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FRIDAY FILE: This year, on World Food Day, 52 countries organized a Global Day of Action Against Monsanto that became a catalyzer for several expressions of resistance against this corporation. In this Friday File we take a look at actions in three Latin American countries, where women are taking the lead in resistance movements.
By Gabriela De Cicco
Founded in 1901, Monsanto is a multinational corporation responsible for manufacturing genetically modified (GM) seeds using toxic chemicals, designed to be sterile, creating ‘monocultures’, forcing farmers to buy seeds each year. At the same time Monsanto is a world leader in the pesticide market supplying the harmful pesticides used on the GMO crops.
Demands for organic seeds free of toxins
In El Salvador about 2,000 women from different rural areas marched to a hotel where the Legislative Assembly Deputies were meeting, with demands for the mainly the right-wing parties that were planning to vote in favor of authorizing the sale of 11 agro-toxic products in the country.
According to Sara Guardado, president of Guaymango La Colmena Community Development Association, in the Sonsonate municipality, “we were marching as women, for the elimination of agro-toxics and for us to be able to produce our own food in a way that it is good for our health, our families, our children, and for the whole of El Salvador. We need autochthonous, not transgenic, seeds. That is what we grow in our parcels, everything is organic".
One of the agro-toxics in question is Paraquat, which makes up 50% of the total imports of agrochemical products in El Salvador, and whose main distributor is Semillas Burkard - previously owned by former president Alfredo Cristiani and now the property of the transnational company Monsanto. The product causes chronic kidney failure, with coastal areas particularly at risk, as the cane and cotton crops there are being fumigated with Paraquat.
Resisting proposed legislation
In Chile, a Plant Breeders’ Bill was debated in the Senate in June 2013. After analyzing the proposed bill, the citizens' initiative Chile without transgenics said this about the proposal: "it encourages industrial-scale agriculture; facilitates an even greater concentration of seeds and other agricultural supplies in the hands of a few transnational companies; encourages inappropriate research and development; constitutes a threat to food production sustainability; speeds up the reduction of agricultural biodiversity and creates a space for bio-piracy to develop".
According to the collective, the bill does not include "any protection for autochthonous species and vegetal varieties that exist in nature and fails to protect agricultural, medicinal and other uses that are traditional for peasants and Indigenous communities. The bill will also confer rights to plant breeders to genetically engineer species and/or varieties, that constitutes a first step towards acceptance of transgenic crops at a large scale".
ANAMURI (National Rural and Indigenous Women's Association) representative, Nancy Antillanca, said in the radio programme La Radio that, if passed, the Plant Breeders’ Bill "will be a serious setback for the entire nation because to put it in simple words, it will encourage the expansion of transgenics and genetic pollution, by granting benefits and power to seed companies that will then harass peasants, destroy their crops and confiscate their products". She also pointed out the need to remember that the Chilean State "has again failed to respect the ILO Convention 169, as Indigenous peoples have not been consulted before the law, even though it is precisely these peoples who have always worked the land and the seeds".
Public resistance for human and environmental health
Argentina’s remarkable economic recovery over the last ten years is largely because of the "soy boom", which has given Argentina the fastest growth rate in South America, but is also allegedly having devastating health consequences for the local community due to genetically modified soy seeds and the pesticides used with them.
Argentina used to be known as the "world's granary", whose economy was based on cattle and crops, producing a large variety of cereals and legumes. In the early 90s, the entire agricultural culture began to change as Monsanto moved into the country and this has had dramatic effects on the populations for whom agriculture is their livelihood with biodiversity in the country diminishing rapidly.
Malvinas Argentinas is a quiet municipality, 17 km’s away from the capital of Cordoba province in the east of the country where Monsanto is building a huge plant to manufacture corn seeds. The plant was scheduled to begin operations in March 2014 but building was stopped on September 18, 2013 when residents blocked access to the site in organized resistance to the construction of the plant. The residents have organized demonstrations and have submitted a legal claim. On November 30, twenty people were injured in a confrontation with anti-riot police who intervened after trucks were damaged in an attempt by the construction union to break the blockade created by the residents camping on the site.
The community movement is largely made up of women because in Malvinas Argentinas many people are suffering from respiratory diseases or allergies caused by fumigations of crops in Cordoba province, one of the main transgenic soy producers in Argentina. A growing number of cancer cases and genetic malformations are also being reported.
The arrival of Monsanto was the final provocation, together with fear of illness and death that pushed many of them into action. María Torres told Tierramérica that her son is already ill and with the arrival of Monsanto he will only get worse. Another resident, Eli Leiria, tested positive for glyphosate in her blood, according to her doctors reports "it was as if a tornado had devastated my body".
Biologist Raúl Montenegro, who presides over the Foundation for the Defense of the Environment states that "there is no official morbidity and mortality monitoring to check if the increasing number of illnesses doctors are seeing have been caused by pesticides. There is a lack of proper control of the pesticides’ level in the blood, and also of an environmental monitoring process that will detect these residues, for instance, in water tanks."
Even though the Argentinean president Cristina Fernández created a National Research Commission on Agrochemicals in 2009, with a mandate to research, prevent and treat their effects on human and environmental health, the country is a sort of "transgenic paradise - as their permits are granted on the basis of technical information provided mainly by the biotechnology companies themselves", stated Montenegro.
Women, men, and in some cases also their children (boys and girls) set up five blockade camps around the plant in Malvina Argentinas, taking turns stopping trucks from entering the site. While fear for their children's health has motivated many women, other people are hesitant to get involved for fear of reprisals, and of losing their jobs with the municipality or the social welfare benefits it provides. Several women residents have denied accusations being spread by the media, that the resistance is being orchestrated by political parties, Beba Figueroa said "What TV and newspapers are saying, that political parties are involved, is not true... most of us are mothers who are afraid for our children".
Tierramérica reports "a survey conducted by two Universities and the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research revealed that 87% of those consulted in the village want a referendum to decide and 58% reject the Monsanto plant".
Read more about Monsanto in Argentina:
- Anti-Monsanto activists assaulted in Argentina (RT) http://rt.com/news/argentina-monsanto-protest-clashes-483/
- Pesticide illness triggers anti-Monsanto protest in Argentina (DW) http://www.dw.de/pesticide-illness-triggers-anti-monsanto-protest-in-argentina/a-17013525
- Birth defects, cancer in Argentina linked to agrochemicals: AP investigation (CTVNews) http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/birth-defects-cancer-in-argentina-linked-to-agrochemicals-ap-investigation-1.1505096
- Sofia Gatica (The Goldman Environmental Prize) http://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/sofia-gatica
- Photos from Argentina’s farms, documenting an agrochemical plague (Denver Post) http://blogs.denverpost.com/captured/2013/10/21/photos-argentina-agrochemicals/6446/
- Argentina's Bad Seeds (Al Jazeera) http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2013/03/201331313434142322.html
- Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear (Vanity Fair) http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/05/monsanto200805
 The transgenic soy production boom: http://www.ecoportal.net/Temas_Especiales/Transgenicos/El_boom_de_la_produccion_de_soja_transgenica
 “The University Environment and Health Network - Fumigated Peoples' Doctors said that the fumigated area has reached 22 million acres with soy, corn and other transgenic crops in 12 Argentinean provinces, where 12 million people live".