Uruguay: Genetically Modified Invasion
CIP Americas Policy Program
Genetically modified (GM) corn is contaminating the non-GM corn in Uruguay, according to a study titled "Inter Pollination Between Genetically Modified and Non-Genetically Modified Commercial Corn in Uruguay" carried out by researchers from the departments of Agronomy, Chemistry, and Sciences at the University of the Republic.
Uruguay is the fourth producer of GM products in the world, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). In 2003 the production of GM corn MON810 was authorized in the country and the following year a second strain of GM corn was authorized, BT11. These varieties are being planted for commercial purposes as well as for human and animal consumption. During the harvesting season of 2007-2008, GM corn took up almost 100,000 hectares (around 250,000 acres) of agricultural lands, equivalent to 16% of the summer crops in the country.
The study was financed by the Social Ecology Network (REDES—Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay) through the Sustainable Uruguay Program (Programa Uruguay Sustentable). On Sept. 28 the environmentalists sent the study and an attached letter, in which they expressed their concern, to all of the ministers that make up the National Biosafety Cabinet and to the president of the Commission for Risk Management.
The authors of the study maintained that the results demonstrate the failure of the government's policy in promoting so-called "regulated co-existence" between GM crops and their non-GM counterparts. According to this policy, a distance of 250 meters between GM and non-GM crops is sufficient to avoid GM pollen fertilization of non-GM crops. The study documents various cases of GM contamination in crops that were planted at a distance further than the government suggested 250 meters.
In addition to GM corn, Uruguay also has GM soy and since its approval by authorities in 1996, the area of agricultural land planted with the GM soy has rapidly expanded. The period between the planting season of 2000-2001 and 2007-2008 the area of agricultural lands planted with GM soy grew from 10,000 ha to 462,000 ha (more than 1.14 million acres). Today, GM soy makes up 75% of the country's summer crops and is the number one crop in terms of expansion, reports the environmentalist organization Latin America Pesticide Action Network (RAPAL-Uruguay).
"The model based on the use of GM seeds—direct seeding and the use of a wide range of agro-toxins—has created major impacts at every level," according to RAPAL-Uruguay. "Some of the social impacts have been created by the intense concentration of and transfer to foreign ownership of the land. The price of land has risen, provoking the eviction and disappearance of small farmers from their lands. Among the environmental impacts are soil erosion and degradation as well as its contamination, inducing the growing bee and fish mortality rates. The increase in the use of agro-toxins has been between 300% and 500%."
Eighteen of the 19 Uruguayan departments have seen the planting of GM crops. The only department that does not have GM crops is Montevideo. Despite being home to more than half of the population of the republic, the department of Montevideo is also a center of important vegetable and fruit production. The rural areas of Montevideo provide more than half of the national consumption of leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce; more than a quarter of apples, peaches, pears, and plums consumed in addition to providing a large percentage of limes, grapes, and tomatoes.
The possibility of GM soy and corn's entrance into the department of Montevideo has many environmentalists concerned.
"Montevideo has been a target of GM soy and corn for the past few years," warns RAPAL-Uruguay. "The introduction of GM crops into the department of Montevideo would signify the opening of a gap in the only GM-free department for these crops and would result in the expulsion of small vegetable and fruit farmers. Whole populations will be displaced and move to the city as they are drowned in a bombardment of agro-toxins, making it impossible for them to continue their production.
In 2002 the department junta of Montevideo approved a resolution that prohibits the planting and or importation of GM seeds and crops. RAPAL urged the junta to remain firm on this prohibition and ensure that it is enforced.
María Isabel Cárcamo. "Montevideo sitiado por los transgénicos, ¿Protegerán las autoridades la muralla?": http://www.rapaluruguay.org/transgenicos/Uruguay/montevideo_sitiada.html.
REDES—Amigos de la Tierra Uruguay, "Contaminación transgénica en Uruguay: revelación de estudio científico": http://www.redes.org.uy/.
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