Against 'Responsible' GM soy: reply to Solidaridad, WWF
The Round Table on Responsible Soy has been strongly criticised by many social and campesino movements from soy producing countries. Nevertheless, Dutch NGOs Solidaridad and WWF now go a step further by organising the 'GM soy debate - Common sense on GM soy' in order to make GM soy certifyable as 'responsible'. This shows how perverted the RTRS process really is.
With video of protest action in Amsterdam on dec 9, 2008
By Nina Holland, LaSojaMata/Corporate Europe Observatory
In the IKON radio program ‘De Andere Wereld’ of November 1st, Flip Vonk of ASEED called the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) a ‘naïve and dangerous’ initiative. We would like to respond to Solidaridad’s comment on this, which is published on www.solidaridad.nl. (written in Dutch, translation below this article)
The first sentence on the Round Table website (www.responsiblesoy.org) reads as follows:
“The soy industry is fundamental for economical growth and job creation in producer countries, but it has imposed the expansion of agricultural frontiers at a high social and environmental cost.”
This starting point clearly shows what the problem is with the RTRS and what it aims to do. The Round Table’s objective is to create a voluntary certification system for ‘responsible’ soy, based on a set of criteria developed by the industry and a number of NGO’s.
The RTRS does not try to counter the soy expansion, therefore the ‘high social and environmental costs’ can continue to increase – to the alleged benefit of ‘economical growth’ and ‘job creation’. Is it ‘responsible’ to accept these costs? Economical growth and jobs – for whom, where and how many? While the countryside is turned into a depopulated soy desert, a few jobs are created in the banking and pesticide industry. Economical growth is not at all distributed evenly among society; on the contrary.
These considerations are highly political questions. The Round Table supporters are trying very hard to de-politicise these issues. This perfectly fits the agenda of the Dutch government that support the RTRS financially, under the pretext of sustainability. An example of this argument, as stated by Jan Maarten Dros of Solidaridad in the IKON program, is that through the Round Table, the European consumer ‘..regains a bit of transparency that we lost with globalisation’ . This European consumer should thus be happy to be made responsible for decades of Dutch and EU policy, driven by industry’s private interests, that has shaped that ‘globalisation’ and has promoted massive soy imports and factory farming. That same consumer is not being told that it might be better to eat less or no meat, because RTRS participant VION (Dutch mega pig slaughter company) would not be too pleased with that message.
And how does that ‘bit of transparency’ bring any benefit to the 90.000 campesinos and indigenas in Paraguay who yearly leave their land to try find an existence in the city slums, on garbage dumps or in foreign countries? These people don’t fit in the large scale agro-export soy model that inundates the country, and they never will. They are the collateral damage of the agro-export model. This model, based on the use of GM soy and glyphosate (Roundup), cannot co-exist with small scale campesino-agriculture. This is currently resulting in severe conflicts, like now in the rural areas of Paraguay, principally conflicts over access to land and over the use of the herbicide Roundup in soy cultivation, which affects all other crops around.
With the application of RTRS criteria, we will neither get back the forests that have already disappeared, and that still will disappear, in order to make way for soy. The problem with the certification of ‘responsible soy’ is that the industry is given the opportunity to show good will, while soy expansion can continue undisturbed, ‘responsible’ or not.
This is one of the main reasons why against each of the three Round Table conferences held so far, declarations have been published and protests were organised by a large part of the Brazilian, Argentinean and Paraguayan social movements and NGO’s concerned – also supported by organisations elsewhere in the world. The last conference, in April 2008 in Buenos Aires, received counter-declarations from both Friends of the Earth and the Global Forest Coalition (see www.lasojamata.org).
The Paraguayan, Argentinian and Brazilian campesino movements in general do not recognise the Round Table as a legitimate forum for them to achieve anything. RTRS membership is therefore dominated by soy producers and agribusiness transnationals including Cargill, ADM, Bunge and Unilever. This is reflected in the meetings of the RTRS. Industry takes a hard position against proposals to favour small producers by applying certain criteria less rigidly. According to the minutes of one of the conferences, an industry participant even claims that“..small farmers should not be allowed to ruin the planet” (!).
