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How Genetically Engineered Soy Threatens Ecological Stability

Story at-a-glance -

  • This Greenpeace documentary, based on a lengthy, intensive investigation, discusses how soy producers in Brazil are devastating the Amazon rainforest, stealing native farmers’ land and burning down their homes, and even assassinating their activists, in order to turn the land into massive soy plantations
  • Three multinational companies—ADM, Bunge, and Cargill—account for 60 percent of the total financing of soy production in Brazil and the destruction of nearly three million acres of Brazilian rainforest between 2007 and 2008
  • Brazil is now the second largest soybean producer in the world, second only to the U.S; but Brazil has the fastest climbing share of genetically modified soybean crops
  • GE soy crops are associated with resistant super weeds and super pests, uncontrollable cross contamination, and serious health hazards, including allergies, infertility, birth defects, bizarre mutations and cancer, just to name a few

By Dr. Mercola

Soybeans are touted by the food industry as the answer to world hunger. But very few pieces of propaganda could be more misleading. Not only does soy consumption lead to a number of health problems, but its production is leaving a trail of ecological devastation beyond belief.

While most people know the Amazon is under threat, few know that one of the principal perpetrators is soy.

One of the regions hardest hit by soy monoculture is Brazil, home of the largest expanse of precious Amazon rainforest. For several years, Greenpeace has been involved in an intense investigation of Amazon soy production using satellite images, aerial surveillance, previously unreleased government documents and on-the-ground monitoring, to expose the links in the soy chain.

Many of their findings are presented in the documentary "Soy: In the Name of Progress," which you can watch in its entirety in the link above. For more information, you can also read their final report, Eating up the Amazon1.

Agricultural multinational bullies are rushing into Brazil to flatten forests into massive soy farms, expelling native peoples from their land by any means possible, legal or otherwise.

Peaceful community protests are met with violent beatings from large soy producers and their hired thugs, and individuals speaking out the loudest have been assassinated. The Brazilian government is sadly absent, uninvolved, and ineffective on this issue.

Not only is the soy takeover harming the Brazilian people and their native culture, but it's having a devastating ecological impact that could potentially affect the rest of the world.

Soy Monoculture Could Alter Global Climate Patterns

The Amazon is the largest expanse of tropical rainforest on the planet, but deforestation is occurring at an alarming rate. An area the size of France has been destroyed thus far. Not only does the Amazon contain some of the richest biodiversity in the world, but it's being destroyed before it can even be studied — so we don't even know what treasures have been lost.

The rainforest is tied into climatic patterns worldwide and provides a major source of the water vapor that ends up falling on your garden as rain. Some estimate that, if trends continue, the entire Amazon rainforest could be gone in 30 to 40 years. Consequences would be far reaching to the world's climate, including the U.S. and Europe — a climate that is already undergoing significant stress.

Soy's Cycle of Destruction in the Amazon

Between 2007 and 2008, almost three million acres of Brazilian rainforest were lost to illegal logging, soy plantations, and cattle ranching2. Soy traders encourage farmers to cut down forest vegetation and plant massive soy monocultures. The traders then take the soy and ship it to Europe where it's fed to animals like chickens and pigs. The animals are then turned into fast food products.

Before soy can be planted, soy farmers have to remove the most valuable timber from areas they illegally occupy. According to Greenpeace2 :

"As one of the first steps in the cycle of destruction, land grabbers build logging roads into pristine rainforest. Once accessible, these roads open the door to further devastation of the forest ecosystem through clearing for agricultural operations, fuel wood gathering, and mining."

The illegal timber trade supports the cheap sale of once-valuable tree timber. Then deforested lands are set on fire to clear any remaining debris. So not only is the rainforest destroyed, but tons of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere by these burnings. Profits from this illegal logging are then used to seed soy plantations and line the pockets of a few select multinationals.

Three major companies account for 60 percent of the total financing of soy production in Brazil: ADM, Bunge and Cargill3. These enormous corporations build soy silos and terminals at the rainforest edge and buy soy from illegally cleared and operated farms, including those implementing slave labor.

As if this cycle of destruction is not bad enough, most of the soy crops are genetically engineered, which introduces an entire new set of dangers to you and the food chain. Genetically engineered crops come with serious risks, including resistant super weeds and super pests, uncontrollable cross contamination and serious health hazards, including allergies, infertility, birth defects, bizarre mutations and cancer, just to name a few.

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Brazil Sees Fastest Climb in GE Soybean Share

The United States is the world's top soybean producer (33 percent), with Brazil running a close second (27 percent), followed by Argentina (21 percent)4. As of 2007, more than half of the world's soybean crops (58.6 percent) were genetically engineered (GE).

GE soybeans contain a gene that confers herbicide resistance, engineered by Monsanto. "Roundup ready soy" is being cultivated on a massive scale across the globe, having devastating effects in many countries, such as Argentina, where people are being sickened daily by massive herbicide spraying. According to GMO Compass5, at one time, GE soybeans were not permitted in Brazil, but that isn't the case today. GE seed was smuggled in from neighboring countries and planted illegally.

Unfortunately, the GE soybean share has risen faster in Brazil over the past decade than in any other major soy-producing country, as you can see in the following graphic illustrating GE soybean share trends over time.

GE Soybean Ratio
GE Soybean Share: From GMO-Compass

Strategies for Avoiding GE Foods

There are some measures you can take to make sure the foods you select are not genetically engineered. Soy is one of only nine common GE food crops, but their derivatives are in over 70 percent of supermarket foods, particularly processed foods. So, the more fresh, organic and local foods you eat, the less likely you'll be consuming GE ingredients. Also, look for the USDA Certified 100% Organic seal: This green or black seal assures the product is certified organic by the USDA, which means it contains at least 95 percent organic ingredients that are free of genetically engineered ingredients. 

+ Sources and References