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GMOs in Latin America

14 June 2013

Dear LAB supporter and friend,

GMOs in Latin America

Latin America is key to the future of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and it is an issue over which the region is deeply divided. Some of the largest and wealthiest countries – Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile – have wholeheartedly embraced the technology, whereas others, notably Ecuador and Peru, have rejected it.

Argentina was the first country in Latin America to accept GMOs, giving an enthusiastic welcome in 1996 to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready (RR1), a soya engineered to be resistant to the company’s Roundup herbicide. Indeed, the country has become a test case for the technology, with a greater percentage of its land covered with a GM crop than any other country in the world. Today it has become all too clear that Argentina is paying a huge price for this decision – the deluging of farm-land with Roundup is causing serious and underreported health problems, particularly among young children and pregnant women in villages; the widespread mechanisation of farming is leading to a massive rural exodus, leaving behind numerous ghost villages; and the country’s rich biodiversity is being seriously damaged.Read more.

The emerging disaster in Argentina is one reason why consumers in the UK are running a campaign to force UK supermarkets to reverse their recent decision to lift the ban on the sale of eggs and poultry from chickens raised on GMO feed. If you want to sign the petition organised by GMO Action, you can access it here.

Brazil, where there was initial resistance, finally authorised GMOs in 2003, its capitulation occurring, ironically, during the progressive government of President Lula. For the last four years Brazil has planted more GM crops than any other country in the world but opposition is far from moribund. Read more. Silvia Rothlisberger interviews an activist from Uruguay who laments the foreign takeover of land, partly caused by the boom in GMO soya.Read more. There have been several good documentaries on the soya takeover of South America – one, by Al Jazeera, can be seen here, and another by Ecostorm here.

A big question mark hangs over one of the other big Latin American players – Mexico. A moratorium on GMOs is still officially in place but it was eroded at the edges by President Felipe Calderón, who allowed experimental planting of GM maize. Now over the next few weeks President Enrique Peña Nieto will have to decide whether he will allow the transnational companies to plant it commercially. Partly because of the age-old importance of maize in the country’s culture, there is great popular mobilisation to stop him giving the go-ahead.Read more.As part of this movement, people were out in droves to celebrate their native maize in the “Carnival of Corn”Read more.

The greatest success in resisting GMOs has been in smaller countries. Ecuador banned GMOs in its 2008 constitution, although recently there have been worrying reports that President Rafael Correa is considering a constitutional revision to lift the prohibition. Another country where big advances have been made to keep GMOs out is Costa Rica. As Tian Spain shows in her article, over two-thirds of the country’s cantons have declared themselves GM-free. Read more.

The most remarkable story, however, comes from Peru where a broad coalition of different interests – environmentalists, consumers, traders, youth movements and others – organised a hugely successful campaign that ended up convincing 97% of the population that GMOs should be banned. As a result, President Ollanta Humala introduced a ten-year moratorium in December 2011. Read more. We also carry an interview (in Spanish) with two key activists. Read more.

Other news

Brazil: indigenous rights are under assault, says Survival International’s Fiona Watson in a special article for LAB. Read more. And new evidence is emerging of the scale of massacre of the Waimiri-Atroari Indians during the military dictatorship. Read more.

Guatemala: an article by Laura Powell, for COHA, restates the case classifying as genocide the massacres of Guatemala’s Indians in the 1980s. Read more.

El Salvador: after long delays the country’s Supreme Court ruled against allowing a therapeutic abortion for Beatriz. She subsequently gave birth by caesarean section, but the baby died. Read more.

Very best wishes

The LAB team