The consumption of transgenic plants in The Netherlands has serious impacts for the small farmers and the environment in Latin America

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The consumption of transgenic plants in The Netherlands

has serious impacts for the small farmers and the environment in Latin America

(reviewed automatic translation from the original Spanish version – extra notes are not included)

Although international organizations (OMC, FAO) continue to assure that the genetically manipulated organisms (OGMs) will solve the production problems of agriculture and starvation which in poor countries, the countries that produce GMOs claim the opposite view. The demand of GM products in developed countries like the Netherlands has caused the move of thousands of small producers of the developing countries, the loss of thousands of hectares of natural areas, fertile ground degradation, imperil local species and weakening of the food sovereignty.

Since the development of the first GM crops in the eighties, they have been criticized and much rejected by European consumers, as well as by farmers, due to the risks for the human health and negative social effects that their production and consumption imply.

GM products involve serious risks for the human health, mainly because dangerous and genetically unstable microorganisms take part in their creation; in the fields, they require high levels of toxic agrochemicals. This has given rise to obligatory GM labels as well as the prohibition of several GM cultivations. At the present time, 172 regions in Europe have declared themselves « free of transgénicos ». In spite of this, the companies that produce and commercialize GMOs continue to promote new cultures and GM animals; and, in several cases, they have obtained governmental approval. This is the case of the European Union. According to a recent report of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - Europe, the European Commission hides information on the security of the GMOs in Europe. However, the European Commission has approved the entrance of several GMOs in its markets during the last years and in many cases against the wishes of the States members.

In Netherlands (or Holland), thanks to the resistance of the consumers, it is difficult to find GM products in the supermarkets; nevertheless, most of the meat produced in Holland is based on GM soya that comes mainly from Argentina. Holland is the greater producer of meat in Europe and therefore the greater importer of soya, mainly transgenic. The 2002 imports of this grain reached 11 million tons, of which one third was aimed at the meat or milk industries of Holland (ASEED, 2006).

While in Europe, animals are fed in Europe with high volumes of GM food, in developing countries (mainly Latin American), the transnational companies involved in the production of GMOs aggressively promote the GM maize and soya cultivations in countries like Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and recently Bolivia under false promises.

In Argentina, the surface cultivated with GM soya increased from 6.0 to 28.3 million hectares between 1996 and 2004. In the same period, the rate of « Round-up Ready » soya increased from 2% to 99% of the total production. Argentina is at the moment the third worldwide exporting country of soya seeds and this position has induced the destruction of thousands of hectares of forests, plus ground contamination. This is because GM soya requires the implementation of extensive monocultures in which amounts of glifosate herbicid (under the brand of Round-up Ready - RR) are applied. In Argentina, GM soya has given rise to the increase of the import of this agrochemical from a million liters in 1990 to 120 million liters in 2003 (Pengue, 2003).

In Paraguay, GM soya has only been introduced in 2002; but in 2005 it already covered 2 million hectares meaning 95% of the production of soya. This expansion of soya RR has been made with much violence on the part of the producers ; with the support of the government they have expelled thousands of families of small producers and aggressed them (air sprayings, even burning of houses, and murders (Rebellion, July 2005; GRAIN, November of 2004).

In Bolivia, GM soya has been legalized in 2005. According to the report of the National Association of Oil Producers (ANAPO) in the present campaign of winter (2006) it was managed to sow soya RR : 20% of the total amount of soya, that is 280 thousand hectares. In these countries, the introduction and production of GM soya replaces what generated a great variety of food; in addition, small producers have to move because the mechanized culture does not need manual labor and its implementation requires great investments for producers with high economic capacity. GM soya inflict casualties of the diversified production, impoverishment of the familiar diet, degradation of the natural resources and the expulsion of thousands of small producers who, when losing their estate, become wage-earning or unemployed. In summary, it causes the destruction of the local production and food systems..

On the other hand, the introduction of the GM maize in the places where the natural one originated (like Mexico) has caused the lost of local varieties through genetic contamination, in addition to the aforementioned social effects. The most common GM maize is the Bt maize that contains genes of the so-called bacterium Bacillus Thuringiensis. This bacterium produces a toxin which kills some insects of the Lepidoptera family (butterflies). When traded, the BT maize gives rise to the following risks: i) the insects develop resistance to the Bt toxin due to their permanent exposition throughout the same cycle of cultivation. ii) The toxin Bt becomes a bio-plague because it is permanently in the plant iii) The toxin self-replicates within the beings transmitting itself to the future generations. Due to these risks, the Bt fields require stricter evaluations than other GM crops and in some cases they have been prohibited (Bt maize was prohibited for the human consumption in the United States in 2000).

In April of the present year, the Monsanto multinational firm, owner of the soya RR patent, has obtained in Holland the approval of an experiment concerning the MON 810 maize (a variety of Bt maize). This maize has been prohibited at the national level by countries of the European Union like Poland, Hungary, Greece and Austria due to the environmental risks that it presents. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Quality of Foods (LNV in Dutch) of Holland, has approved and supports the first experiment in open-field of MON 810 in six Dutch localities.

According to LNV, one is an experiment asked by the partners of the “Convenant Coexistencia” to measure the necessary distance of separation between the Bt maize and the conventional maize with the purpose of avoiding genetic contamination. Nevertheless, this experiment displays the following drawbacks: 1) it does not need the approval of all parts of the Convenant Coexistencia; 2) the design of the test does not have a suitable scientific base; 3) it does not consider the measures necessary to avoid genetic contamination of cultures in neighboring parcels; and 4) the population has not been informed of this experiment (the farmers were warned of the exact location of the parcels only 30 days after seedtime, preventing them from taking measures to avoid the contamination of their conventional cultures).

Those involved in this experiment claim that the MON 810 maize does not have to follow the regulations that are normally applied in GMO experiments, and especially in the Bt cultivations, nor requires to fulfill the procedures of involvement and objection on the part of the population (NRC, 10 of April of 2006). Nevertheless, they do not mention that in fact this experiment is not necessary since there exists enough scientific information on the migration of both conventional and GM maize pollen. For example, a report recently published by Greenpeace ("Impossible Coexistence", 2006) reported a contamination of 12.6% of conventional maize by GM maize, as the result of studies with 40 parcels in Spain (the only European country which cultivates GM maize at great scale). J.Embarling of Soil Association (1999) established a migration of maize pollen up to 180 km in case of strong winds and several km in the case of insect transportation. The European Agency of the Environment (2002) informed on the "average to high risk " of transfer of maize genes towards other plants of the same species. The Technological Institute of Agrarian Management of Navarre (Spain) found a dispersion of maize pollen to distances equal and greater 500 meters.

Then, the issue is less to check experimental hypotheses that are already confirmed, than a strategy to introduce the GM maize in the Netherlands, through a non-reversible process. The campaigns of mis-information devised by giant and powerful companies, continue deceiving so much the Dutch consumers as the Latin American producers. This way, they maintain and they strengthen totally unfair production and commercialization systems that increase the gap between rich and poor and cause a destruction of social and environmental systems in a non-reversible way.

GMOs have proven to be an instrument to concentrate the control of production and market in a few firms. GMOs do not mean an improvement of the life and feeding conditions of the producers nor consumers.

How to confront GMOs? Through the consumers decision. The power of decision is in the hands of the well informed consumers whose responsible attitude is aimed at defining the healthy production of world-wide food.

Network for a GM-Free Bolivia (Bolivia), June 2006

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