2004 -- CropChoice news -- GRAIN, 10/08/04:
Behind many big promises of "technology transfer"
and "feeding the world" lies a brutal truth:
biotechnology corporations like Monsanto only care about
profits. They are not offering genetically modified
(GM) seeds to the South out of charity. They want to
take over seed markets and squeeze farmers for as much
as they can get - which, even in poor countries, can
be a lot. The formula seems to be this: focus on the
major cash crops (cotton, soybeans, maize, etc), find
an entry point, contaminate the seed supply and then
step in to take control. Argentina, the first country
outside of North America to start planting GM crops,
is a case in point. But the same pattern is being reproduced
around the world, as with GM cotton in India and West
Africa. The story of what has happened in Argentina
should serve as a stark warning of what occurs when
GM agriculture takes root.
Act One: The Infection
1996 - The government of Argentina approves the commercial
planting of Monsanto's genetically modified Roundup
Ready (RR) soybeans. Farmers save, multiply and sell
the seeds to other farmers, as they always have, and
the area planted to RR soybeans grows exponentially
- from less than a million hectares in 1996 to 14 million
hectares in the 2003-2004 growing season. RR soybeans
also start to cross Argentina’s borders, with
people smuggling them into neighboring Brazil, Paraguay
and Bolivia, where cultivating GM crops is banned.
Monsanto's patents on RR soybeans are not recognized
in Argentina. The company's rights over the GM seeds
are limited to the country's Seed Law - a plant breeders'
rights regime that allows farmers to save seeds for
their own use but not to sell them "over the fence"
. Still, Monsanto does nothing to stop the large-scale
"brown-bagging" taking place. It sits back
and watches its GM seeds and the use of its RoundUp
herbicide expand over the Southern Cone, as the large
landholders of the Pampas and surrounding areas adopt
the industrial no-till farming system of RR soy on a
For many, the absence of any complaints from the company
during these early years confirms what they suspected
from the start: the spread of GM crops through contamination
and the violation of national laws is a conscious and
intentional strategy of the transnational seed corporations.
Act Two: The Threats
2001 - With GM soy agriculture entrenched in Argentina
and spreading fast throughout the region, Monsanto begins
to threaten farmers over their "illegal" use
of RR seeds and demand that the Argentine government
enforce the law. Some police raids are carried out,
but the selling of farmer-saved seeds goes on. Soybean
plantations also continue to spread, moving beyond the
farming frontier into the last remaining forests of
the Chaco region and other fragile ecosystems in Argentina,
Paraguay and Brazil. By now the "Maradona"
soybeans, as the GM seeds smuggled from Argentina have
come to be called, are famous in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Monsanto, under pressure from US soybean
farmers complaining about unfair competition, starts
to put in place its own measures. In 1999, it begins
selling its seeds through contracts that require "extended
royalties". Under this system, Argentine farmers
are required to pay US$2.00 plus tax for each 50-kilo
bag of seeds that they save from their harvests for
their own use . While the contract violates the country's
Seed Law, which allows farmers to use their own seeds
with no strings attached, the government of Argentina
does not object.
Monsanto defends the "extended royalty" scheme
as a way to recover its investments in research and
development. The company says the royalties are merely
minimal fees, applied on "a broader and fairer
base, together with the royalties charged for seed certification."
But this is not where the story ends...
Act Three: The Takeover
2004 - Monsanto begins the year with a dramatic mise-en-scène.
In January, it announces, "We are suspending our
soybean business [in Argentina] because it's simply
not profitable for us." The company points its
finger at brown-bagging farmers as the culprits of its
misfortune . It threatens to limit its activities
in Argentina to its maize and sorghum seed businesses,
while vigorously denying that its decision has anything
to do with "pressuring the government".
A few days later, National Agriculture Secretary Miguel
Campos happens to announce that the government is studying
a draft "global royalties" law that would
be built around a new "technology compensation
fund". The fund would be managed by his Department
and financed by a 0.35 to 0.95% fee paid by farmers
on the sale of their soybeans to elevators and exporters.