BP, Shell, Greenergy, Biopetrol Trading and Neste Oil have also joined the RTRS, because of the expected booming demand for ‘bio’diesel. This makes the Round Table even more counterproductive and therefore dangerous, as it actively contributes to the legitimation of the use of soy oil as ‘bio’diesel; an extra market, adding extra value to soy as a product.
Our report ‘The Round Table on IR-responsible Soy’ (see www.lasojamata.org), which was published for the occasion of the 3rd Round Table conference in Buenos Aires, shows how European corporations that are a member of the Round Table, at the same time push their other, destructive agendas, supported by EU politicians. Yet these corporations keep pointing at their RTRS membership, when confronted with questions about the (un)sustainability of the soy sector – a good example of greenwashing.
A case in point is the Dutch and European associations for the animal feed industry (represented respectively by NEVEDI and FEFAC) and MVO (Dutch Product Board for Margarine, Fats and Oils). These organisations actively participate in an outright scandalous campaign at EU level, which is aimed at breaking down one of the few rules that put some control on the use of GMO's in the EU. At present, the EU prohibits any contamination of products with non-authorised (thus untested, illegal) GMO’s. The European feed industry, and to a certain extent also the food industry, is fighting hard to get rid of this zero tolerance policy, and uses blatantly misleading arguments to achieve their aim.
This takes us to the issue of genetically modified, RoundupReady (RR) soy. This GM soy, made by the transnational Monsanto (whose reputation needs little comment, see the book and film ‘The World According to Monsanto’), has been made resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, another Monsanto product. Practically all soy produced in Argentina and Paraguay, and an increasing share of Brazilian soy, is RoundupReady. Therefore, it has been clear from the very start of the Round Table in 2005 that this GM RoundupReady soy will also have to be certifyable as ‘responsible’. Indeed, the current draft principles and criteria do not discriminate between GM and conventional soy. Also the fact that the association of Argentina’s big RR soy producers (AAPRESID) has been a member of the RTRS Steering Committee from the beginning, makes it perfectly evident that if the RTRS gets its way, the market will be supplied with ‘responsible’ GM soy.
However, the introduction of GM RR soy seeds in combination with Roundup has been co-responsible for the explosive expansion of soy production, because of the way it promotes production at an even larger scale. The collateral damage that comes with this system can be seen everywhere: fumigations with Roundup (and other agrotoxics) by airplanes, tractors or mosquitos, kill nearby food crops, trees, and have severe and acute health impacts for the people living in the area. In other words, the environment becomes practically unlivable for anything else but soy. In Paraguay, 60% of agricultural land is now covered by (mainly RR) soy. It is hard to see how a certification inspector, or the staff of Solidaridad or WWF, is going to check every bi-weekly fumigation of every ‘responsible’ soy field: whether the wind is not too strong or is in the wrong direction, whether the pilot closes the pesticide tank when flying above a village or a school, for example. One usually cannot rely on local authorities to monitor this, as governors and mayors are often soy producers themselves.
The Dutch NGOs involved in the Round Table, that is Solidaridad and WWF, are now taking another leap in further legitimising a world in which food production is dominated by GM and agribusiness. In cooperation with Wageningen University, they are organising the “GM soy Debate: Creating common sense on GM soy!”. According to the conference home page (http://gmsoydebate.global-connections.nl/), the current debate on GM soy is ‘polarised and unsatisfactory’. The organisers state that GM soy is a reality that is better accepted. They are clearly not initiating a debate on whether or not to use GM soy. (A position that, by the way, was until recently not known to everyone within WWF. This is shown by an interview on GMO’s with a WWF representative to the 9th Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the Biodiversity Convention and the 4th Meeting of the Parties (MOP4) to the Biosafety Protocol, on GMO's, in Bonn last May. (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa11xN6EWSY). In this interview he claims that ‘WWF is clearly against GMO’s’.)
Members of the GM Soy Debate Steering Committee include WWF, Solidaridad, the earlier mentioned association AAPRESID, their Brazilian counterpart APDC, and the Dutch Product Board MVO. AidEnvironment, a Dutch consultancy involved in the RTRS from the beginning, takes care of communications and organises a ‘stakeholder conference’ on December 9th 2008 in Amsterdam. This conference aims for a ‘constructive dialogue’, that inter alia should result into “including possible GM soy specific risks and opportunities into sustainability frameworks” and the “identification of GM soy applications under development that are specifically aimed at improving the livelihood of poor farmers in Latin America.”
