An urgent call from South America
"Responsible" soy process must be abandoned -- International call
Over sixty organizations from across the world have signed an open letter to the participants of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS)  calling for it to be abandoned. They are taking this action because criteria to be launched by the Round Table in late May 2009 encourage soy monocultures, seek to include GM soy as sustainable and are too weak to protect vital ecosystems such as Amazon, Cerrado, and Chaco.
Signatories of the letter include Friends of the Earth International, FIAN International, Global Forest Coalition, the Scottish Green Party, Soya Alliance, the Soil Association, and Via Campesina European Coordination, as well as GM Freeze and GMWatch.
Organisations can sign the open letter by sending a message (with name, organisation, place) to Claire Robinson, GM Watch, firstname.lastname@example.org . Individuals can still also sign the petition on http://www.toxicsoy.org/.
The open letter (see below in English, Spanish and Portuguese) is very critical of the RTRS  proposals for allowing:
* GM soy to be included and continue unchecked
* Expansion of soy monocultures
* Continuing damage to major forest and other ecosystems
* Major social, health and human rights issues to go unchallenged
RTRS corporate members include Marks and Spencer, Unilever, Somerfield (now owned by the Co-op), Danisco, Carrefour (a French supermarket chain), Ahold (a Dutch supermarket chain), BP International and Shell International. Major companies driving soy expansion and GM crops are also members, including Cargill, Bunge, Monsanto and Syngenta.
The open letter pays particular attention to how the RTRS ignores more sustainable solutions such as land reform in South America, development of local markets and finding alternatives to soybeans in animal feed production. The increasing use of soy in producing agrofuels simply intensifies the problem.
Commenting, Claire Robinson of GMWatch, one of the open letter signatories, said
“We regard the RTRS as a massive public relations exercise for the soy industry, which has been one of the major driving forces behind the destruction of natural habitats in South America, native people losing their land and for thousands of mixed family farms being lost. GM soy has made matters much worse for the environment and local people, as the herbicides used on the crops fail as weed resistance emerges, and the only solution seems to be more chemicals, often applied from the air.”
1. Full text of the open letter to the RTRS with signatories is at: http://www.gmwatch.eu/archives/64-Letter-of-critical-opposition-to-the-Round-Table-on-Responsible-Soy.html – and at: http://www.bangmfood.org/take-action/23-take-action/36-letter-of-critical-opposition-to-the-round-table-on-responsible-soy
2. RTRS is multi-stakeholder dialogue that intended to promote the use of a responsible standard of soy production, processing and trade”. It was proposed by WWF and Coop Switzerland in 2005 after their previous attempts known as the Basel criteria failed to gain support. For more information on the RTRS see briefing enclosed as attachment.
Letter of critical opposition to the “Round Table on Responsible Soy”
Carta de oposición crítica a la “Mesa redonda sobre Soja Responsable” / Carta em oposição à “Mesa Redonda de Soja Responsável”
We, the undersigned, call for the abandonment of the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), on the following grounds:
1. RTRS allows and encourages the expansion of soy monocultures
The expansion of soy monocultures is resulting in:
*Environmental degradation, including: loss of forests and savannahs due to direct destruction by soy monocultures or displacement of existing agriculture (particularly cattle ranching and small holder agriculture); related losses of biodiversity; release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through land-use changes, fertiliser use including NOx emissions; soil erosion and disruption of surface and ground water and rainfall patterns;
*Socioeconomic problems such as land conflicts leading to human rights violations, loss of livelihoods, and expulsion of rural communities, small farmers and indigenous peoples from their land. Such expulsions are effectively forcing displacement of the local population into urban poverty or previously undisturbed natural areas, violating communities’ fundamental right to food, increasing concentration of land ownership by big companies, and feeding rises in related rural unemployment, low employment and slavery-like conditions on industrial farms, poverty, malnutrition, rising food prices and loss of food security and sovereignty due to displacement of staple food crops and increasing corporate control over food production; and
*Severe health problems and poisoning in the local population due to the over-use of agrochemicals.
2. RTRS promotes GM soy as “responsible”
The RTRS will enable the certification of genetically modified (GM) soy as "responsible", even though there is increasing evidence that after a few years of GM soy cultivation, both overall agrochemical use and resistance problems increase substantially.
Brazil recorded nearly an 80 per cent increase in the use of the herbicide Roundup (based on glyphosate) between 2000 and 2005, and a 15-fold increase was recorded in the United States between 1994 and 2005. This has led to an increase in herbicide-resistant weeds in Brazil, Argentina, and the United States, pushing farmers onto a new pesticide treadmill of increasing applications of glyphosate-based herbicides in addition to other herbicides (such as the more dangerous Paraquat). As a result, GM soy has increased production costs and environmental degradation rather than decreasing them as promised by GM companies. Neither does GM soy increase yields or increase ability to crop in dry or salty land, as often cited by supporters.
Use of Roundup Ready (RR) soy (genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate-based herbicide) has also facilitated indiscriminate fumigations (often by aerial spraying) affecting human health, food crops and the environment. A report by the Rural Reflection Group (Grupo de Reflexión Rural, or GRR, from Argentina) documents how spraying glyphosate-based herbicides on RR soy leads to an increase in health problems in the countryside such as cases of cancer at early ages, birth defects, lupus, kidney problems, respiratory ailments and dermatitis, evidenced by the accounts of rural doctors, experts and the residents of dozens of farming towns.
GM crops are rejected by millions of consumers, NGOs and governments all over the world for many reasons. This means the vast majority of the GM soya crop can only be sold as animal feed and meat, dairy products and eggs produced using GM feed are sold unlabelled in the countries that reject GM as food for humans. There is mounting scientific controversy as to the adverse impacts of GM on health and the environment, as seen by recent studies produced in France, Austria, the US, and Sweden. These studies demonstrate that we do not yet fully understand the impacts of GM cultivation and use on human and animal health, soil structure, and biodiversity. Their widespread use should therefore be halted to prevent irrevocable harm.
3. RTRS principles and criteria are too weak to protect the integrity and biodiversity of the Amazon, Cerrado, Chaco and other regions from immediate, severe, and irreversible degradation
The Amazon, Cerrado, Chaco and other regions are under immediate threat from a constellation of damaging agricultural practices and social impacts, as described above, for which soy cultivation is a core enabling factor. The RTRS principles and criteria cannot and will not effectively address these issues.
Unless these immediate crises are addressed promptly, which cannot be done through voluntary certification, these regions will be reduced from farmland to wasteland, and the smallholders and indigenous people of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and elsewhere will be displaced and become the new urban poor.
By providing a cover of “sustainability” for an inherently unsustainable system of production, the RTRS is an obstacle to progress. We call on governments, civil society and companies to tackle the real problems (e.g., over-consumption, inequitable distribution of resources like land and water) and to promote real solutions such as:
*phasing out GM and intensive non-GM soy in favour of agricultural practices which work with nature instead of against it, like organic agriculture and integrated crop management;
*executing land reforms in producing countries, which will address highly inequitable land ownership and concentration;
*substituting soy in animal feed with locally-grown protein crops in importing countries;
*stopping the promotion of large scale agrofuel production as a sustainable solution;
*developing better transport systems that reduce demand for energy and fuel; and
*increased government support for diversification of production and stimulation of local production for local markets that contribute to food security and food sovereignty in producer and consumer countries.
The RTRS process will not deliver improvements in these or a host of other areas and should be abandoned.