Free seeds and South America without Transgenic Crops

With the wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the large agro-industry companies, along with governments in the Andean region, have been pushing for even stronger cultivation of the GMOs portraying it as a way to survive or create jobs or production.  

South American Slow Food Network, composed of ten countries in the region, has been working on critical areas together: land, water, seeds, and culture. These topics are the basis for good, clean and fair food, and stand at the core of Slow Food principles.

“We want to work together as a single country as Latin Americans.” 

Here is a summary of the conversation:

GMO crops arrived in Latin America with great force in the 1990s, promising economic stability for producers and farmers. The reality has been different, especially in countries like Argentina where the production of GMO crops has multiplied exponentially in the last 20 years.

Marco Filardi, a lawyer for human rights and food sovereignty in Argentina, tells us about the problems that this massive cultivation has brought to the rural areas of the country and its inhabitants.

 “Argentina was the first country to receive GMO crops in 1996, which were approved and imposed without requesting passage by congress or voting, and without being first translated from English into Spanish, or studied. Felipe Solá, secretary of agriculture, livestock, and fishing, decided to authorize them after receiving the proposal from Monsanto when they were authorized in the United States in the 90s.

The crops started with 5-8% of soy which has multiplied up to 60% of planted crops. In fact, 80% of the country’s cultivated area is GMO, consisting of soybeans, corn, cotton, alfalfa, 2 types of potatoes, and safflower, among the 61 approved products. This makes Argentina the third country with the highest production of GM crops in the world (30 million hectares), after the USA, and Brazil (50 million hectares).

The promises they made 24 years ago to eradicate poverty and hunger have completely failed, and instead, the food emergency in the country has increased. The second promise was the reduction of pesticides, which have increased by 1500% since the introduction of these crops, including glyphosate, among others. These crops and their derived products not only affect natural resources and biodiversity, but they are also harmful to the health and sovereignty of peasant farmers and inhabitants.

Photo by Marco Vernaschi
Photo by Marco Vernaschi

In the last 20 years, around 200 thousand producers have lost their livelihoods, as the system promotes farm consolidation. Agriculture became internationalized with the purchase of land by multinational companies creating conflicts, displacement of indigenous people, and peasants. This is a model that violates human rights.

GMO agriculture is the colonizing spread of multinationals in peasant territories and we must stop them. 

Now we are promoting the model of peasant-based agroecology, pushing against transgenic crops and agrochemicals, following the idea of ​​Ciencia Digna a term introduced by the scientist Andrés Carrasco, who disseminated the results of research on the effects of pesticides. RENAMA is a network that promotes the transition to agroecology in Argentina, demonstrating it is more than the backyard garden and that it can be applied on a large scale.”

Unfortunately, Argentina is not the only Latin American country suffering the consequences of the expansion and production of GM crops.

Natalia Bajsa from the Slow Food Canaria Uruguay network tells a similar story about the acceptance of GMOs and agrochemicals in her country, which were introduced in 1996, and with them, the use of glyphosate, ammonium glufosinate, and dicamba rose – which is one of the most harmful agrochemicals for health.

Soy fields Brazil

The same situation continues to take control in Bolivia, as Gonzalo Colque of the Slow Food Bolivia network tells us, where the largely rural and peasant population is seeing the negative results of the last 15 years since GMO soy was introduced. Despite having come with great promises of higher yields per hectare, reduction of chemicals and water usage, and better incomes for soybean producing farmers, promoting competitiveness in the international market.

“Traditional soybeans were totally replaced between 2005 and 2012, turning 1 million hectares into monocultures only, which after 10 years of production reduced their productive performance, increasing deforestation through large-scale agriculture, and pushing the livestock in attached areas.

The collapsed agriculture of the GMOs monopolize 80% of the plantable land, reducing the biodiverse agriculture, and putting at risk the food sovereignty of the inhabitants, since only 12% of the plantations are managed by 80% small farmers, and the rest – almost 90% – is monopolized by a few large producers.

Malnutrition has risen due to a lack of biodiversity in the diet, and with the increase in junk-food obesity has reached problematic levels. If we do not change our food production system, in a few years we will be net importers of our food.”

In recent months, the transitional government has approved 5 transgenic crops including sugar cane, cotton, among others, using the same tactics and promises of 15 years ago in other regions. A pilot project for GMO wheat crops is also being pushed, before being launched on a large scale.

Grains Brazil Harvester Soybeans Harvest

Laws and Labels
In Peru, a law was passed in 2011 that does not allow the planting of GMO crops for 10 years. The industry is pushing hard to eradicate this law, while civil organizations are working to extend it. Similarly in Ecuador, the planting of these crops has been prohibited since 2008, however, illegal planting is a thread.

Jaime Delgado from the Slow Food Peru network, Director of the Instituto de Consumo of the Universidad de San Martín de Porres, argues the need to protect agroecological and cultural heritage.

“Peru has a huge history of ten thousand years of agriculture, it is a megadiverse country, so why put all this at risk? Peasants and family agriculture are what feed us, and it is our duty to return to local agriculture, using irrigation systems of the Incas, which promote the optimization of water uses. We must promote and conserve the exchange of seeds since we have a live seed bank, cared for by farmers, and great biodiversity that is in danger due to GMO crops. ”

Peru, like Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, also has labels on products that contain GMOs, as part of the Consumer Protection and Defense Code. However, the industry has put up a fight to ban these labels, giving high numbers and percentages as minimums to declare GMOs.

“After several years of struggle, this law has been passed that requires companies to declare GMOs on labels. Large companies such as the producer of Chips Ajoy, felt the pressure and changed tactics, some removed their products from the Peruvian market, and others decided to clean them of transgenic ingredients. It is a small victory that demonstrates the power of the consumer.”

Similarly, Richard Intriago, leader of the Ecuadorian national peasant movement Fecaol – La Voz Campesina, tells us of the fight against the Agro-industry, which has continued to push and invest in promoting GMO crops and the use of agrochemicals to dismantle the law that prohibits them to open Ecuador as a new production frontier.

“In Ecuador, governments sell GMOs as part of modernization, they tell us ‘Ecuador cannot be left behind,’ but farmers have sued the government multiple times, and in 2019 they won a lawsuit against illegally grown GMO soybeans. The pandemic showed us that we peasants are the ones who produce and feed the people, and we will continue to fight for our sovereignty. ”

Gabriel Troncoso, president of Slow Food Chile, confirms the almost secret commercialization of GM crops in Chile

“Since April 1 a non-circulating citizen consultation came out that is visible only through the website, where those who understand and wish to investigate can realize the resolution explaining GMO crops, however, it is not explained at the level locally or national.

We know that the release of transgenic crops increases the exponential use of agrochemicals in the territory, they also have the institutional mandate to purchase hybrid seeds for use in the peasant world, these programs are going to appropriate these bad technologies for a new model colonizer in the peasant world.”

Slow Food is against commercial planting of genetically modified crops (GMOs) and works to promote food for human consumption and to feed animals, without GMOs. With genetically modified organisms (GMOs) we run the risk of transforming our food into a patented product controlled by some multinationals and depriving farmers and consumers of their rights.

Special thanks to the organizers Rita Moya, Consejera Slow Food Cone Sur and Esteban Tapia, Consejero Slow Food países Andinos and to the panelist Gabriel Troncoso, Chile, Gonzalo Colque, Bolivia, Jaime Delgado, Peru, Marcos Filiardi, Argentina, Natalia Bajsa, Uruguay, Richard Intriago, Ecuador, for their time and expertise.

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