Open Letter: GM soy is not responsible

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. Your organisation can sign this letter by sending a message to Claire Robinson . More information about the RTRS can be found in the attached Q&A. Letter of critical opposition to the “Round Table on Responsible Soy" April 2009 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.[1] This has led to an increase in herbicide-resistant weeds in Brazil,[2] Argentina,[3][4] and the United States,[5] 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).[6][7] 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[8] or increase ability to crop in dry or salty land, as often cited by supporters.[9] 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.[10] 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,[11] Austria,[12] the US,[13][14] and Sweden.[15] 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. Notes 1. These figures are based respectively on Brazilian government and US government data, and are cited in “The only responsible soy is less soy: The Roundtable on Responsible Soy frustrates real solutions”, Friends of the Earth International statement – 22 April 2008. The US government data are also cited in “Agricultural Pesticide Use in US Agriculture”, Center for Food Safety, May 2008. Data on herbicide use in the US after the introduction of GM crops in 1996 until 2004 are available in Benbrook, C., “Genetically engineered crops and pesticide use in the United States: The first nine years”, BioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper No. 7, October 2004 2. Glyphosate-resistant weeds of South American cropping systems: an overview. Martin M Vila-Aiub et al. Pest Management Science, Vol. 64, Issue 4, 2007, 366-371. 3. Argentina's bitter harvest. Branford S. New Scientist, 17 April 2004; Rust, resistance, run down soils, and rising costs — Problems facing soybean producers in Argentina. Benbrook C.M. AgBioTech InfoNet, Technical Paper No 8, Jan 2005. 4. “Argentina: A Case Study on the Impact of Genetically Engineered Soya - How producing RR soya is destroying the food security and sovereignty of Argentina” EcoNexus (UK) and Grupo de Reflexion Rural (Argentina), April 2005 5. Glyphosate-Resistant Weeds: Current Status and Future Outlook. Nandula V.K et al. Outlooks on Pest Management, August 2005: 183-187; Syngenta module helps manage glyphosate-resistant weeds. Delta Farm Press, 30 May 2008; Resistant ryegrass populations rise in Mississippi. Robinson R. Delta Farm Press, Oct 30, 2008; Glyphosate Resistant Horseweed (Marestail) Found in 9 More Indiana Counties. Johnson B and Vince Davis V. Pest & Crop, 13 May 2005; A Little Burndown Madness. Nice G et al. Pest & Crop, 7 Mar 2008; To slow the spread of glyphosate resistant marestail, always apply with 2,4-D. Pest & Crop, issue 23, 2006; Genetically-modified superweeds "not uncommon". Randerson J. New Scientist, 05 February 2002; Elements of Precaution: Recommendations for the Regulation of Food Biotechnology in Canada. An Expert Panel Report on the Future of Food Biotechnology prepared by The Royal Society of Canada at the request of Health Canada Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Environment Canada, 2001; Gene Flow and Multiple Herbicide Resistance in Escaped Canola Populations. Knispel A.L. et al. Weed Science, 56: 72-80, 2008. 6. “Argentina: A Case Study on the Impact of Genetically Engineered Soya – How producing RR soya is destroying the food security and sovereignty of Argentina”. EcoNexus (UK) and Grupo de Reflexion Rural (Argentina), April 2005 7. The Round Table on Ir-Reponsible Soy: Certifying Soy Expansion, GM Soy and Agrofuels. ASEED Europe, April 2008, p. 19. 8. Evidence of the Magnitude and Consequences of the Roundup Ready Soybean Yield Drag from University-Based Varietal Trials in 1998. Benbrook C. Benbrook Consulting Services Sandpoint, Idaho. Ag BioTech InfoNet Technical Paper, Number 1, 13 Jul 1999; Glyphosate-resistant soyabean cultivar yields compared with sister lines. Elmore R.W. et al. Agronomy Journal, 93: 408-412, 2001; The Adoption of Bioengineered Crops. US Department of Agriculture Report, May 2002. 9. GM Crops Around the World: An Accurate Picture. GM Freeze, June 2008; GM and Drought Tolerance. GM Freeze, July 2008; and GM and Saline Tolerant Crops. GM Freeze, September 2008 10. Argentina: Countryside No Longer Synonymous with Healthy Living. Marcela Valente, IPS, March 4 2009. 11. Effects on Health and Environment of Transgenic (or GM) Brinjal, Séralini, G-E., January 2009. 12. Biological effects of transgenic maize NK603xMON810 fed in long term reproduction studies in mice. Velimirov A et al. Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, Familie und Jugend Report, Forschungsberichte der Sektion IV Band 3/2008, Austria, 2008. 13. Field-evolved resistance to Bt toxins. Bruce E Tabashnik,, Nature Biotechnology 26, 1074 - 1076 (2008), doi:10.1038/nbt1008-1074 14. Testing Time for Substantial Equivalence: Daphnia magna survival and fitness reduced when fed MON810 (Bt Cry1Ab) maize. Bioscience Resource Project, 17 June 2008. 15. Genetically modified oilseed rape springs up a decade after trial crop was sown. NATURE, 1 April doi:10.1038/news.2008.729