“The expansion of these (Transgenic) crops has the effect of destroying the complex network of ecosystems, diminishing the diversity of production and affecting regional economies, now and in the future.” (LS, 134)

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The biggest concentration of transgenic maize plantations of Monsanto and other multinationals, looking to expand the boundaries of their polluting business, are to be found in the O’Higgins and Maule regions of Chile.  President Bachelet is preparing legislation for the introduction of GM crops into the domestic market.  Genetically engineered crops are “resistant” to the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup, known as “weedkiller” or Randal, manufactured by Monsanto and others), which is to say they can withstand these fumigations.  Transgenic maize can tolerate this toxin, but no other living creature is able to tolerate Roundup: the damage is extreme among children living near these plantations, among the seasonal workers and as the Pope points out, within the “complex network of ecosystems”, which includes the water, soil, bees and other beneficial insects, and all other plants, fungi, and bacteria.

In March 2015, when glyphosate was declared a “probable carcinogen” and reclassified as group 2A by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), of the World Health Organisation (WHO), we as RAP-Chile called upon President Bachelet and the SAG (Servicio Agricola y Ganadero) to prohibit its use in Chile.  Colombia already prohibits the spraying of glyphosate which has affected the environmental health and food sovereignty of border communities for decades. But in Chile the power of the Monsanto lobby group is stronger. Figures for the importation of glyphosate are kept hidden and no restrictive measures have ever been taken. We don’t have to look too far to see the side effects of these crops.  In Argentina, where there are 24.5 million hectares of transgenic crops, cancer rates have shot up in the soy producing areas where glyphosate residues have been detected in the water, soil, and urine of humans as well as in breast milk, in addition to alarming statistics of congenital deformities.

The Pope’s concern about this issue is one that is shared by more than 100 scientists from around the world who, during the International Conference on the Management of Chemical Substances held in Geneva in early October 2015, called on governments to phase out the use of hazardous pesticides because the affected communities cannot be kept waiting.

The Pope emphasizes diversity of production as a key to tackling climate change. GM and conventional monoculture work in reverse: they deplete soil and water and are not suited to change.   By contrast, peasant and indigenous seeds form a reserve waiting to be used to stimulate agro-ecological production and recover rural family farming, which is today suffocated by agribusiness oriented to the external market.  Expensive “enhanced” seeds produced by Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta rely on chemical inputs, fertilizers and pesticides that not only kill pests but seriously damage the environment and human health.

The future of our region’s economy – and of creation itself – depends on our being able to free ourselves from the neoliberal model that prioritizes agribusiness and stymies food sovereignty, preventing us from freely deciding what we can eat, what we can sow, and what we can cook according to our culture and traditions.

Collaboration: Lucía Sepúlveda, spokesperson for the campaign “Yo No Quiero Transgénicos en Chile” (I don’t want transgenic crops in Chile) and responsible for the Seeds area for the Pesticide Action Network RAP-Chile (Red de Acción en Plaguicidas RAP-Chile)

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