1. How GM seed companies threaten food security and food sovereignty – call to action by soy industry leader
2. Speech delivered by Pierre Patriat, President of APROSMAT, the association of seed producers of Mato Grosso
1. How GM seed companies threaten food security and food sovereignty – call to action by soy industry leader
Below is the first appearance in English, as far as we at GMWatch know, of a landmark speech given by Pierre Patriat, director of APROSMAT, the association of seed producers of the Brazilian soy-producing state of Mato Grosso, during the SEMEAR 2011 conference in May in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The speech is remarkable for two reasons. First, for the source – not an NGO but a key player in the soy industry. Second, for the content.
As you'll see from his speech, Patriat does not oppose GM crops, believes that all companies should be able to offer their technologies in the Brazilian agricultural market, and is critical of NGOs active in Brazil on forest protection issues.
Nevertheless, and in common with many NGOs, he sees with brutal clarity the unprecedented threat to food security and sovereignty posed by the dominance of the seed market by a few GM companies.
This threat, which is so evident to Patriat and the NGO community, appears invisible to supporters of GM agriculture in Europe and North America.
Patriat shows that in Brazil, farmers are rapidly losing their freedom of choice due to the GM industry's takeover of the supply of seed for commodity crops like soy.
Patriat says that this consolidation of the market threatens Brazil's food security and food sovereignty. He makes it obvious that this pattern can – and will – be repeated in any country or region where the GM industry gains the required level of market penetration.
We only add that this pattern in turn threatens to remove freedom of choice from the supply chain that receives Brazilian exports and from the end users – consumers worldwide. It exposes as hogwash the talk so often heard in Europe that GM will "increase farmer and consumer choice".
WWF-Brazil and the Round Table on Responsible Soy, the corporate greenwash program instituted and supported by WWF, must be well aware of this unjust royalties system, which oppresses farmers. Yet WWF endorses it and helps it continue through its support of the RTRS, which certifies royalty-hedged and Monsanto-policed GM soy as "responsible".
WWF should create systems for social justice, but they do not. They are not saying a word about over 80% of soy in Brazil being GM. Why? Perhaps because if WWF were to make an effective and socially just scheme, this would exclude the 80% of soy production in Brazil that is GM, and they can't afford to do that. So they are silent. Buyers should know they are contributing to unfair socially oppressive system by buying RTRS GM soy and accepting RTRS as the market standard.
Patriat also debunks the absurd fiction that all agronomic problems, such as pests and diseases, can be solved through genetic engineering, when ready solutions lie in sensible farming practices like crop rotation and proper soil management.
Patriat calls for immediate mobilization and action on the part of concerned industry members, government, lawmakers, farmers and civil society to avert the threat to food sovereignty posed by the GM industry's control of markets through their patented seeds.
In his speech, Patriat talks about Embrapa. This is the Brazilian government's agricultural research company, which has taken on the responsibility of breeding non-GM soy varieties to supply the European and other non-GM markets. Patriat also mentions Abrange, the Brazilian association of non-GM soy producers.
You can see a video of the speech below (in Portuguese). http://vimeo.com/34167820
2. Speech delivered by Pierre Patriat, President of APROSMAT, the association of seed producers of Mato Grosso, on May 11, 2011 at the soy industry conference SEMEAR 2011 in Sao Paulo, Brazil
© 2011 – Copyright by Pierre Patriat, APROSMAT
© 2011 – Copyright on English translation by Jochen Koester
Comments added for clarity by GMWatch in square brackets [ ... ]
Good afternoon. First, I would like to thank Cesar Borges, the President of Abrange [the Brazilian non-GM soy producers' association], as well as all others involved in this conference.
My name is Pierre Patriat. I am the President of APROSMAT, the association of seed producers of the state of Mato Grosso. Today APROSMAT represents 35% of certified soy production in all of Brazil.
I have been invited to speak to you about national sovereignty. It is a complicated and thorny subject; after all, I am French, and you are probably asking why a Frenchman wants to tell you something about national sovereignty.
But the issue is interesting and for me the topic of sovereignty fits everywhere.
Let us put our focus today on the view of the seed producers.
Before beginning, allow me to correct some aspects regarding the previous topic. Precisely because I come from APROSMAT, the seed producers, I think that some statements must be corrected.
For example, the availability of seed. I can tell you that today our conventional [non-GM] seed costs more than GMO seed.
Why is that?
After all, Monsanto owns the patent for Roundup Ready soy, and Monsanto profits from every bean. And everyone has to pay Monsanto, while you have to pay nothing for conventional seed.
