Issue 229: April/May 2005

 Sustainable Soy

Argentina has become the world's second largest producer and exporter of soy (after the USA) . Most of it is genetically engineered Roundup Ready soy acquired without payment of technology use fees or royalties to Monsanto. Our view is that this was deliberately encouraged by Monsanto as a major tactic in its drive to contaminate the global food system with its transgenic crops. Now Monsanto is trying to find a way to collect the royalties it chose to forgo in order to get its RR soy widely grown in Argentina (and Brazil).

“Sustainable Soy” is the rallying cry of a new partnership of transnational agribusiness and transnational environmentalism in South America. On the transnational agribusiness side one finds Unilever, Cargill, DuPont and others, while on the transnational environmentalism side, the World Wide Fund for Nature (known as World Wildlife Fund in N. America), with an intimate crossover in the person of Hector Laurence, the head of the Fundació n Vida Silvestre (FVSA) in Argentina, president of the Argentine Association of Agrobusinesses and vice president of Pioneer Overseas Corp, owned by DuPont.

In March, this unholy alliance organized a Roundtable on Sustainable Soy , with an organizing committee consisting of representatives from:

  • World Conservation Union
  • Coop Switzerland.
  • Cordaid (NL), a Catholic relief and development organization
  • Fetraf-Sul/CUT (BR), Workers Federation in Family Agriculture
  • Grupo André Maggi (BR), Brazil's largest soy producer based in the area of Mato Grosso.
  • Unilever (NL)
  • World Wide Fund for Nature

The Roundtable on Sustainable Soy lists the following four objectives:

  • To reach consensus among critical stakeholders.
  • To develop and promote criteria for sustainable soy production.
  • To promote and replicate pilot projects on sustainable soy.
  • To monitor the status of soy production in terms of sustainability.

[ see ]

More common definitions notwithstanding, the term “sustainable” or “sustainability” appears to refer merely to the continued production of soy for domestic consumption and export, primarily for livestock feed in Europe and other wealthy markets no longer able to feed themselves.

To counter this nefarious campaign, MOCASE (Via Campesina Argentina) and the Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR) organized a counter conference which produced the following statement, signed by Via Campesina Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, GRR Argentina, Coordinadora Antitransgenicos del Uruguay and others:

We resolve:

To struggle and mobilise, jointly with other movements and organisations, against the present model of development, agro exports and the proliferation of transgenic crops, which tragically affect the peoples of South America, which attack the environment and peasant societies through monocultures;

To denounce the false concept of sustainable soya mono crops, officially promoted at the First Round Table Conference on Sustainable Soy, held at Foz do Iguaz ú , in the interests of the North and of the agribusinesses, with the scandalous support of some large national and international NGOs;

To assert that sustainability and monoculture are fundamentally irreconcilable, as are the interests of peasant societies and agribusiness;

To denounce the relationship between agro businesses and hydro businesses, that entrenches the privatisation of water supplies and destroys the aquifers of Latin America;

To defend water as a universal right and a common good, in opposition to the logic of transitional corporations, who view it as a mere commodity;

To accuse the agribusinesses as responsible for the mercantilisation of life and of land;

To denounce the governments for a failure to pursue policies of agrarian reform;

To defend the cultures, territories and traditional economies of indigenous peoples and peasants, while building unity with urban movements.

To encourage and disseminate the agro ecological experience of peasant societies, not merely as alternative modes of cultivation, production and consumption, but as a radical, alternative vision of life and the world, transforming the relationship between nature and human beings.

– Final Document of the Iguaz ú Counter Conference on the Impacts of Soya and Monocultures, San Miguel de Iguaz ú , Brazil, 16-18/05/05.

[See RH #218, Feb 2004, pp 1-4, RH 224, Sept/Oct 2004 p.7, for background ]

The latest chapter in this story is that Cargill (as a major soy processor and exporter in Argentina) joined the “Sustainable Soy” team as a processor and marketer of organic soy which would bear the WWF Panda seal of approval in the European market. Environmental NGOs would contribute their support, presumably for a sliver of financial support for their conservation work, by promoting Cargill as an environmentally responsible corporate citizen.

The ‘sustainably' produced monoculture soy, in combination with beef feedlots, is to be certified and sold as organic in the high-price European market. But should monoculture soy, even grown according to organic standards, qualify for an ‘organic' label when it contributes to the destruction of small farms and forests and seeks to replace the traditional diet with an alien and nutritionally questionable soy-based diet?

To be certified organic by any recognized standard, of course, requires that the land be free of agro-toxins, which means that the land cannot have been used in ‘conventional' soy production for at least 3 years. It is unlikely that the ‘sustainable soy' gang will want to wait that long, which means that uncontaminated land will have to be brought into production. Does that mean cleared forest land and the farms of small traditional farmers? Soy production in Argentina seems simply to go from bad to worse. An organic label will not sanctify evil practices!

In March, the Gaia Foundation published a case study on the impact of genetically engineered soya which argues that agriculture based on soya monocultures can never be sustainable.

“The ‘sustainable soya' proposal to rotate soya monocultures with cattle production merely implies alternating extensive monocultures with intensive livestock production, both heavily mechanised and reliant on chemicals. Both occupy vast stretches of land, displacing other crops, whilst using minimal labour.

“Industry's main obligation is to maximise profits which means seeking immediate returns. It understands sustainability merely as the way to achieve sustained commercial benefits.

“Soya produced on a mass scale in countries where it is not part of the food culture but is simply a commodity for export, upsets the social, cultural, ecological, political and economic balance. It destroys the human rights of peasant and indigenous communities as well as the knowledge and practice of diverse farming and food production.”


#229: April/May 2005 TOC
"Sustainable Soy" - an unholy alliance of transnational agribusiness and transnational environmentalism pushes GM soy in Argentina
In Memoriam - a celebration of the life of Cathleen's mother, Anna M. Rosenberg
Cargill updates: Fertiliser and Beef
Saskatchewan Organic Farmers lose - for now: the farmers will appeal a negative ruling on their class action
Life Giving Agriculture - Brewster reports on a global forum in Korea
Confusion - the state of GE regulation in Europe is, actually, confused
Statistics of Interest
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park - Roundup is found to kill frogs
Louse-ridden farms infect wild fish - farmed salmon in BC threaten the wild stocks