Argentina: residents block Monsanto plant

As of Nov. 23 residents of Malvinas Argentinas in the central Argentine province of Córdoba had succeeded for more than two months in their effort to stop the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company from building a corn seed-drying plant in their town. After more than a year of protests against plans for the $300 million, 27-hectare plant—projected to be the company’s largest facility in Latin America—the Malvinas Struggles for Life Neighbors’ Assembly announced a “Spring Without Monsanto” festival to be held outside the construction site on Sept. 19, three days before the start of spring in the Southern Hemisphere. The festival launched an open-ended blockade of the plant. With access cut off, the construction contractors removed their heavy equipment and the workers didn’t come to the site. Monsanto acknowledged that the project was suffering a setback. 

After announcing plans for the facility in June 2012, Monsanto failed to answer when residents of Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb of the city of Córdoba, asked for explanations. The company also didn’t provide an environmental impact study required by the General Law of the Environment. In November 2012 the Neighbors’ Assembly demanded that residents be allowed to vote on the plan. Mayor Daniel Arzani, from the Radical Civic Union (UCR), and provincial governor José Manuel de la Sota, from the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist), refused to authorize the vote. According to opinion polls carried out in April this year by the National University of Córdoba (UNC), the Catholic University and the government’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Investigation (Conicet), nine out of 10 Malvinas Argentinas residents favored the call for a vote and 58% said they would vote against the construction. 

On Oct. 31 Monsanto sent letters by registered mail to Sofía Gatica, a member of the Buenos Aires province-based Mothers of Ituzaingó environmental group, and to Eduardo Quispe, a member of the Malvinas Argentinas assembly. The company accused the activists of “harming public security” by their role in the blockade and claimed that “acts of violence against personnel” had taken place. (Página 12, Buenos Aires, Nov. 23)

Adding to Monsanto’s public relations problems, on Oct. 20 the Associated Press wire service published an article detailing concerns that “uncontrolled pesticide applications could be the cause of growing health problems among the 12 million people who live in the South American nation’s vast farm belt.” Researchers have found a pattern of illness in provinces with large-scale farming, AP reported: “In Santa Fe, cancer rates are two times to four times higher than the national average. In Chaco, birth defects quadrupled in the decade after biotechnology dramatically expanded farming in Argentina.” Genetically modified (GM) plants now account for nearly all of the country’s soy production and most of its corn and cotton. Monsanto is the dominant force in the GM market, selling both the glyphosate-based Roundup pesticide and GM seeds for plants that are resistant to it.

The company insists that glyphosate is safe if applied in the recommended quantities and with the recommended precautions. But critics say that as weeds and insects develop resistance to pesticides, farmers have responded by increasing the amount they apply far beyond the recommended quantities. Use of agrochemicals in the country has jumped from 9 million gallons (34 million liters) in 1990 to more than 84 million gallons (317 million liters) now. AP calculated that “Argentine farmers apply an estimated 4.3 pounds of agrochemical concentrate per acre, more than twice what US farmers use.” (AP, Oct. 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 24

See our last ost on the struggle for the genetic commons.