Twelve years of GM soya in Argentina - a disaster for people and the environment
Genetically modified (GM) soya was introduced into Argentina in 1996 without any kind of debate either in Congress or among the public. Since then, its cultivation has spread across the country like wildfire. Today more than half of the country’s arable land is planted with soya. No other country in the world has devoted such a large area to a single GM crop. Argentina provides a unique opportunity to investigate the consequences for a country of intensive GMO cultivation.
With this year’s planting season well under way, it is estimated that Argentina will be planting soya on a record 18 million hectares, about half of the country’s farming land. Almost all of the soya planted today is Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR), a type of soya that has been genetically modified to be resistant to the Roundup herbicide – largely composed of glyphosate – which is also manufactured by Monsanto. So what have the consequences been for the people and for the country?
Perhaps those who have suffered most have been small farmers and peasant families. Even before RR soya was introduced, the Argentine government adopted policies that favoured big farmers, deciding that farming units smaller than 200 hectares were “uneconomical”, and predicting that at least 200,000 farmers would have to leave the land.  Since then, government policies have not changed. Thousands of peasant families have been evicted violently from their land for trying to resist the advance of soya. Members of the Movimiento Campesino de Santiago del Estero (Mocase), a peasant movement in northern Argentina linked to Via Campesina, and of the Movimiento Nacional Campesino Indígena suffer constant harassment for trying to halt the advance of the soya front.
Argentina soybean production
(click on image for larger size)
The families that manage to stay on the land have also been badly affected, particularly by chemical contamination, which has grown worse in recent years. When it introduced RR soya, Monsanto promised that there would be a dramatic decline in herbicide use. As RR soya had been genetically modified to be resistant to glyphosate, Monsanto argued that it would be possible to kill all weeds by applying the herbicide just once, early on in the planting season. In fact, this advantage never materialised as strongly as the company predicted. Instead of falling, national consumption of glyphosate has risen dramatically: Argentina is estimated to have used 200 million litres of glyphosate in 2008, compared with 13.9 million litres in 1996.  In other words, while the Argentine soya harvest has increased fivefold during the period, consumption of glyphosate has increased fourteenfold.
The intense application year after year of a single herbicide – glyphosate – has led to the emergence of weeds that have become resistant to this chemical. Some of the better known of these “super-weeds”, as they are popularly called, are: Hybanthus parviflorus (Violetilla), Parietaria debilis (Yerba Fresca), Viola arvensis (Violeta Silvestre – Field pansy), Petunia axillaris (Petunia), Verbena litoralis (Verbena), Commelina erecta (Flor de Santa Lucía – Slender dayflower), Convolvulus arvensis (Correhuela – Field bindweed), Ipomoea purpurea (Bejuco – Morning glory), Iresine difusa (Iresine) and recently Sorghum halepense (Sorgo de alepo – Johnson grass), which, because it is a difficult weed to control, has caused considerable alarm among farmers.