By Darío Aranda
The threat posed by the merger of large companies (such as Bayer-Monsanto), the role of science at the service of companies, the danger of new GMOs and the need for more peasant-indigenous agriculture. Some of the issues that Silvia Ribeiro, one of the largest Latin American researchers on agribusiness, has been working on for thirty years. And a definition of the countries of the region: "They have lost sovereignty due to their extreme dependence on a handful of biotechnology companies."
Researcher at the ETC Group (Group of Action on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), Ribeiro was one of the speakers at the Intercontinental Meeting Madre Tierra, una sola salud, organized in Rosario by the Socio-Environmental Health subject of the Faculty of Medical Sciences.
- How do you assess the situation of agriculture in the region?
–Latin America is divided in two in the agricultural situation. There is the united republic of soy (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil) and the rest. It must be remembered that after 20 years of transgenics, only ten countries have 90 percent of the production. It means that GMOs never became the omnipresent phenomenon that they would have us believe.
–What are the characteristics of these countries dominated by the transgenic model?
-The agricultural structure has undergone a process of corporate concentration and land reform in reverse, concentrated the land in fewer hands. To this must be added the diseases caused by pesticides. An eloquent fact is that Argentina and Brazil have 21 percent of the global consumption of pesticides. If Monsanto-Bayer want to set unacceptable conditions, they will be able to set them because of the country's extremely high level of vulnerability by depending on these companies. They have lost sovereignty due to their extreme dependence on a handful of biotech companies. The rest of Latin America is more like the world average. The majority of food is still produced by small urban farmers, peasants, artisanal fishing. 70 percent of the world is fed by family farming and this path must be deepened.
- How is the process of "mega-mergers" of transgenic companies?
- A reference is that twenty years ago Monsanto did not have seeds and today it is the largest in the world. Thirty years ago there were more than 7000 seed companies. And now Monsanto has 25 percent of the market for all kinds of seeds. What has happened is that in 20 years there have been more than 200 mergers. That end in what we call the six genetic giants. They are Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont, Dow, Basf and Bayer. These companies dominate the global seed market. And they are all producers of poisons. First they concentrate the market and then the mega-mergers begin. Monsanto-Bayer, Syngenta-ChenChina, Dow-Dupont control more than 60 percent of the total seed market (not just GMOs) and 71 percent of the pesticide market. Crazy numbers. No antitrust office should approve such mergers.
- What is the risk?
–They control price, innovation and impact on agricultural policies. Countries with a high degree of industrial agriculture, such as Argentina, become vulnerable. Even in terms of sovereignty. These companies have a bargaining power that is much more than bargaining, it is imposing on a country, even with custom laws.
–Companies and the media are campaigning on the “new transgenics”. You highlight criticism.
–They call it genomic editing. It has a great propaganda maneuver to avoid going through any biosecurity law.
- What is it and what risks does it entail?
–The lack of knowledge about the functions of the genome is quite broad. Now they want us to believe that what they do with genes is like changing a text, with small changes, that would not impact in the full sense. And that is a lie. An example to understand it is as if you took the ten commandments in a language you do not know, and you get a word out of it, a "no". They tell you that it does not imply anything. But it is fundamental, it modifies the whole sense.
- Is it a genetic manipulation that is not known how it will impact?
–There is a very great ignorance not only of what genes are for, some functions are known, and not the interactions between themselves or the interactions of genes for external reasons, such as environmental ones. The genome is not a static map. The degree of uncertainty is very high and it is clear that its impact on health and the environment is not known.
- What are these new transgenic technologies?
–There are several. The star is one they discovered in 2012, Crispr ("Clustered and regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats"). A very crude way of explaining is that it is a GPS with a pair of scissors. Crispr is a GPS that takes you to a specific part of the genome, and Cas9 is the scissors. It is a genetic modification with unpredictable impacts.
- Does it involve more transgenic?
–With these new technologies they can produce any type of transgenic. Herbicide resistance, silencing genes, adding different genes. They want to use it in both food and health. They say it is predictable, but the opposite is true. Even with these technologies they can eliminate spices that they consider annoying, such as amaranth, that they cannot control with pesticides. Monsanto and Dupont are driving the most.
- What is the role of science in this model?
"With critical scientists there has been a brutal witch hunt." Two examples are (Gilles-Eric) Seralini in France and Andrés Carrasco in Argentina. The media, economic and political attack is fierce with critical voices.
"What about mainstream science?"
- In terms of dominant scientific policy, it is a mercenary science, sold to the interests of corporations. It is a technoscience that seeks results for companies.
- The hopeful part that has to do with this congress, where there are more and more people, from many parts of the world, critical. And there is also hope because the peasants are determined to stay on the land they always lived on.