Chile is the largest seed exporter in the southern hemisphere. Environmental organizations are alarmed.
“Bayer-Monsanto out of Chile” was read on banners in Santiago on May 19, during the “March against Monsanto” protest, which took place in 30 cities around the world in favor of agriculture without pesticides and against the use of genetically modified seeds.
Just a few days earlier, the Bayer pharmaceutical consortium had been ordered to pay more than $ 2 billion to a couple in the United States who claimed to have developed cancer due to the use of Roundup, a herbicide developed by Bayer's subsidiary, Monsanto.
Critical voices are also increasing in Chile
About 50 kilometers south of Santiago are two of the largest seed production plants in Chile. In September 2018, following the Monsanto purchase, Bayer Crop Science announced the modernization of the Viluco plant, the only factory producing vegetable seeds in South America and one of the company's three largest factories worldwide.
"We want to modernize technology and processes, so that the factory meets the standards of factories in the Netherlands and the United States," said Yuri Charme, fromBayer Crop Science. The project called "Satisfaction of demand" aims to increase seed production by 20% so that Chile can satisfy 70% of the demand in the region in the near future.
Chile is the largest seed exporter in the southern hemisphere. According to figures from the Federation of Seed Producers (ChileBio), the country exported seeds worth 338.5 million dollars in 2016/2017, a fifth of which were genetically manipulated seeds. One of the advantages for the seed business in Chile is that when it is winter in Europe, it is summer there.
Pollen from modified plants contaminates local seeds
The vegetable seed that is processed in the factory in Viluco represents, so far, a small part of the seed exports. Much more important are corn, soybeans and rapeseed. These are processed in another factory, a few kilometers south of Viluco, in the rural community of Paine. There, the majority of the population lives from agriculture. Already in 2016, before the merger with Bayer, Monsanto had announced the expansion of the factory, which led a group of citizens to found the Committee for the Defense of Paine.
“The largest seed processing plant in Latin America is being built here. There are no studies on its environmental impact. The politicians approved the project without consulting the opinion of the people ”, criticizes Camila Olavarría, spokesperson for the committee. The inhabitants of Paine fear contamination of local seeds by cross-pollination when pollen from modified plant fields is carried by the wind to neighboring fields. This is particularly easy with rapeseed, because its pollen flies up to three kilometers.
"Most of genetically modified seedlings"
In the EU countries, the cultivation of genetically modified rape is prohibited. In Chile, however, cultivation is allowed for research and export purposes. The only way to avoid cross pollination would be a sufficient distance between crops. A preventive measure that is not planned in Chile.
Olavarría believes that the seeds in Paine are already contaminated: "Most of the seedbeds here have been genetically modified." Bayer Monsanto gives local farmers seeds that they sow on their land and then they have to return some seeds that are then processed in Paine and Viluco and exported, ”he explains. And he adds that "farmers receive the seeds along with a package of pesticide products like Roundup"
"There are more and more diagnoses of cancer"
Roundup, the trade name for glyphosate, is the best-selling herbicide in Chile. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic." Camila Navarro, also a member of the Paine Defense Committee, highlights that in her community "the number of people with cancer is growing, not only among farmers, but also among temporary workers and inhabitants near the fields."
It points out that the children of temporary workers suffer from frequent speech disorders and cognitive deficiencies. He adds that there are also reports about pregnant women who work in the fields, and who suffer abortions or whose babies are born with fatal malformations. There are no official studies on the relationship between pesticides and these diseases.
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