2003 and BT 11, approved in April 2004 belonging to the Syngenta company. It is time to try to balance your impacts.

Transgenic soybeans were introduced in the country in 1999 without society having time to debate its consequences, nor did it make an evaluation of its impacts.

To obtain this RR soy, Monsanto incorporated into the original plant genes from a bacterium (plant pathogen), a virus (which causes a disease in cauliflower) and the Petunia flower, which give it resistance to the herbicide Roundup , which is produced and marketed by Monsanto itself.

Of the 18,000 hectares that were cultivated in 2001, it grew to about 400,000 hectares in 2006. According to the National Seed Institute (INASE), all the soybean seeds that are on the market are transgenic (46 authorized varieties) ; If a producer wants to plant non-genetically manipulated soybeans, they will not find the seeds in the national market.

The BT Mon 810 corn was approved with the opposite opinion and the protest of several trade union organizations of producers, society and the Faculty of Agronomy, which produced a detailed report. This corn has an insecticidal effect against a worm, through a toxin produced by a bacteria that the plant has artificially incorporated.

BT 11 corn, which also has an insecticidal effect very similar to Mon 810, is tolerant to the herbicide "glufosinate ammonium", whose trade names are Basta, Digital, Liberty and Finale among others. He also entered the country without the knowledge of civil society.

As of September 2006, and according to the National Register of Cultivars, Summer Crops, there were 100 corn cultivars authorized to be marketed for grain, of which 54 are transgenic, more specifically, 45 are Mon 810 and nine are Bt 11, which represents more than half of the corn seed supply of the entire country. GMOs are not recorded in the case of sorghum (forage, silo and grain) and sunflower. It is estimated that in the 2006 corn planting, 40 percent is transgenic.

Some sectors, such as rice growers, have voluntarily decided not to use transgenics to preserve the quality of their product and not have problems when it comes to marketing it on the international market. Livestock producers of "natural" or "organic" meat are watching with concern the proliferation of transgenics as it puts their meat exports at risk.

A decree of the Ministries of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries (MGAP) and Housing, Land Management and Environment (MVOTMA) of August 2006 suspended the use, production and commercialization of transgenic sweet corn seed. Both ministries justify the suspension on the particular vulnerability of the family farming sectors that develop horticultural production systems.

What does seven years of growing GM soy leave us in terms of environmental, health and social impact?

Environmental impacts

The technological package of transgenics, also called the second Green Revolution or Revolution of Genetic Engineering, is simply a deepening of the bases on which the Green Revolution developed: monoculture, intensive use of pesticides, chemical synthesis fertilizers, industrialization of the field , dependence on large corporations and crops for export.

When this technology (transgenic) was introduced, they recommended it as a model that would use fewer inputs. We have all heard at some point that GMOs are safe and subject to very strict regulations, that they are good for biodiversity, increase production and reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers and even that they will serve to end hunger on the planet. However, a tour of the most outstanding research and events in recent years in this field leads us to quite different kinds of conclusions.

In the case of glyphosate-resistant RR soybeans - the world's best-selling herbicide - there are many problems due to its massive use. It is a systemic herbicide (it travels through the interior of the plant), with a broad spectrum, which acts in post-emergence, used to kill unwanted plants, such as annual and perennial grasses, broad-leaved grasses and woody species.

In Argentina the applications went from 2 to more than 8 liters per hectare, and in some places it is as high as 10 liters. Not least data is that in 2006 16 million hectares of soybeans were planted. As a consequence of this massive application, weeds are already reported that have resisted the applications, therefore now they are also immune to this product. In these cases, another herbicide is applied to "combat" these resistant plants, once again entering a spiral of application of more toxic products with a greater impact on the environment. In Uruguay there is an increase in the use of pesticides, particularly herbicides and insecticides, associated with the cultivation of soybeans and direct sowing.

In the case of herbicides, much of the increase is due to glyphosate. It can be estimated that 55.5 percent of the 9,754 tons of pesticides imported in 2006 corresponds to this herbicide (5,457 tons) 1. There was also an increase in the use of highly toxic insecticides such as Lorsban, Endosulfan and Cypermethrin that are applied to soybean crops for the control of lizards and bedbugs, all of them with very negative connotations for the environment and the health of the applicator and consumers. .

