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Paraguay Lifts Restrictions on Transgenic Corn

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The approval by Paraguay’s Health and Social Ministry of the cultivation and consumption of genetically-modified corn and other seeds has brought a swift reaction from peasant farmer networks, and led to the start of a campaign directed against the multinational company Monsanto, which produces many of the transgenic seeds.

Paraguay’s Health and Social Welfare Ministry’s Aug. 6 approbation of the consumption of genetically modified corn VT Triple Pro, produced by US-based transnational corporation Monsanto, was described by peasant organizations as “an attack against peasant culture and food sovereignty.”

The approval made transgenic corn available for human consumption as it considered transgenic corn innocuous for human health.

“Now Monsanto will be able to legalize its seeds and expand its business,” said Tomás Zayas, leader of the Alto Paraná Farmers Association, speaking to the non-governmental organization Base Investigaciones Sociales, or BaseIS.

Zayas added that farmers are worried about the possible genetic contamination of national corn and the health effects of consuming this transgenic corn variety.

With the introduction of transgenic corn, BaseIS warned that “the ancestral indigenous and peasant diet, economy, genetics and culture could undergo deep changes as native crop species will be displaced, generating a dependence on planted seeds.”

Although the 1993 Environmental Impact Assessment Law banned genetically modified corn, last January the government of overthrown President Fernando Lugo (2008-2012) authorized Monsanto to experimentally cultivate transgenic corn crops.

Now the new regime, headed by Fernando Franco, has encouraged the use of genetically modified corn and other seeds.

At the beginning of July, a few days after the parliamentary coup that removed President Lugo on June 22, the National Service for the Health and Quality of Plants and Seeds, or SENAVE, which regulates the use of agricultural chemicals, authorized the cultivation of transgenic cotton.

In a press release, the Paraguayan Environmental Organizations Network indicated that SENAVE’s current authorities promote “an agricultural model that submits farmers to an economic dependence on a technological package that includes patented seeds and high use of agricultural supplies, including toxic agricultural chemicals.’

The network’s communiqué added that: ‘the possible human health hazards, food security dangers, and biodiversity damages are uncertain”.

Transgenic corn and cotton will now be cultivated, in addition to genetically modified soy, which has been cultivated in Paraguay for several years.

According to the Pesticides and its Alternatives in Latin America Network, 80 percent of the almost 3 million hectares (7.5 million acres) of soy that are planted in Paraguay are of the genetically modified variety.

At the same time, according to a report in the Prensa Latina news service, a campaign called Operation Monsanto has begun in Paraguay against firms linked to the U.S. multinational company of the same name, which monopolizes the supply of seeds and herbicides and causes serious damage to domestic agriculture, according to thecampaigners.

The situation was analyzed during the recent Paraguay Resiste Social Forum, which condemned the excessive increase in the supply of genetically-modified seeds and herbicides, described as disastrous for the land and farmers’ health.

Starting in mid-August as part of actions against Monsanto, the group Anonymous Paraguay attacked the websites of national institutions that collaborate with the U.S. company, according to Paraguay Resiste.

The movement noted that Operation Monsanto is the first response to the government’s decision to boost the use of transgenic seeds of corn and cotton, which are major crops in Paraguay’s agriculture.

Paraguay has over 2.8 million hectares of soy crops in the hands of landowners who have also deforested large areas in the country, according to Paraguay Resiste.

Monsanto, a giant company that in 2010 alone reported revenues of 10.5 billion dollars, according to official statistics, will make domestic seeds and small farmers disappear, said Paraguay Resiste.

The extensive harvest of transgenic soy has turned Paraguay’s countryside into an uninhabitable place for the poorest farmers; due to poisonous herbicides and the irretrievable damage caused to their land to grow other crops, thus creating more poverty, the movement added.