Royalties, in recognition of "inventors' rights",
would be paid out to seed companies from the fund .
Like some form of "farmers' rights" turned
inside out, the scheme boils down to a federal tax levied
on farmers that goes directly into Monsanto's pockets.
When the proposal is widely denounced by farmers' organizations,
the President of Argentina sends it "informally"
to some Parliamentary committees where it sits, unable
to make any progress.
Out of the deadlock comes another tactic. Even though
Monsanto does not have patent rights over the RoundUp
Ready transgene in Argentina, the company announces
on the 19th of August that it will start enforcing patent
rights on it anyway - by collecting royalties on incoming
shipments of Argentine soybeans in any country where
Monsanto's gene patent is in force . Monsanto launches
this new offensive with advertisements in major newspapers
claiming that during the 2003-2004 season, "the
legal, certified seed market does not account for more
than 18 percent of the 14 million hectares of the planted
[soybean area of Argentina]."
The government responds with its own special effects.
The Secretary of Agriculture proclaims that Monsanto's
scheme amounts to "extortion" and is "unacceptable"
because "in a serious country, the payment of rights
should take place through institutional channels."
On the 22nd of August, authorities sit down with Monsanto
and the seed organizations. They set aside the histrionics
and strike an agreement to set up a "Technology
Compensation Fund" within the next 45 days, to
be made operational by year end through a law or some
new Ministerial Resolution . Once again, the government
has made Monsanto very happy.
Of course, this story will go on. All we know for sure
at this point is that small farmers are suffering and
will continue to suffer the most as this plot unfolds,
and that Monsanto's royalties are certain to be drawn
from the pockets of Argentine society.
We also know that Argentina is not an isolated case.
In neighboring Brazil and Paraguay, the same pattern
was set off with the runaway spread of RR soybeans.
At first, Monsanto worked with the illegal GM soy producers
to pressure governments to legalize the crop. Once the
GM soy became legal in Brazil, Monsanto moved in to
put an end to the 'black market'. With the government
offering an amnesty to farmers who register their crops
as GM soy, Monsanto worked out an agreement with certain
producer organizations and soybean crushers, cooperatives
and exporters to force Brazilian farmers to pay royalties.
Under the agreement, farmers pay a fee of between US$3.45
and US$6.90 a tonne when they drop their harvests off
at the elevators. The elevators are responsible for
collecting the fees and, in exchange, they keep a percentage.
If farmers don't declare their soybeans as "GM"
they'll have their soy crops tested, leaving them liable
to thousands of US dollars in fines and penalties if
the tests prove positive, even if they unknowingly planted
Will the next royalty grab unfold in India, where Bt
cotton is out of control? Or in Mexico, where the centre
of origin for maize has been deeply contaminated? What
about in West Africa, where the introduction of Bt cotton
appears imminent, putting the entire region on the verge
of rapid contamination? Or in South Africa, where GM
agriculture is expanding and where the borders to neighboring
countries are even more fluid than those of southern
Latin America? The situation is still uncertain, but
one thing is for sure: no one should expect the biotech
industry to be fair, charitable or accountable.
 Ley de Semillas 20247, http://infoleg.mecon.gov.ar/txtnorma/34822.htm
 Nidera, http://ebiz-nidera.com.ar:8087/catalogo/regalia.aspx
 La Opinion de Rafaela, http://www.laopinion-rafaela.com.ar/opinion/2004/01/22/p412209.htm
 Bolsa de cereales (Argentine grain exchange), http://www.bolsadecereales.com/vermedio.asp?id=1100
 AGM News, http://www.agmnews.com/noticias/main.cfm?notc=32461
 INFOBAE, http://www.infobae.com/notas/nota.php?Idx=141067&IdxSeccion=100419
 La Nacion http://www.lanacion.com.ar/economia/nota.asp?nota_id=638765