It should be noted that the Roundup herbicide has effects on soil life, it is highly soluble in water so that an important part ends up in rivers, streams, cutwaters and is 100 times more toxic to fish than to warm-blooded animals.

But the increase in the use of fertilizers is also disrupting coastal ecosystems, rivers, streams, reservoirs, cutwaters, producing dangerous blooms of green algae or the death of fish.

Soy implies a very serious environmental problem for the ecosystems in which it is implanted, causing: loss of biodiversity, contamination of food by pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides), impoverishment of soils in terms of fertility, death of micro and macro-organisms of the soil by the continuous application of pesticides, contamination of surface and subsurface water courses by pesticides, resistance of weeds to glyphosate herbicide, destruction of beneficial organisms (bees, wasps, control insects, etc.), reduction of native forest and the increase of surface runoff due to the lack of natural vegetation that acts as a barrier to slow down the water.

These same impacts can be attributed to other transgenic crops grown in the country, such as Mon 810 corn and Bt 11, in addition to the effects of toxin residues from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis in the soil and food.

Another impact on natural resources is that to produce food you need to consume water. World agricultural trade can also be thought of as a gigantic transfer of water, in the form of raw materials, from regions where it is found in relatively abundant and cheap form, to others where it is scarce, expensive and its use competes with other priorities. 2. In the case of soybeans, for example, to produce between 5 and 11 kg of grain, approximately 10 m3 of water (10,000 liters) are needed.


With regard to the extraction and transfer of natural resources, soy is a crop that demands a large amount of nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorus, which are artificially replaced with finite resources and increasingly expensive. So when we are exporting soybeans we should also count the tons of nitrogen, phosphorus and other macro and micro nutrients that go with the legume.

Another characteristic to take into account is that the expansion of the soy complex is accompanied by a significant increase in logistics and transportation (waterways, highways, railways and ports) that impact on ecosystems, towns and cities and destroy large areas of natural habitat. , in addition to the deforestation of native species caused by the expansion of land for cultivation.

The predominant practice of applying herbicide on the entire surface continuously, has as one of its consequences the absence of weeds or spontaneous plants or flowering weeds. Beneficial insects as predators of pests, parasitoids, pollinators that require pollen and nectar to live in the agroecosystem, see the possibility of finding flowering plants greatly reduced and therefore their survival is compromised.

Another detriment to the reduction of natural enemies is the increase in pests that leads to the spiral of greater use of insecticides. Beekeepers see honey production diminished due to lack of flowering plants and the use of pesticides (death of bees). In turn, they have problems in the international marketing of honey and its derivatives due to the presence of pesticide residues and foreign genes.

Impacts on health

The notable increase in the application of pesticides in the cultivation of soybeans, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and seed cures causes one of its greatest impacts on human health. Some of the risks presented by these chemical substances are: acute and chronic toxicity, carcinogenic and reproductive effects, impairment of the immune system, mutagenic action, and food contamination.

Recent toxicological studies conducted by independent scientific institutions seem to indicate that glyphosate has been erroneously classified as "toxicologically benign" or "environmentally friendly" or "that touches the ground and degrades". In reality, this product can be highly toxic to animals and humans. Therefore, glyphosate-based herbicides presented adverse effects in all laboratory toxicological tests, in most of the doses tested: subacute, acute, chronic toxicity and carcinogenesis.

Although the European Commission classifies it as "toxic to aquatic organisms" and that it can "have harmful effects on the environment in the long term", a team of French researchers showed that, in addition, "glyphosate causes the first stages of the cancerization "in cells. This research was directed by Robert Bellé, a French scientist, belonging to the National Center for Scientific Research of the Pierre and Marie Curie University, in France.

