Genetically Modified Seeds: Bayer Builds Latin America’s Largest Seed Factory in Chile

In Chile, the largest seed exporter in the southern hemisphere, Bayer is expanding the GM seed production factories of its subsidiary Monsanto

“Bayer-Monsanto: Get Out of Chile”, was the slogan on banners in Santiago on May 19 during the “March against Monsanto” protest, which took place in 30 cities around the world for an agriculture without pesticides and against the use of genetically modified seeds.

Just a few days earlier, the Bayer pharmaceutical consortium had been ordered to pay more than $2 billion to a couple in the United States who claimed to have had cancer due to the use of Roundup, a herbicide developed by Bayer’s subsidiary, Monsanto.

Critical voices grow in Chile

About 50 kilometers south of Santiago are two of the largest seed production plants in Chile. In September 2018, after the purchase of Monsanto, Bayer CropScience announced the modernization of the Viluco plant, the only factory that produces vegetable seeds in South America and one of the company’s three largest factories worldwide.

“We want to modernize the technology and processes, so that the factory reaches the standards of the factories in the Netherlands and the United States,” said Yuri Charme of Bayer CropScience. The project, called “Satisfaction of demand”, aims to increase seed production by 20% so that Chile can meet 70% of demand in the region in the near future.

Chile is the largest seed exporter in the southern hemisphere. According to figures from the Federation of Seed Producers (ChileBio), the country exported seeds worth $338.5 million in 2016/2017, a fifth of which were GM. One of the advantages of having a seed business in Chile is that when it is winter in Europe, there it is summer.

GM plant pollen contaminates local seeds

The vegetable seed that is processed at the factory in Viluco represents, so far, a small part of the seed exports. Far more important are corn, soybeans and rapeseed. These are processed in another factory, a few kilometers south of Viluco, in the rural community of Paine. There, the majority of the population subsists from agriculture. Already in 2016, before the merger with Bayer, Monsanto had announced the expansion of the factory, which led a group of citizens to found the Paine Defence Committee.

“The largest seed processing plant in Latin America is being built here. There are no studies on its environmental impact. Politicians approved the project without consulting people’s opinions,” says Camila Olavarría, spokesman for the committee.

The inhabitants of Paine fear the contamination of local seeds by cross-pollination when pollen from modified plant fields is transported by wind to neighboring fields. This is particularly easy with rapeseed, because its pollen flies up to three kilometers.

“Most of the seeds here have been genetically modified”

In EU countries, the cultivation of genetically modified rapeseed is prohibited. In Chile, however, cultivation is allowed for research and export purposes. The only way to avoid cross-pollination would be a sufficient distance between crops. This prevention measure is not implemented in Chile.

Olavarría believes that the seeds in Paine are already contaminated:

“Most of the seeds here have been genetically modified. Bayer-Monsanto gives local farmers seeds that they sow on their land. They then have to return some seeds that are then processed in Paine and Viluco and exported,” he explains. And he adds that “farmers receive the seeds along with a package of pesticide products like Roundup”.

“There are more and more cancer diagnoses”

Roundup, the brand name of glyphosate, is the best selling herbicide in Chile. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen”. Camila Navarro, also a member of the Paine Defense Committee, points out that in her community “the number of people with cancer is growing, not only among farmers, but also among seasonal farmworkers and people close to the fields.”

He points out that the children of seasonal farmworkers frequently suffer from speech defects and cognitive disorders. He adds that there are also reports about pregnant women who work in the fields, and who suffer miscarriages or whose babies are born with fatal malformations. There are no official studies on the relationship between pesticides and these diseases.

Action network calls for ban on glyphosate in Chile

Cancer is the second most common cause of death in Chile. Each year, there are 45,000 new cases, according to the Chilean Ministry of Health earlier this year. A network for action against pesticides calls for a ban on glyphosate in Chile. Lucia Sepúlveda, one of its members, told DW that “Bayer and Monsanto are not welcome in Chile,” and concludes that the cultivation of genetically modified plants and pesticides “damages the environment and the health of the population.”  SOURCE


Mega-Fires Almost Doubled Chile’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Fires in 2017 were worst on record, burning 570,000 hectares
  •  Chile’s wildfires have worsened because of decade-long drought

Firefighters work to put out a wildfire at a forest in the town of San Ramon in Constitucion, Chile on Jan. 26, 2017.

Firefighters work to put out a wildfire at a forest in the town of San Ramon in Constitucion, Chile on Jan. 26, 2017. Photographer: Cristobal Olivares/Bloomberg

The mega-fires that ravaged Chile in 2017 emitted the equivalent of 90% of the country’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions, Chilean researchers estimated.The South American nation’s worst wildfires on record burnt more than 570,000 hectares and cost $350 million to combat, according to a report by Universidad de Chile’s Center for Climate and Resilience released last week. The previous record was 130,000 hectares in 2015.

The 2017 fires put about 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere, close to the 111.6 million tonnes emitted by all of Chile the year before. It would take cars in Santiago, home to about 7 million people, to run for 23 years to equal the emissions from the worst mega-fires.

