GM soy damages health and environment

Wednesday 22 September, 2010

Nina Holland,, tel + 32 497 389 632 Dr Andres Carrasco, co-author, University of Buenos Aires,, mobile +54 9 11 6826 2788, land line +54 11 5950 9500 ext 2216

A coalition of international scientists has released a report warning of the health and environmental impacts of cultivating genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready soy and the associated spraying of glyphosate (Roundup) herbicide [1].

The findings in the new report, GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?, challenge claims that GM soy cultivation is sustainable and that the glyphosate herbicide it is genetically engineered to tolerate is safe [2]. GM RoundupReady soy is the most grown GM crop worldwide, with 95% of soy grown in Argentina and the US RoundupReady.

Soy is imported to Europe from Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil mostly for use as animal feed. Growing demand in Europe has led to a rapid expansion in soy cultivation in Latin America.

The report cites over 100 scientific studies into the health and environmental impacts of glyphosate and RR soy production including increased cases of glyphosate-resistant weeds, and growing use of agrochemicals.

New research published by Argentine government scientist and report co-author Professor Andrés Carrasco in August 2010 found that glyphosate causes malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying [3]. The findings could have serious implications for people because the experimental animals share similar developmental mechanisms with humans [4].

Carrasco said people living in soy-producing areas of Argentina began reporting problems in 2002, two years after the first big harvests of GM RoundupReady soy. Scientific studies now suggest links between exposure to glyphosate herbicides and premature births, miscarriages, cancer, and DNA damage. Glyphosate is also toxic to reproductive cells.

The report challenges the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) (an initiative led by WWF and industry) which plans to introduce a "responsible" soy label to the European market in early 2011. This label has been criticised by other NGOs because it will label RoundupReady soy as "responsible" and because it fails to prevent deforestation.

The RTRS is one of the voluntary certification schemes that will be used by the European Commission to accredit biofuel crops as "sustainable" under the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) to meet the EU 10% target [5].

Evidence in the report suggest that glyphosate spraying in South America damages food crops, causes death among affected livestock, and contributes to the death of fish. Reported health effects from glyphosate spraying include high rates of birth defects as well as infertility, stillbirths, miscarriages, and cancers [6]. It also persists in soil and water and has toxic effects on the environment.

Glyphosate is marketed as 'Roundup' in Europe to home gardeners as well as farmers and is sold as safe to use around children and pets and as environmentally friendly. Most of the soy Europe imports for animal and human food is GM, sprayed with glyphosate.

Critics of Argentina's GM soy agricultural model report censorship and harassment. In August 2010 Amnesty International called for an investigation into a violent attack by an organised mob on people who gathered to hear Carrasco talk about his research findings in the agricultural town of La Leonesa [7].

Carrasco believes attention must be paid to the residents who have reported birth defects and other health problems from glyphosate spraying for years. He said, "It must be remembered that the origin of my work is my contact with the communities victimized by agrochemical use. They are the irrefutable proof of my research."

The report is being released together with the testimonies of Argentine people whose lives have been affected by the rapid expansion of GM soy in their country.



[1] GM RR Soy: Sustainable? Responsible? is published by GLS Gemeinschaftsbank, Bochum, Germany and ARGE Gentechnik-frei, Vienna, Austria and is available at:
Summary at:

The authors are (in alphabetical order of surname):

  1. Michael Antoniou is reader in molecular genetics and head, Nuclear Biology Group, King?s College London School of Medicine, London, UK.
  2. Paulo Brack is professor, Institute of Biosciences, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Brazil; and member, CTNBio (National Technical Commission on Biosafety), Brazil.
  3. Andrés Carrasco is professor and director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology, University of Buenos Aires Medical School, Argentina; and lead researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), Argentina.
  4. John Fagan is an internationally recognized authority on agricultural biotechnology and GMO testing. He is co-founder of Earth Open Source, a UK-based not-for-profit foundation that uses open source collaboration to advance environmentally sustainable and socially equitable food production.
  5. Mohamed Ezz El-Din Mostafa Habib is professor and former director, Institute of Biology, UNICAMP, São Paulo, Brazil, and provost for extension and community affairs, UNICAMP. He is an internationally recognized expert on ecology, entomology, agricultural pests, environmental education, sustainability, biological control, and agroecology.
  6. Paulo Yoshio Kageyama is director, National Programme for Biodiversity Conservation, ministry of the environment, Brazil; a Fellow of the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) of the ministry of science and technology, Brazil; and professor, department of forest sciences, University of São Paulo, Brazil.
  7. Carlo Leifert is professor of ecological agriculture at the School of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AFRD), Newcastle University, UK; and director of the Stockbridge Technology Centre Ltd (STC), UK, a non-profit company providing R&D support for the UK horticultural industry.
  8. Rubens Onofre Nodari is professor, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil; former manager of plant genetic resources, ministry of environment, Brazil; and a Fellow of the National Council of Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) of the ministry of science and technology, Brazil.
  9. Walter Pengue is professor of agriculture and ecology, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina; and scientific member, IPSRM International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, UNEP, United Nations.
[2] This claim has been made by the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a multi-stakeholder forum with a membership including NGOs such as WWF and Solidaridad and multinational companies such as ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Monsanto, Syngenta, Shell, and BP ?
[3] Carrasco is director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology, University of Buenos Aires Medical School and lead researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), Argentina. The August research is: Paganelli, A., Gnazzo, V., Acosta, H., López, S.L., Carrasco, A.E. 2010. Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signalling. Chem. Res. Toxicol., August 9 (online publication ahead of print).
[4] Carrasco, A. 2010. Interview with journalist Dario Aranda, August
[5] The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) was set up by WWF and Swiss supermarket chain COOP in 2005. It aims to introduce a voluntary label for ?responsible? soy that would reassure ethically minded traders and consumers that the soy was produced with consideration for people and the environment, but it has been the target of widespread criticism. Corporate members of the RTRS include Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, ADM, Rabobank, Unilever, Shell and BP. The RTRS intends to launch the first ?responsible? soy in early 2011, most likely in the Netherlands and Belgium.
[6] Webber, J., Weitzman, H. 2009. Argentina pressed to ban crop chemical after health concerns. Financial Times, May 29. and others.
[7] Amnesty International. 2010. Argentina: Threats deny community access to research. 12 August.

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