Until the advent of glyphosate-tolerant transgenic crops, the maximum limit for residual glyphosate in soybeans established in the United States and Europe was 0.1 milligrams per kilogram. But starting in 1996, these countries raised it to 20 mg / kg, a 200-fold increase from the previous limit. This increase is due to the fact that glyphosate producing companies are requesting permits to approve the presence of higher concentrations of glyphosate in foods derived from transgenic crops. Monsanto, for example, has already been authorized for a triple increase in transgenic soy in Europe and the United States: from 6 parts per million (ppm) to 20 ppm 3.

Another risk to human health is that most of the synthetic genes used to create GMOs are copies of those from bacteria and viruses that cause disease. They also have antibiotic resistant gene markers that help locate the foreign gene insertions and select the precise cells into which they should be inserted.

The dangers arise when the genetic material persists, even after the death of cells or the organism, and can be taken over by bacteria or viruses found in the environment or in humans. This process, called horizontal gene transfer and recombination, is the main route to creating dangerous pathogens.

Some of the consequences due to the consumption of transgenics regarding human health are already known, and it is very likely that in the short to medium term other impacts or damages to health will be found that have not yet been identified. The consequences already detected are: allergies, resistance to antibiotics, foods prohibited for human consumption (StarLink corn), foods contaminated with glyphosate herbicide.

Another very important point to take into account is the consumption of this legume in these latitudes. It is necessary to clarify that almost everything we eat today has soy, more specifically soy lecithin: cold cuts, mayonnaise, cold cuts, chocolates, filled pasta, alfajores, cookies, sweets, ice cream, desserts, juices, flan and yogurts, soy-enriched flours, oils, that is, almost everything. The list is very long and now it is intended to modify our eating habits, trying to convince us of the supposed benefits of the so-called "soy milk" and soy milanesas, to replace milk and beef. The millennial consumption of soy by some eastern cultures is given as an example, without mentioning that it is transgenic and the consumption and its preparation in those places is different. The adverse effects that it can cause when ingested unknowingly as a substitute for animal proteins are not taken into account.

The "soy myth" does not know that it contains toxic or antinutrient factors that limit the absorption of a series of nutrients, reducing their nutritional value by more than 50 percent and causing, among other things, digestive disorders. This is one of the many damages or contraindications that we can cite.

Social impact

In several countries it has been shown that these crops can have a negative socio-economic impact, for example territorial displacement and unemployment.

In Uruguay, estimates indicate that between 50 and 70 percent of the land dedicated to soy is in the hands of foreigners, mostly Argentines. The same sources coincide in turn that this oilseed has been gaining space for cattle fields, dairy farms in the center and coast of the country and other crops such as sunflower, sorghum and corn.

By requiring less labor due to intense mechanization of tasks, soybean cultivation has displaced and expelled many small farmers and agricultural wage earners.

Currently the economic equation in the country results in positive profitability values ​​(approximately 200 free dollars per hectare of soybeans), which causes a constant increase in the cultivated area. As previously stated, these numbers do not take into account the “other costs”: social, health and environmental that this crop causes.

The current agricultural system is based on monoculture, on the agrodestructive business and on the depletion of the fertility of our lands, while mineral wealth and water is transferred, through soybeans, to European cows.

We send raw materials to fatten up the crazy European and Asian production system, while we displace other crops from our lands that would make better quality food available to our population. The end result is the loss of our territorial and food sovereignty.

Therefore, less diversification, less value added, means less work, less wealth, less real progress, less equity and greater concentration.

GMOs are in our fields, on our tables, in fuels for automobiles and agricultural machinery, in any supermarket. No state agency warns about this invisible and irreversible genetic contamination, with unpredictable effects, imposed without the necessary reflection and debate on a matter of importance for human survival such as food and ecosystem health.

Ultimately and again, the environment, "la pachamama" has not gained anything with the introduction of these crops, but others have ...

The current moratorium on new transgenic crops should give rise to debate, reflection and evaluation regarding the impacts on the environment, production, social and health, after almost a decade of planting these vegetables. Likewise, we must take a position on what food, what agriculture, what trade we want for our current and future population.

* Agronomist Engineer - March 2007 - Published by the Latin American Pesticides and Alternatives Action Network (RAP-AL).

Notes:

1 DGSA, MGAP

2 Pengue, 2006

3 Kaczewer, 2007


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Comments:

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