Grain production has destroyed 70,000 km2 of Amazon rainforest and has left 160,000 families landless as they could not compete with the prices of large companies.
In recent years, soy consumption has spread in the West thanks to the influence of Eastern culture, where along with corn, millet and potatoes it constitutes their staple food.
This consumption appears documented in the year 2800 BC in the East and its exportation in Europe was not until the eighteenth century. In the United States it was introduced in the early nineteenth century.
However, it is precisely in the United States where its cultivation became one of the most important in the Western world; it has now become the lead producing country in the world and a major exporter to other countries.
The eight major soybean-producing countries in the world are, in order, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, China, India, Paraguay, Canada and Bolivia. However only the South Americans have the land to expand their crops significantly.
In fact, in its computation, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia and Argentina have about 45 million acres of soybeans, with an annual production that could reach 118 million tons.
Brazil and Argentina at the top
According to the study by the Earth Policy Institute, in the U.S. soy occupies more arable land than wheat. It also notes that Brazil and Argentina are the countries that lead in production and together represent more than four-fifths of global soybean production.
Moreover, the journal specialising in cereals and oilseeds, Oil World, estimated that in Argentina soybean production in 2013 would be 1.5 million tonnes and Brazil around 0.7 million tons.
Also, Oil World forecasts that Argentina will harvest 48.5 million tons of soybeans, up slightly from the 39.7 million that it collected last season. Meanwhile, the Brazilian production will be 81.3 million tonnes compared to 66.4 million that were produced in 2012.
In recent years the regional market of Mercosur (Southern Common Market) has benefited economically from the exponential growth of soybeans, particularly with the high international prices and sustained demand of the world’s largest buyer; China.
This represents a trend that since 1999 has seen an increase of 382%. Thus, at present, China imports 63 million tons of soybeans, equivalent to 64% of world trade.
That’s why the soybean acreage has grown by 126% in the last decade. So, with 16.6 million hectares, more than half of the Argentine territory, the oilseed, already trading around $600 per ton, expands at the expense of corn, wheat, citrus and cattle, amongst other agricultural activities.
Experts in family farming and environmental organizations, however, warn of the severe social and environmental impacts of monocultivation. These experts include Greenpeace, who claim that the soybean crop has become a major factor of deforestation in the Amazon.
Also, according to the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Argentina, between 1998 and 2006 the area deforested was 2, 295, 567 hectares, equivalent to more than 280, 000 hectares per year, 1 hectare every two minutes.
Thus, it is claimed that since the 1990s, Argentina has suffered a strong push towards deforestation, helped by investment in infrastructure, the introduction of GM crops and tillage, and the international context, which generated one of the processes of the largest native forest transformation in the country’s history.
Hernán Giardini, coordinator of the Forest Campaign of Greenpeace, lists the problems arising from the expansion of GM soy: “the agricultural frontier moved on native forests, there was a significant loss of biodiversity, thousands of peasant and indigenous families were dislodged, land tenure concentrated, and the use of chemicals was increased exponentially causing adverse effects to human health and the environment.”
Also, environmental organizations note that in transgenic fields pesticides are used more than in the conventional field. With this, the presence of glyphosate (the herbicide associated with Monsanto’s transgenic soy RR) in the soil, water and food is increasing.
In fact, corn, soy or the industrial derivatives are present in over 60% of processed foods, from chocolate to potato chips, to margarine and ready meals.
A report released by Greenpeace warns that human exposure to glyphosate has been linked to several chronic effects: reproductive, birth defects, neurological, cancer and acute effects by direct use of the product by farmers or by exposure of the inhabitants.
In addition, the report notes the concern that birth defects experienced by women in Argentina and Paraguay may be a result of exposure to glyphosate use on soybeans and transgenic rice.
That is why it annually publishes the “Red and Green Guide GM food” (http://www.greenpeace.org/espana/Global/espana/report/transgenicos/Guia_Roja_Verde_Alimentos_Transgenicos_Actualizada.pdf) and encourages people to check product labelling.
(Translated by David Coldwell – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)