Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Soy Republic

A friend of mine studied the economics of soy production in Argentina this summer, which is one of the three largest soy producers next to Brazil and the US.

Since Monsanto genetically modified soy to be resistant to its Roundup weedkillers, the European Union placed a ban on GMed soy imports. And since this, the WTO ruled that this is disallowed under international trade law. This ruling seems fair to me, from a consumer-choice perspective, yet the simultaneous ruling which stated non-GM products may not advertise their being non-GM is unfair. Information ought to be as symmetrical as possible, and the WTO ruled against this.

It simply gives undeserved credibility to Roundup Ready GM soy, and prevents consumers from making intelligent choices. It is reasonable to believe, as the legal jargon goes, that since there are studied and unstudied health affects of GM soy, many consumers would prefer non-GM soy. More than half of rats exposed to GM soy died prematurely compared to rats that weren't exposed. The fact that GM soy is exposed to much more Roundup weedkillers than non-GM soy should be a red flag. This is due to the fact that GM soy's DNA contains bacterial genes that allow the soy plant to survive heavy exposure to Monsanto's "Roundup" brand herbicide. Some 85 percent of the soy gown in the United States is Roundup Ready. Soy is present in the majority of processed foods sold in the United States, so most Americans eat Roundup Ready soy in some form every day.

Soy is the food of the future. Meat will be phased out if we are to live with sustainability on this planet. It is interesting, then, that the soy we eat is so infected with dangerous elements. GM soy is also grown carelessly--since there is little or no variation in GM products, the risk of an entire crop failure is much higher. Adverse weather conditions may affect a particular genetic makeup, and with little variation, the entire crop fails. Weeds all over the world have grown resistant to the now heavy use of Roundup weedkillers, and Monsanto is struggling to deter this. In Argentina, two weeds have grown resistant. In the US, an even larger number of weeds have grown resistant, due to our long practice of spraying herbicides.

Greenpeace and other organizations have documented the systematic environmental degradation due to GM soy production in Argentina. Run-off from Roundup ends up in major rives, polluting everything, and eventually reaching the ocean. Soy farm expansion, due to a favorable export price, increases deforestation. This in turn has led to floods, not to mention a loss of natural capital and habitat. In Brazil, of course, part of the destruction of the Amazon is due to expanding soy and cattle production.

What should be done?

The first step seems obvious--give consumers to freedom to choose their soy products, through the WTO. Free trade also means free information. Producers and distributors ought to be allowed to put the information they find relevant on their product. Since GM soy is often fed to cattle and other animals, cattle producers who don't use GM soy also ought to be able to advertise this.


Anonymous said...

Actually most of the soy grown here will not end up in the bellies of hungry or not so hungry people, but in the fuel tanks of European and North American cars. So the issue of GM or not GM is irrelevant in this respect - of course all the other issues associated with this agro-industrial development remain the same.

Acumensch said...

Thanks for commenting from Argentina.

The US mostly uses GM seed for growing soy for every purpose, and also produces more soy than anyone else, so if you buy US soy products it's largely genetically modified.

Most of the soy grown in Argentina is not consumed or used in Argentina. But I'm curious as to why Argentina has been making soy for biofuels rather than food products.