FOCUS ON THE AMERICAS
"The rural poor lose an ecosystem which can provide them with numerous goods such as food, medicines, raw material for handicrafts or products that they can trade. Like the Green Revolution, Genetic Engineering has failed to feed the world. For the biotech industry, it has been always all about money." (item 1)
1.Argentina's agricultural breakdown
2.Brazil's biosafety breakdown
3.US's weed control breakdown
1.Slash and burn agriulture breeds hunger and deforestation
Argentina: Genetic Engineering Causes Deforestation
Based on information from: "Record harvest-record hunger", Greenpeace
Genetic engineering is the state of the art output of the Green Revolution. It has deepened a pattern where monoculture, land concentration, and dependence -- on the technology, on the seed -- are the rule.
GE has been heralded by the same promises of the Green Revolution: that it will feed the starving. Promoters of GE have even tried to make its critics
feel guilty: "The day you look into the eyes of a starving person, your opinion over transgenic crops changes. Today, 24,000 people a day die because of malnutrition. So when the North Europe decides not to use this technology, this is morally unacceptable", said Dr Clive James, biotech specialist at International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).
In 1996, the Argentinean government eagerly approved the introduction of transgenic soy and became a major global producer of Monsanto's Roundup Ready (RR) soy, mainly for export. Meanwhile, hunger keeps on increasing.
In spite of record-breaking harvests, nearly half of Argentineans are living in poverty. As of May 2002, 18 million people -- almost 50% out of a population of approximately 37 million -- cannot afford to meet their basic needs.
More than 20 years ago, the Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen demonstrated that hunger and famine can and often do occur in situations where there is no overall shortage of food. Sen explained that when, even in situations of overall food abundance, a household's 'entitlement' (that is, its ability to acquire food through legal means) is eroded because of a fall in ownership of assets (crops, livestock, property, jobs and so on), households will face hunger and starvation, unless there is some form of social security to protect them.
Also, the arguments of the biotech group has been that GE crops will help protect the environment by increasing yields on land that is already cultivated, and so reduce the need to clear forest or other precious habitats for agriculture. However, the huge increase in Argentinean soybean production -- from around 10 million tonnes in 1991 to nearly 27 million tonnes in 2001-- is a result of increasing acreage, not increasing yields. The increase in acreage has come about both through the replacement of other crops -- not least on what were once small and medium sized family farms growing food for local and national consumption -- and by deforestation.
A Greenpeace study reveals how GE soybean has contributed to the accelerated destruction of the Yungas forest, in the northern province of Salta --one of the economically poorest but biologically richest in Argentina. The Yungas mountain rainforest, or 'cloudforest', is probably the most biodiverse area of Argentina. The forest can be divided into four zones according to altitude, which ranges from 300m (950ft) to more than 4000m (14,000ft). The first zone, the Selva Pedemontana (forest at the foot of the mountain), is the most threatened. This zone harbours 30% of all biodiversity of this valuable ecosystem. But less than 20% of the Yungas remains in good condition for either conservation or sustainable development activities.
The Selva Pedemontana is the zone at highest risk and has traditionally suffered conversion to sugar cane and orange plantations. More recently, beans and tobacco monocultures have contributed even further to forest destruction. But now Roundup Ready Soy threatens to strike a final blow to this unique and wonderful ecosystem. "At this pace we can forget about the Selva Pedemontana in 5 years" says Dr Alejandro Brown, founder of the Ecological Research Yungas Laboratory at the National University of Tucumn. According to Dr Brown's report,1000 hectares (2500 acres) a year of Selva Pedemontana are transformed to GE Soy in the areas of Orn and Tartagal in the province of Salta.
The rural poor lose an ecosystem which can provide them with numerous goods such as food, medicines, raw material for handicrafts or products that they can trade. Like the Green Revolution, Genetic Engineering has failed to feed the world. For the biotech industry, it has been always all about money.
2.Survey reveals inadequate soybean segregation in Brazil
Food Chemical News, USA, 9 August 2004
Weaknesses in Brazilian soybean segregation were recently brought to light when the agriculture ministry released a report revealing that a high number of samples testing positive as biotech varieties came from farmers who were not supposed to be growing them. Survey findings were based on laboratory analyses of 7,374 samples taken in various growing regions of the country. Some 296 samples tested positive as biotech varieties, of which only 88 were from farms of registered biotech soybean growers. The remaining samples that tested positive were traced back to farmers who had not signed the biotech registry. Although the unregistered biotech samples amounted to less than 3% of the total, they represented over 70% of the biotech samples. The report underscored inadequacies in the biotech soybean registry program and the resulting risk of biotech soybeans making their way into supposedly non-biotech
shipments. It suggested that farmer noncompliance with the biotech registry requirement makes it impossible to ensure that non-biotech soybean shipments will meet the strict transgenic content limitations of premium export markets such as the European Union. Nevertheless, farmers claim the situation is beyond their control, because an agriculture ministry investigation of seed companies conducted at the outset of the 2003-04 growing season demonstrated that numerous samples of purportedly non-biotech seeds sold to farmers were in fact bioengineered varieties.
3.Weed control could be circle of truths
by Eva Ann Dorris
Delta Farm Press, 29 Jul 2004
ORANGE BEACH, Ala. - Controlling weeds in Mississippi's row crops is definitely more scientifically approached now than even 10 years ago. Transgenic technology and the resulting concept and application of herbicide resistant varieties changed the lineup when it comes to problem weeds. According to the state's top weed control researchers and educators, the spectrum will continue to change.
