This is a guest post by Seren Wechsler, who is a graduate student of nutrition at the CUNY School of Public Health. Having successfully defeated a decade long bout of morbid obesity during his first year of film school, he had no choice but to drop out, go to Israel to farm for a bit, then return to New York for an education in nutritional science. Seren’s personal experiences drew him into public health but the transformations our food system and environment are currently going through will keep him here.
Some say that everything is connected. While ‘everything’ is no one’s specialty, in the context of GM soybean adoption in Argentina, one needn’t know all the ins and outs of the universe to see how the puzzle comes together (or falls apart). Questions of human safety usually govern the GMO debate, but when deciding whether to employ a wholly new agricultural standard such as this, across millions of acres of land, issues of sustainability must be addressed. Ecological, social, and, essentially a culmination of the two, food security; does the GE paradigm serve these pillars of modern life? Not quite.
In Argentina, the large scale mechanized production of GM soy represents an integral component to the country’s strategy for socioeconomic growth. Their financial crisis of 2001 was remedied profoundly by an intensification of agro-industrial practices, which has since made them the third largest global grower and exporter of soy. Since Roundup Ready (RR) soy was introduced in 1996, an average of nearly one million hectares has been added to production each year, amounting to nearly 30% of the country’s exports. If the formula for success were determined by profitability and yield alone, there would be no doubt to the value of this agricultural design. Regrettably, the nature of the modelo sojero prohibits such lighthearted math.
Specialized chemicals and machinery are required for growth; GM adoption is a package deal. Pest and weed resistance and soil depletion progress over time, which increases chemical use. This creates stronger, more resistant weeds that, in turn, require new seeds to be engineered so as to tolerate the ever-increasing doses of herbicide.
To cover the monoculture expanse, an attendant upsurge in the size and complexity of farming equipment is needed and, likewise, the skillsets of workers must evolve to operate them. A university education is a prerequisite for farming now and the pastoral skills that were once transmitted through family members of rural populations are now taught in academia, and those rural populations now live in cities. These escalations of modern GM agribusiness in Argentina have brought with it accelerated rates of deforestation, severe losses of biodiversity, fruit and vegetable lots, grazing land, cotton crops, sheep herding, and, of course, small farms.
A claimed utility of GM crops is their unique ability to feed our ever growing global population. Well, of the roughly 50 million tons of Argentine soy produced in the 2010-2011 season, 5.4% of it was kept home, while the other 94% was exported, to feed animals people elsewhere later probably ate. Promises have not been kept, and food security is difficult to come by when food sovereignty is lost. The bulk of these problems may be political in origin, but if planting something in the South can provoke this, the North should pay attention.