1. Uruguay: Genetically Modified Invasion

  2. Nicaragua: Food Sovereignty Does Not Exist Without Native Seeds

  3. Holland and (Ir)responsible Soy

  4. Bolivia: Climate Justice Tribunal


1. Uruguay: Genetically Modified Invasion

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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2. Nicaragua: Food Sovereignty Does Not Exist Without Native Seeds

Lucía Aguirre, representative of the Swissaid organization which forms
part of the campaign Seeds of Identity. Photo: www.rel-uita.org.

In Nicaragua, the campaign Seeds of Identity (Semillas de Identidad) develops and promotes information on and technology for local development based on the sustainable use of biodiversity and the exchange of traditional knowledge with an eye on counteracting monopolies, dependence, and the loss of native seeds. Seeds of Identity, the product of collaboration among various NGOs, also has as one of its objectives the creation of a public debate with different sectors of society on the issue of genetic resources and GM crops.

Through seed fairs and native foods, they promote and demonstrate the variety of native and domesticated foreign (acriolladas) seeds and the foods that are derived from them to the consumer and government representatives. They also highlight the importance of promoting the rescue of these seeds through national policies and specific laws.

"We have identified 250 varieties of corn and beans. The creation of a genetic patrimony that constitutes the foundation of food production and food security in the country is of utmost importance for Nicaragua. It should consist of a live inventory that is updated daily," said Lucía Aguirre, representative of the Swissaid organization which forms part of the campaign.

"Approximately 20,000 Nicaraguan families are already working to rescue the many varieties of native seeds and 80% of agricultural land that is planted with basic grains is utilizing native and domesticated foreign seeds," reported Aguirre in an interview with the Regional Latin American Secretariat of the International Union of Food Workers (Rel-UITA). "More than 160 seed banks already exist in the country, attended by 3,000 campesino families, and they guarantee the seeds for use during the different agricultural cycles."

Seeds of Identity are in the process of establishing plots with of an agronomy character for the propagation of seeds in order to offer complete data on the different seed varieties to academic institutions and the government for their use in ministerial programs. The campaign is also promoting municipal regulations that are pro-native seeds and against the introduction of GM seeds.

"Through the campaign we are making the people aware of the risks that come with the introduction of GM seeds while putting emphasis on the great genetic wealth of our country. We already have the answers to production necessities and food security. We don’t need to import seeds that carry a high ecological risk and threaten the campesino economy," explained Aguirre.

At the national level, Seeds of Identity is advocating for a bio-security law as well as a biodiversity law to complement the recent approval of the Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security Law.


Rel-UITA, "Campaña Semillas de Identidad: La semilla criolla es imprescindible para alcanzar la soberanía alimentaria", http://www.rel-uita.org/agricultura/alimentos/semillas_de_identidad.htm.

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3. Holland and (Ir)responsible Soy

The RTRS is an agribusiness initiative to legitimize and expand
soy monoculture in South America. Photo: www.redes.org.uy.

The Rural Reflection Group of Argentina (Grupo de Reflexión Rural de Argentina), Soy Kills (La Soja Mata), Toxic Soy, and Rainforest Rescue are starting a campaign directed toward the Dutch government urging it to leave the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS). The round table is an agribusiness initiative to legitimize and expand soy monoculture in South America. Some of its supposed criteria are sustainability and social responsibility.

The civil society, NGOs, and communities affected by soy monoculture have rejected the RTRS every one of the four times that it has met. In April of 2009, 90 organizations and activist networks signed a letter repudiating the round table. The letter declares that soy monocultures will never be sustainable or responsible.

According to the letter, the environmental impacts of soy monocultures include "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, fertilizer use including NOx emissions; soil erosion and disruption of surface and ground water and rainfall patterns …"

The letter goes on to say, "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."

The campaign has intensified this month when in the space of a week the deaths of six indigenous Mbya Guaraní were reported in Paraguay due to intoxication from agro-toxins used in soy production. In addition, a campesino was killed in a confrontation with a soy plantation owner.

"In Argentina, the population that is directly affected by fumigations has begun the Campaign to Stop Fumigation (Campaña Paren de Fumigar) in order to denounce the soy industry," relates an open letter from the campaign against the RTRS sent to the Dutch government. "The health of the people in these countries is seriously affected. The solution will not be found in years of round table discussions held at a physical and moral distance from the reality … The RTRS is not a legitimate initiative as shown by the very few NGOs and not one South American campesino movement or indigenous community that have offered their support for it."


Salva la Selva, "Gobierno holandés financia soja (ir)responsable", 5 de octubre 2009, http://www.biodiversidadla.org/content/view/full/52191.

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4. Bolivia: International Climate Justice Tribunal

This October, the Bolivian city of Cochabamaba will be the seat of the First Hearing of the International Climate Justice Tribunal held before the ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para América Latina y el Caribe) countries meet for their 7th Summit. The initiative will "morally" sanction those responsible for climate crimes and their conclusions will be presented before the United Nations according to a report by Radio Mundo Real. The tribunal was born out of an agreement made during the IV Continental Summit of the Indigenous Peoples and Nations of the Abya Yala (IV Cumbre Continental de Pueblos y Nacionalidades Indígenas del Abya Yala) held in Puno, Peru in May 2009.

In its First Hearing, the Tribunal will receive complaints against the Doe Run and Miner Volcán de Perú corporations, the Face Profafor organization, the governments of South America that develop the megaprojects that fall under the Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America (IIRSA), and a company that produces ethanol in the Cauca river valley in Colombia.

"Face Profafor is a project of the European company Face and the Ecuadorian government that has taken over extensive areas for the planting of pines and other exotic species within the framework of ‘carbon credits,’ resulting in impacts on the local communities," states the Andean Coordination of Indigenous Organizations (Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas) that participated in the creation of the tribunal. "The production of ethanol in the Cauca river valley in Colombia is similar due to the massive cultivation of sugar cane to produce biofuels. Both fall under the category of ‘false solutions’ to climate change. Instead of reversing global warming they incur major impacts on biodiversity and the rights of the people."

The tribunal "will permit within this space of ‘social vigilance’ denunciations of the absence of international conventions that truly sanction those responsible for the destruction of the planet … Through this experience, the organizations seek to create a ‘linked system’ that punishes ‘environmental crimes and great human tragedies’ incurred by ‘financial and narrow-minded interests,’" reports Radio Mundo Real.


Coordinadora Andina de Organizaciones Indígenas, "Tribunal Internacional de Justicia Climática inicia su primera audiencia", 13 de octubre 2009, http://www.alainet.org/active/33660&lang=es.

Radio Mundo Real, "Hay responsables: Nace en Bolivia el Tribunal Internacional de Justicia Climática", 12 de octubre 2009, http://www.radiomundoreal.fm/Hay-responsables.