When asked what should growers expect in weed control in the next five to 10 years, participants of the 12th annual Mississippi Weed Science Roundtable in Orange Beach, wouldn't offer specific predictions but all seemed in agreement that "resistant" was fast becoming a word growers would tire of hearing. The meeting was held just prior to the opening of the concurrent summer meetings of the Mississippi Agricultural Industry Council and the Mississippi Seedmen's Association yesterday.
A variety resistant to damage from certain herbicides is a good definition of "resistant." A weed resistant to that same herbicide is a bad definition of "resistant."
Marestail, also called horseweed, which first developed resistance in Tennessee, but is now in other Mid-South states including Mississippi, is the most notable "resistant" weed. While over-the-top applications of glyphosate are suppressing and killing weeds such as cocklebur and teaweed that once could only be controlled with multiple herbicide applications and cultivation, other weeds such as the horseweed are emerging and thriving despite the direct contact with glyphosate.
Horseweed isn't widespread, but for the growers lucky enough to get it, it means additional herbicides and probably some plowing are now part of their weed control program. For decades the plow and the hoe kept Mississippi fields clean. While the tools may have been pushed to the back of the shed, the experts agree, plowing may be the only defense to weeds that develop resistance to available herbicides.
If so, it will be the completion of a full circle in search for the best weed management. However, within the circle will be the huge advancements of herbicide resistant varieties, variable rate applications, species-specific herbicides and precise application methods.
Charles Snipes, MSU cotton specialist for the Delta, says before growers could plant herbicide resistant cotton, their four main weeds of concern were morningglory, hemp sesbania, teaweed and cocklebur. Today, with several years of experience with herbicide resistant cotton and having observed the millions of acres of it planted in the past five years, the priorities for control have shifted.
"Post transgenic, or today, our top four weeds of concern are morningglories, hemp sesbania, pigweed and annual grasses," says Snipes.
Discussions about pigweed were directed at concerns that it might be headed to glyphosate-resistant status.
Mark Kurtz, a weed control researcher at the Delta Research and Extension Center in Leland, says rice growers know the threat they have is of out crossing of red rice. Stewardship to keep red rice out of fields is perhaps the most manual weed control method left. There are places where growers and their workers are walking fields and manually pulling up red rice to keep it out of the fields.
Dan Reynolds, professor of weed science at MSU, says the future will bring more technology and more stacked traits varieties.
"If anything scares me, it's discovering the herbicides designed for the various transgenic varieties do leave room for other weeds to thrive," he says.
"We have old chemicals now that we know will kill our weeds, but companies can't keep them on the shelves forever just in case we might need a specific chemical for a specific weed.
"When a weed gets resistant to glyphosate, I'm worried we will not have the chemical we need to use it. Companies are dropping chemicals, and they are putting money into research for specific weeds. They now bring forth products that will work on a number of weeds at one time or will work in an herbicide resistant program."
David Shaw, weed scientist and director of the GeoResources Institute at MSU, says "one of the big threats is if we have a big blowup with a weed that just won't go away, we may not have access to the alternative chemistry. If that happens, we will see years of conservation tillage be abandoned because growers will have to put the plows back into the field to control weeds."
The weed specialists say the farmers don't want to get the plows back out, but that could the only option on some weeds. Snipes said this year was a good example of when plowing could have made a big difference.
"Our crop suffocated, first from water and then from the crusted soil - a good old plow did a world of good in the fields I saw them cultivate," he says.
Snipes says it would be difficult for producers to go back to tillage and make any money with 50-cent cotton.
"We can still produce a crop without transgenic cotton, but not at the same costs. Herbicide resistant varieties have rapidly been adopted and used, and growers have in some cases sold their cultivation equipment and laid off their tractor drivers.
Alan Blaine, MSU Extension soybean specialist, says even though growers rapidly adopted Roundup Ready soybeans, he personally believes "given a dry spring and half an opportunity that many producers would go back to growing soybeans the old way" if for no other reason than "as a statement."
"We've been talking about resistant management for a number of years," says MSU weed scientist John Byrd. "We are concerned because we are losing so many of our conventional products and getting very few new products brought to the market. If we have a break out of resistant weeds, it may be a bigger problem to deal with than we realize.
"I read out of an old book this morning that was written in 1939. The author said Kudzu was not going to be a problem to control. I don't think any of us would make that statement about any weed. We see areas where we are concerned that resistance will become a problem, but those problems may never materialize. We have to keep a close watch on what weeds survive beyond a farmer's weed management program" says Byrd.
Reynolds was not surprised the first cases of resistant horseweed were in Tennessee because of that area's wide spread adoption of conservation tillage. Glyphosate didn't kill it; producers weren't plowing; and at first, they weren't using a residual or herbicide combination that suppresses the horseweed.
"That started the resistance in the horseweed and from there it's gone through its own selection process," says Reynolds. "And, we are concerned other weeds will go through a similar selection process and our list of resistant weeds will grow."
Representatives of industry attending the session admitted research dollars were not heavily allocated for the development of new herbicides, but had shifted to other areas such as fungicides, insecticides and resistant variety development.
"Many of these concerns with resistant weeds are realistic," says Eric Palmer with Syngenta. "But with good product stewardship, we will have the products it takes to control these weeds. The question will be if the grower is willing to spend $20 to $25 an acre for that control."
Eva Ann Dorris is a freelance writer based in Pontotoc, Miss.
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