Public warned over "green"soy scam

27 May 2009

New standards for growing soy will destroy forests, livelihoods and the climate

Campinas (Brazil), Brussels (Belgium), May 27 – A new initiative to re-brand the intensive and damaging farming of soy as "responsible" is nothing short of green-wash and will con the public, said Friends of the Earth International today.

The warning comes as the so-called Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) meets on 28 May in Campinas, Brazil to agree new voluntary standards on the cultivation of soy. Even environmentally-damaging genetically modified soy will be called "responsible". [1]

Over half of the world's soy is grown in South America and Europe is the largest importer. Nearly all soy is used as cheap animal feed but soy oil is increasingly being used as a biofuel. Its well-documented expansion in recent years has led to widespread deforestation, social conflicts, high pesticide use and huge releases of greenhouse gases. [See notes below for key soy facts]

Adrian Bebb from Friends of the Earth said: "This scheme is nothing short of green-wash and should be abandoned. The standards they are developing will legitimise a devastating system of soy cultivation that is wiping out forests and destroying small farmer livelihoods for the benefit of a handful of very big landowners and multinational corporations. The only responsible soy is less soy."

"We need to tackle the real problems behind this damaging system such as over-consumption in industrialised countries and the inequitable distribution of resources like land and water. We urgently need real solutions that protect the environment and communities and promote food sovereignty over the interests of big business".

Friends of the Earth International claims that the RTRS is a green con because:

  • it will fail to stop the expansion of soy plantations which is causing severe damage to communities, biodiversity and the climate. In doing so it promotes the interests of agri-business corporations who are expanding soy plantations and legitimizes their damaging industrial practices. [2]it will not stop deforestation - soy grown on former forest and other unique ecosystems like savannah's, even if destroyed very recently, could be certified as "responsible" thus contributing to, rather than halting, deforestation.genetically modified (GM) soy can be certified, even though there is clear evidence of how pesticide use increases with GM soy crops, and of damage to communities' health from spraying these chemicals.small scale farmers, indigenous groups and civil society are largely excluded from the RTRS process and many oppose it.consumers will be fooled into thinking food and fuel produced using "responsible" soy is helping the environment without realizing that the opposite is true, and that it is encouraging the expansion of GM crops in South Americait is already being implicated in the attempted weakening of national laws on agrochemical use in Paraguay. RTRS criteria require compliance with national laws, but a new bill, introduced by allies of soy producers and other agribusiness companies, would weaken existing legislation making it easier to comply with [3].
  • To address climate change, global loss of biodiversity, human rights abuses, and to deal with the food price crisis, Friends of the Earth International is calling for:
  • reduced dependence on soy as an animal feed and a halt to the use of crops to produce biofuelsincreased political and financial support for greener forms of farming as recognized by the recently adopted UN International Agriculture Assessment [4]less and better meat consumption in industrialized countries which is good for the environment and for public healththe scrapping of all biofuel targets that are contributing to the expansion of agriculture, wildlife loss and higher food prices.sustainable and equitable farming policies that enable all regions and countries to feed themselves and their livestock and not be over-dependent on imports.

Over 80 organisations from around the world have signed up to a letter of critical opposition to the RTRS proposal. [4]

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Notes:

[1] See http://www.responsiblesoy.org/ final criteria are being published on 28 May. The latest draft (April 2009) can be obtained from Friends of the Earth.

[2] The main drivers behind the expansion of soy – agribusiness giants Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill and Bunge – are also very active players in the RTRS.

[3] The new Parguayan bill on the control of phytosanitary products for agricultural use would weaken clauses in existing legislation including the requirement to have a vegetation buffer between the sprayed crop area and neighbouring areas (which could be rivers, homes, or even schools) and the requirement to announce sprayings in advance in surrounding communities so that people can take action to protect themselves and keep their children at home.

[4] IAASTD – International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, under the auspices of the United Nations and the World Bank. The IAASTD is a scientific assessment, very similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which calls for more support for agro-ecological farming and traditional knowledge. 400 scientists and a wide array of difference stakeholders contributed to the 5 year assessment. Its conclusions have been signed up to by 58 governments (http://www.agassessment.org/)

[5] http://www.bangmfood.org/take-action/23-take-action/36-letter-of-critical-opposition-to-the-round-table-on-responsible-soy

Key soy facts

Soy production in South America has more than doubled in the last 15 years. About 16% of the Amazon forests and 60% of the Cerrado grasslands have been lost already. After falling deforestation rates in 2007, the 2008 soy price boom fuelled an increase in deforestation, with more than 770,000 hectares of forest cleared between August 2007 and August 2008 alone. It is estimated that a further 9.6 million hectares of Cerrado could be lost to soy expansion by 2020 and 40% of Amazon rainforest by 2050.

Soy production for the European Union (EU) uses 14 million hectares of land, 87% of which is in Brazil and Argentina. Soy oil makes up an estimated 17% of the biodiesel used in the EU and this is set to increase.

Deforestation and livestock farming both account for about 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

As a result of the expansion of soy the land area devoted to cultivating food crops in Argentina has reduced dramatically. The area used for the cultivation of rice has reduced by 44%, maize by 26%, wheat by 3% and sunflower 34%.

Thousands of smallholder farmers and indigenous communities have been displaced from their land to make way for soy plantations. In Paraguay 70 per cent of the land is owned by just 2 per cent of the country's landowners.

The majority of soy in Latin America is grown from Monsanto's genetically modified (GM) seed which tolerates their Roundup Ready herbicide, prompting growers to use even more intensive farming methods. Government data confirms that reliance on this technology has lead to the emergence of herbicide-tolerant weeds which in turn has resulted in increased quantities of the pesticide Roundup (glyphosate), as well as older and more damaging herbicides like 2,4-D (a component of the defoliant Agent Orange which was used in the Vietnam War).

In Brazil, government authorities have documented a 76.9% increase in the use of Roundup between 2000 when GM crops were first planted in the country, and 2005. In Argentina, the use of GM soy has resulted in one of the world's worst weeds, Johnsongrass, becoming resistant to Roundup. It is estimated that an additional 25 million litre of pesticides will be needed every year to deal with this problem, including the use of different more toxic pesticides.

The pesticide Roundup has become a major source of pollution that contaminates surface water and aquifers, threatens human health and kills other vegetation. Serious health risks have been reported from pesticides that build up in the food chain, and aerial spraying of pesticides by large farms and agri-businesses. Communities living near soy plantations report severe health problems including continuous headaches, skin rashes, stomach problems, increased rates of miscarriage and babies born with malformations.