In this way, these Dutch NGO’s are making a strong effort to de-politicise a debate about an issue that is anything but politically neutral. This new step goes much beyond ‘naïve and dangerous’. Taking into account the devastation caused so far by (RR) soy to the Latin American continent, this initiative lacks any sense of reality, means a selling out of any principle, and strips the word ‘sustainability’ from any remaining meaning.
Finally, returning to the expansion problem, it might be clarifying to mention the very damaging role that WWF has played in the EU agrofuel debate. WWF was the only organisation publicly supporting the European Commission proposal for an obligatory agrofuel target by 2020. By the end of 2007, the WWF campaigner in charge still maintained however that if no binding social criteria would be included in the proposal, WWF would drop its support. When the Commission as expected did not include any social criteria, WWF broke that promise and did not drop its support for the 10% target, to great anger of other social and environmental organisations in and outside Brussels. WWF’s logic is that this 10% target will lead to more demand for certified products like palm oil and soy. In this way, certification even contributes to the further expansion of monocultures, this time serving European car driver and relieving European car companies like BMW from being forced to invest too much in less polluting cars.
This is in stark contrast with the reality in Paraguay. Last April, the population chose a leftist president, Fernando Lugo, who is now strongly pressured by actions and mobilisations to implement his promises for land reform. His problems are many, because he does not control the legal power yet and that the Colorados (dictator Stroessner’s party, that kept ruling as a dictatorial party after he was thrown out – for 61 years in total) robbed nearly all state budgets after the elections.
However, the 12th of November of this year was a historical moment, because on that day Lugo installed a national council for land reform, excluding the soy producers and the Ministry of Agriculture. The sojeros were outraged, and threatened with civil war.
The Frente Social y Popular (FSP) is a new coalition that was closely involved with the formation of this new council for land reform. Many of the movements that are part of the FSP were also represented at the protests in front of the luxury hotel in Asunción, which was the location of the 2nd RTRS conference in 2007. These protests were directed both to the agribusiness representatives inside, and to the NGO’s involved.(1) Therefore, the claim that is sometimes made, namely that this type of direct action by social movements outside the conference is helpful for the negotiation position of these NGO’s by putting pressure on the corporations, is more than inappropriate from a moral point of view.
The Round Table for ‘Responsible’ Soy is counterproductive and should be abandoned. We also call for a boycott of the ‘stakeholder conference’ on GM soy on 9th December, organised by Solidaridad, WWF and Wageningen University.
(1) There are interesting examples showing how these protests are dealt with by those concerned on youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uyvIe-ax_aI - 2 parts).
translation from http://www.solidaridad.nl/nieuws/2008/11/05/ook-sojamarkt-oplossingen-werken
Also working on solutions within the soy market.
November 5th 2008
"Naive and dangerous", that is how Flip Vonk from the Dutch action group Aseed calls the way in which Solidaridad works on responsible soy in an emission of the IKON- radio station. "If you now ask large scale soy processors why they still import that amount of soy, while they know about the repression and deforestation, then you get the answer: we are working on it. I blame a Solidaridad and also a WWF that they let that happen too easily."
Solidaridad sees that resistance to the wrongs of the soy industry is necessary. But to be able to diminish these, it is necessary to also work within the market on solutions with the big soy players.
Together with soy producers, buyers, banks and social organisations Solidaridad tries to establish a standard for responsible soy. This happens in the consultative committee Round Table on Responsible soy.
Jan Maarten Dros, soy-expert with Solidaridad (1): "I see that already some companies are changing their policies. And i hope that it can be an example for others. And I hope that the soy buyers such as supermarkets like Ahold and animal feed companies, are going to start putting demands on the way in which soy is produced. At Solidaridad we go for mainstream, as only when the biggest share of the market will meet the responsible criteria, we will contribute to the solving of serious problems".
(1) note from translator: previously Jan Maarten Dros was working with Aid Environment, a Dutch Consultancy agency that since the start of the RTRS has served as it's promotional and 'scientific' back up.