There are no magic solutions to these fires,” said researcher Mauro Gonzalez at the report’s presentation in Santiago last week. “We have a great challenge ahead because we can’t manage climate change or meteorological conditions, so we need to focus on prevention.“

Hidden Emissions

Chile emissions from forest fires in 2017 almost equaled 2016 emissions

Last year saw the least rainfall on record in much of Chile, marking the completion of country’s driest ever decade, a phenomenon linked to climate change that scientists have named a mega-drought. As global temperatures rise, extreme heat and lack of rain have worsened forest-fire episodes in other parts of the world such as California, Australia and the Amazon.

Australia has lost 10 million hectares to the flames this session.


Anger erupts at UN climate summit as major economies resist bold action

COP25 climate summit: what happened during the first week?

Activists were left frustrated by the lack of urgency inside negotiating rooms in Madrid

Extinction Rebellion activists stage a rally in solidarity with Amazon indigenous groups outside the COP25 summit in Madrid. Photograph: Rodrigo Jimenez/EPA

What happened in week one?

The COP25 climate talks in Madrid may have officially opened on Monday 2 December, but they only really started on Friday evening. That was when Greta Thunberg arrived to join a 500,000-strong march through the centre of Madrid, demanding that world leaders listen.

The young activist said that she, and the millions who have marched and protested around the world in the last two years, had “achieved nothing” because greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. Her stark message summed up the disjunction that scientists, campaigners and some politicians have despaired of at these talks: that the sense of urgency scientists have warned is needed, and that is felt in the outside world among those worst affected by climate breakdown, is still missing from these negotiating rooms.

Notable developments

Earlier in the week, a report on the world’s “carbon budget” revealed how far the world is from meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement. Greenhouse gas emissions rose by 0.6% last year – less than in recent years, but not enough to turn the corner. Johan Rockström, the joint director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “We must bend the curve [from increasing carbon to falling emissions] in the next year.”

What governments did – or didn’t – do

Meanwhile, negotiators finally managed over the weekend to put out a text on the future of carbon markets. It is only a first step and there are still major disagreements over how carbon credits should be counted and how countries’ success in meeting previous carbon targets should be allowed to count towards their future targets.

There is still no guarantee of any resolution to the disputes over carbon markets – the so-called article 6 talks, named after the section of the Paris agreement that they are aimed at clarifying. If this issue is not resolved, this technical question will hang over next year’s talks too, getting in the way of the substantive issue: the fact that by next year at the latest, countries are supposed to realign their emissions-cutting targets with scientific advice on staying within 2C (and hopefully 1.5C) of global heating above pre-industrial levels.

Chile to Madrid

These talks were supposed to take place in Chile, but were relocated after political unrest in Santiago. There are reminders everywhere that Chile is still technically the host – in the logo and signs; in the leadership of the Chilean COP president, Carolina Schmidt, at every important meeting; the conference rooms named after Chilean landmarks, rivers and natural features; and in the protests outside the conference centre by Chilean democracy and social justice campaigners, who say they are being silenced and ignored.

Blue COP

Oceans campaigners have also struggled to be heard at these talks, which were meant to highlight the plight of the oceans and the vital but often overlooked part they play in the Earth’s climate. The key message from campaigners is that protecting marine life – stopping overfishing, stemming the plastic tide of pollution and the flow of fertilisers and chemicals that is suffocating fish – is not just vital to biodiversity, and healthy fisheries for the more than 1 billion people who depend on the oceans, but also to regulate the climate. Healthy oceans absorb carbon and provide a buffer against climate chaos, so damage to them is damage to the climate, and vice versa.

Campaigners took advantage of the move to Madrid by drawing some of the Spanish capital’s cultural icons into the climate fight. The Prado art gallery, in conjunction with WWF, has updated some of its most famous paintings to show how they might reflect a warming world, with Goya now depicting climate refugees and a Velázquez painting of Felipe IV showing the Spanish king up to his horse’s neck in flood water. Which makes participants wonder what other Spanish artists might have made of the talks. The tortured technicalities of article 6 would test the skills of a Picasso – though the surrealism of Dalí might be more appropriate. Melting watches could stand for how negotiating time seems to have stopped, while poles and glaciers liquefy.

What to expect in week two

Youth has taken over for the start of the second week, with activists making their presence felt at the conference centre on Monday, fresh from the weekend’s marches and protests.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, environment ministers and finance ministers will arrive to give directions for their officials, meaning the “high-level segment” of the talks can start and with it the actual decision-making needed to give these talks a concrete outcome, in the form of resolutions on key issues.

The EU is also expected to galvanise the talks with its green new deal proposals from the European commission on Wednesday. In normal circumstances the UK, as the host of next year’s COP, which marks the deadline for countries to update their Paris commitments, would be expected to play a key role here. But the its delegation has been hobbled by the general election, which means officials and the next COP president, the former UK climate minister Claire Perry O’Neill, are in purdah and cannot speak on the record. Perhaps by Friday, when the UK’s votes have been counted, there may be some much-needed clarity. SOURCE


Greta Thunberg at COP25: People are suffering and dying for climate change

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