By Darío Aranda
It is the Conabia (National Advisory Commission for Agricultural Biotechnology), where “national” companies (Biosidus and Don Mario) and business chambers also participate. There are also “independent researchers”, but with clear links to companies.
The Government and the companies advertise Conabia as a "pioneering space with a solid regulatory framework and scientifically based." Of the 47 members, more than half (27) belong to the companies or have a clear relationship with the same firms that they must evaluate.
Conflicts of interest, and complicity, in the approval of transgenics in Argentina.
Conabia Conabia has been in operation since 1991, depends on the Ministry of Agriculture and acts in tandem with the Directorate of Biotechnology (of the same ministry). Their objective is to "guarantee the biosecurity of the agroecosystem". According to the official information itself, the Conabia “analyzes and evaluates the applications submitted to carry out activities with GMOs (genetically modified organisms: transgenic).
Based on scientific and technical information and quantitative data regarding the biosecurity of the GMO, the Commission issues an opinion "for the continuation or rejection of the business request. Conabia recognizes that it has representatives from the public and private sectors and calls them "experts."
Conabia clarifies on its website that “members must express any type of conflict of interest that may arise in the evaluation of the submitted applications. This is essential to guarantee the transparency and impartiality of the opinions ”.
Members There are two A4 sheets. A list of names, surnames and institutional membership.
Although they are members of an official space, the information did not come from any government office (which hides the names), but from the private sector. There are 47 people on the list. The approval of GMOs in Argentina depends largely on them. And, paradoxically, 27 of them are from the same companies that promote the transgenic model or from scientists with close ties to the same companies. There are also 12 technicians and officials from Senasa (Agrifood Health and Quality Service), INASE (National Institute of Seeds), INTA (National Institute of Agricultural Technology). All spaces with lush antecedents of collaboration with the private and transgenic sector. Monsanto and Syngenta Miguel Alvarez Arancedo is an agricultural engineer graduated from the UBA. Participate in Conabia as part of CASAFE (Chamber of Agricultural Health and Fertilizers). His actual workplace is Maipú 1210, Monsanto's headquarters in Argentina. Arancedo has been since 2004 the Director of Regulatory Affairs of the main transgenic multinational in the world and is also vice president of the Association of Argentine Seedbeds (ASA, space for political articulation and lobbying of multinationals and local companies).
Juan Kiekebusch is registered with Conabia as a member of ASA.
Which is true. But he is also a director of the Executive Committee of Syngenta, one of the largest agricultural corporations.
At the Biotech Forum (advertised as the “first international biotechnology business forum” 1), Kiekebusch called for speeding up GMO approval times: “A biotechnological advance that takes a year and a half in Japan to be approved, here and in Europe takes five years ”. Transgenic animals Biosidus is a reference company in the cloning of animals or, also called, "transgenic animals".
With more than three decades in the market, it defines itself as “an Argentine biotechnology company that has developed a global business in the supply of high quality biopharmaceuticals in territories of Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America”. It points out that it has developed "novel technological platforms in transgenic animals, gene therapy and biodiversity" and boasts a "solid intellectual property policy". One of his most publicized works was "the first cloned cow", in 2002, baptized Pampa. Lino Barañao participated in this initiative and his work and closeness to Biosidus was always public (it is curious that his performance in the biotechnology company does not appear in his CV). Andrés Bercovich is a biochemist at the UBA, he has worked at Biosidus for 23 years (since 2008 he has been the Research and Development manager) and also has a chair at Conabia.
Bercovich was in charge of the project of the cloned calves called "Patagonia I, II, III and IV", advertised as genetic material to obtain human insulin. Business advertising promised that 2,500 similar cows could supply everyone with insulin.
“Argentines are very open to everything new in technology. It is not a fearful country "2, the scientist affirmed in a public interview and gave an example:" Transgenic soy has enormous economic significance for the country.
