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article imageBrazilian farmers: biotech companies using deceptive advertising

By Karen Graham     Aug 1, 2014 in Food
Brazilian farmers in the Mato Grosso region of the country noticed in March of this year their genetically-modified corn crops were less resistant to destructive caterpillars, resulting in farms having to use additional pesticides to control the pests.
The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso, which calls itself Aprosoja-MT, is demanding that Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Dow companies offer them some solutions as well as compensation for their loses due to the "deceptive or false advertising" (via Google translate) the companies engaged in when they "promised something they didn't deliver."
Farmers are talking about "Bt corn," corn seeds genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests, and will supposedly protect against certain pests. But because of a failure of the corn to do what it was engineered to do, farmers ended up applying three additional coats of pesticides this year, adding to the cost of the crop itself, and adding additional stress to the environment.
Ricardo Tomczyk, president of Aprosoja farm lobby in Mato Grosso state said "The caterpillars should die if they eat the corn, but since they didn't die this year producers had to spend on average 120 reais ($54) per hectare ... at a time that corn prices are terrible."
GMO seed companies respond
Seed companies say they told the farmers to plant half their fields with regular unmodified seeds so that the pests wouldn't mutate and develop a resistance to the GMO seeds. In an email, Dow Agrosciences, a division of Dow Chemical Company said they have many programs in Brazil to help farmers develop "an integrated pest management system that includes, among other things, the cultivation of refuge areas."
Dupont, the makers of Pioneer brand seeds, says they have not heard anything from Aprosoja-MT about the problem, but said in a statement they have been "working with producers to extend the durability of its seed technology and improve efficiency since Spodoptera worms were found to have developed resistance to the Cry1F protein."
Tomczyk, speaking for the farmers, said area seed companies had not given clear instructions, and there were very little non-GMO seeds available to farmers. He went on to say that if an agreement can't be reached between the companies and the farmers group, they might have to sue for reparations for the cost of the pesticides.
GMO corn problems in U.S. and other countries
The problem with GMO seeds arose in the United States earlier this year when it was proven the corn-destroying rootworm had grown resistant to the Bt corn. American farmers, by the droves turned their backs on GMO seeds, most saying it just wasn't profitable anymore.
Farmers discovered pretty quickly they get paid more for conventional corn, and it produces more per acre than GMO corn. “Five years ago the [GMO seeds] worked,” said farmer Christ Huegerich, who along with his father planted GMO seeds. “I didn’t have corn rootworm because of the Bt gene, and I used less pesticide. Now, the worms are adjusting, and the weeds are resistant. Mother Nature adapts.”
This adaption by nature to the Cry1F protein in Bt corn has only made the chemical companies all the more intent on modification of pests and weeds instead of encouraging biodiversity. In an industry sponsored study reported in the non-profit GM Watch, it was found that pests in Brazil were becoming resistant to Bt maize 1507 only three years after the GMO corn seed was approved for use.
The study, "Brazil: Pest resistance to Bt maize 1507 in third year of cultivation," submitted by Testbiotech, of Munich, Germany on July 23, 2014 describes the withdrawal of Bt maize 1507 from Puerto Rico in 2008 when it was discovered the GMO corn seed was not doing what it had been engineered to do. The study further points to the same thing happening in Brazil, with pests becoming resistant to the toxin.
Graphic showing countries where GMO seeds have failed in maintaining pest resistance.
Graphic showing countries where GMO seeds have failed in maintaining pest resistance.
Testbiotech
Testbiotech says in the study: The European Food Safety Agency EFSA first issued a favourable opinion regarding cultivation of maize 1507 in 2005. Because the EU Commission failed to approve maize 1507, Pioneer brought the Commission before the European Court of Justice. The court ruled in 2013 that the Commission must come to a final decision on cultivation soon.
The conclusion of Testbiotech is that the approval process of maize 1507 be halted because of the number of fundamental data gaps pertaining to risk management. The study may end up being helpful to the farmers of Brazil in getting a just compensation from some very big corporations.
More about gmo corn, bug resistance, american farmers, brazilian farmers, more pesticides
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