And here in Argentina most of the crops are made of transgenic plants and nobody has problems in consuming or growing them. There is a story, an open mind. Biotechnology brings transcendent solutions, as in the case of soy or biopharmaceuticals ”. In 2010, he was part of the team that cloned the “first horse in Latin America”, called “Ñandubay Bicentenario”. Daniel Salamone also participated, also with ties to Biosidus and a member of Conabia.
Transgenic sugarcane Atilio Castagnaro is a reference for the Obispo Colombres Agroindustrial Experimental Station (INTA Tucumán).
In 2011 he was part of a team of Mercosur scientists that created a robot that searches for the most suitable soybean plants to withstand drought. "A great result of this project is having been able to build a robot or automatic platform for the massive evaluation of soybean genotypes, regarding their ability to tolerate water deficit or drought," said Castagnaro. Two companies participated in the working group (and patenting): Nidera (one of the large agro-multinationals) and Indear (Rosario Agrobiotechnology Institute), a benchmark space for promoting transgenics.
Indear, in turn, belongs to the Bioceres company, where Gustavo Grobocopatel (one of the largest seed pools on the continent) and Víctor Trucco (honorary president of Aapresid) are present. Castagnaro is a strong promoter of transgenic sugar cane for agrofuels (an initiative that is highly questioned by peasant movements and social organizations due to its social and environmental effects). “The objective with the transgenic canes was to make production more efficient and sustainable.
Give economic, social and environmental sustainability and give a boost to a crop that is key to producing biofuels, "summarized Atilio Castagnaro in a talk at the Aapresid Congress in 2013, in Rosario, and proposed that 50 percent of the energy matrix Argentina is based on agrofuels. He specified that there are the traditional sugar regions of Tucumán, Salta and Jujuy, with 550 thousand hectares of production. "There is a potential for area growth close to 4.4 million hectares," he assured and detailed the expansion of the agricultural frontier of transgenic sugar cane over Misiones and north of Santa Fe. Along with Castagnaro, Bjorn Welin also works. part of Conabia. Ingenio Ledesma Ricardo Fernández de Ullivarri is listed as a participant in the Conabia for the Santa Rosa Agricultural Experimental Farm (Salta).
La Chacra is the "research institute" of Ingenio Ledesma and is also a member of the ASA (Argentine Seed Growers Association, where all the large international companies are located). “The main objective (of the Farm) is to create varieties that improve the productivity, competitiveness and profitability of the mills in northern Argentina,” remarks the company's presentation. Fernández de Ullivarri is a promoter of genetically modified organisms.
“We already have our own transgenic canes, but we have not yet produced them commercially.
All over the world is working on this, but no one has dared to cultivate them commercially because of the prejudices that exist. The slowest thing is all the bureaucracy related to biosafety and legal regulations, not the investigation itself ”, complained Ullivarri in 2007 3.
And he took a position on those who criticize GMOs: "You have to work with companies and consumers in what is image, because there are many prejudices about GMOs among people." Monsanto Hugo Permingeat's painting is listed in Conabia as "Scientific Researcher of the Faculty of Agrarian Sciences of Rosario".
Hugo Permingeat, as general secretary of the Faculty and together with Dean Liliana Ramírez, openly justified the private advocacy in the public university: “Monsanto forms its cadres here. They are agronomists who receive graduate training and Monsanto values that training we provide ”4.
It was the way to justify that Monsanto, Pioneer and Syngenta have “donated” a biotechnology laboratory to the Faculty and equipment for 300 thousand dollars. “Before we had nothing, so it's really our pride. When we knock on (Monsanto's) door for them to help us, they have no regard and they help us do things like the lab. " Permingeat, as part of Conabia, must authorize or reject orders from Monsanto.
Ecologist? Diego Ferraro is an agronomist and a member of Conabia as a representative of the Argentine Ecology Association (AAE). It is curious that no one within the socio-environmental world, assemblies, NGOs and academics knows the AAE. The postal address of the Ecology Association is Av. San Martín 4453, in the city of Buenos Aires. It is the same direction of the Faculty of Agronomy of the UBA and, also, the direction of the Institute of Physiological and Ecological Research (IFEVA), a study space with explicit ties to agricultural companies and a fervent defender of the agribusiness model. IFEVA's director is Claudio Ghersa, a recognized promoter of transgenics and with scientific publications with Monsanto.
Diego Ferraro works at Ifeva together with Ghersa, and they have half a dozen scientific publications co-authored. Given the advance of agrochemical resistant weeds (one of the great unresolved problems of agribusiness), in February 2014 the Argentine Association of Weed Science (ASACIM) was relaunched. Among others, it is made up of Ghersa and Ferraro. And companies also participate. Among others: Aacrea and Aapresid.
ILSI, Monsanto, Bayer… María Fernanda Foresto appears as a member of Conabia as a reference for the Santa Rosa Agricultural Experimental Farm (from Ingenio Ledesma). But there is another conflict of interest. Foresto is a member of the Biotechnology Committee of ILSI (International Institute of Life Sciences), one of the great international centers for scientific lobbying in favor of transgenics. ILSI is sponsored and funded by Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Bayer, and Syngenta.
INTA Dalia Marcela Lewi is part of the INTA Institute of Genetics and is part of Conabia. In the book "Biotechnology and plant improvement II", Chapter X, he wrote an academic text entitled "Applications of biotechnology in insect control". It highlights the benefits of GMOs in biological control, pesticide reduction, increased yield and, as if that were not enough, it also highlights the lower use of water. Lewi co-authored the article with Clara Rubinstein of Monsanto Argentina. He also investigated, together with the company Bioceres (another of the agribusiness leaders), the resistance of transgenic corn to cold and salinity. Lewi is also on the ILSI Biotechnology Committee, alongside researchers from Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, and Dow Agrosciences. Potpourri Teresita Martín appears as part of Conabia representing the Argentine Biotechnology Forum. Not specific that it is a reference of the DuPont Pioneer company. In Conabia also participate (and decide) Luis Negruchi (Aapresid) and Alejandro Petek (Aapresid). Guillermo Mentruyt signs as a member of ASA (Semilleros), he does not clarify that he is manager of Regulatory Affairs of Dow AgroSciences.
The biologist Magdalena Sosa Belcastletegui appears as part of Casafe. It is also, since 2004, part of the multinational Bayer.
In his CV he highlights that in 2013 he received the “Bayer Award for Innovation in Regulatory Affairs”. Fernando Bravo Almonacid (Conicet) is a researcher “independent of Conicet at the Research Institute in Genetic Engineering and Molecular Biology (Ingebi-UBA) and works on the genetic improvement of potatoes. After six years of work, in 2013 he achieved a new variety, which would be more resistant to field viruses. Everything related to approval in Conabia was left to the Tecnoplant company (from Grupo Sidus). Almonacid is also part of Conabia. As "observers" of Conabia are two members of the Argentine Chamber of Biotechnology). Gerónimo Watson (for nine years with the position of “development leader” of the Indear company) and Mirta Antongiovanni (manager of Regulatory Affairs of the Don Mario seed company). UBA S.A. Eduardo Pagano is an agronomist, doctor in biological sciences and was, until last March, vice dean of the Faculty of Agronomy of the UBA.
He is also a member of Conabia and is a professor in charge of the Chair of Biochemistry of Agronomy at the UBA. From that chair, he works with the Don Mario seed company (one of the largest Argentine companies in the sector) in wheat and soybean crops. "We chose to link with Don Mario because he is a national company that is committed to the training of human resources and because this relationship offers us a concrete possibility to transfer the knowledge we generate and to reach the productive environment with our research," said Eduardo Pagano5.
Pagano went further and celebrated that UBA students do their thesis at the Don Mario company: “In our chair there are students who are just beginning to study, as well as others who are doing their intensification work to finish their degree, or are doing master's degrees , doctorates and postdocs. The fact that there are researchers installed in a company doing their postgraduate studies is new in the Argentine scientific system. Pagano never expressed conflicts of interest to approve GMOs in Conabia.