But it is the farmers who end up footing the bill [for the apparently cheaper GM seed. GM seed can be cheaper at point of sale when Monsanto does not collect royalties on the purchase price. But in these cases the farmer must pay royalties at the point when he delivers his soybean harvest to the silo. Monsanto has a technician at the silo who calculates the royalties as a proportion of the farmer's crop. Monsanto may claim its royalty in money or in goods. In the latter case, Monsanto confiscates a proportion of the farmer's harvest on delivery at the silo as its 'royalty'. This practice is unpopular with farmers because they argue that other factors than the GM trait, such as good weather and their own good farming practices, can be responsible for high yields. Yet Monsanto profits from these factors that may have nothing to do with its proprietary GM trait. If the farmer claims at the silo that his soybeans are non-GM, Monsanto will do a PCR test. If the test proves positive, e.g. due to contamination, the farmer has to pay a 3 percent royalty fee AND for the PCR test that Monsanto did.
http://www.agronline.com.br/artigos/artigo.php?id=248&pg=7&n=10 (Portuguese text)
At least one non-GM soy-growing farmer challenged a positive PCR result from a Monsanto test. He persuaded the government to do an independent test, which produced a negative result.
http://noticiascl.terra.cl/tecnologia/interna/0,,OI348126-EI1434,00.html (Portuguese); http://bit.ly/NVTF4o (English) ]
How come [non-GM seed can be more expensive at point of purchase]?
Even for conventional seed a license fee is due, even if it is not patented. [So conventional seed could cost more at purchase but there are no royalties to be paid afterwards.]
And there is a certain pressure. The accredited seed producer must plant what he is offered from the seed breeders.
Yesterday, Ivan Paghi (Abrange, Brazilian association of non-GM soy producers) told us about the 85/15 rule [a rule brought in by Monsanto in 2010 which meant that farmers could only buy 15% non-GM seed: the other 85% had to be GM].
The breeders are currently reducing the availability of conventional soybean seed varieties on the market.
They have the right to do that. But this has grave ramifications for Mato Grosso. The reaction to this reduction of availability is an increase of seed saving by farmers for their own use, the so-called "home seed".
Here are some figures from Mato Grosso. In order to be permitted to retain a protected conventional soybean variety, one has to report at first to the MAPA agency [ministry of agriculture] how many hectares' worth of which varieties are being withheld for home use.
In 2008, MAPA had 7,000 hectares worth of reported retentions for home use. As a reaction, 2009 saw an increase of this value to 13,700 hectares.
In 2010, the famous year of the 85/15 rule, already more than 36,000 hectares worth of saved seed for home use were reported.
So it is not that our breeders did not offer their seed because they did not want to, but because they had no access to it. As professional dealers they would not refrain from offering goods that are in demand.
That was bad because it deprived the market of about 500,000 to 600,000 bags (a bag = 60 kg) of certified seed that were already produced. That was indeed quite severe.
Another subject is the cost of seed in comparison to the [sale price of the] beans crop.
While only a few years ago, the value of 2 kg of harvested beans would buy 1 kg of seed, the price is now equivalent to 4 to 5 kg, sometimes even 6 kg of beans for 1 kg of seed.
With the first appearance of soybean rust [disease], a type of fungus, everything changed. We needed varieties that would mature a little earlier ... and that brought us the intermediate harvest.
Until a few years ago, soybean seeds were harvested in April, a relatively dry month where yields were at 2,500 kg per hectare with a loss of about 10%.
With the harvest being now in January to March, the use of the fields does not even reach up to 40%. Sixty percent is lost in a field where the use of pesticides and fungicides is also responsible for higher costs.
We have an additional loss of seed of approximately 30% during storage until September. This means that from the retained seed at the end there is only 20 to 25% left over.
Seed production yields thus dropped from 2,500 kg per hectare to below 1,000 kg – and that represents significant costs.
The consequence is a modified cost ratio of the harvested beans to seed.
If we discuss national sovereignty I start to think of Congressman Aldo Rebelo, who is involved in the vote on the new Forest Protection legislation in Brasilia.
Aldo Rebelo is a great Brazilian, because he is trying to save 4.5 million farmers from illegality – farmers who are being criminalized today with the collaboration of some NGOs.
By that I mean that many NGOs are good, but that the intention of some is not only to protect the environment, but to represent the interests of third parties and to pursue commercial goals.
So today Congressman Rebelo is trying to maintain Brazil's sovereignty. Afterwards, we will have the most restrictive Forest Protection Law in the world – that is for sure. What Congressman Rebelo is doing is equivalent to a gesture in favour of national sovereignty. He intends to protect the interests of Brazil and the Brazilians.
Now I will try to apply the question of national sovereignty to seed.
I am starting with a sentence I have borrowed and that has been expressed many times: "Seeds are a treasure belonging to mankind in the service of nations."
Most of you probably are not aware that the first seed was planted about 11,000 years ago. 7,000-8,000 years ago the selection of varieties began. After World War II, the agricultural boom set in. After the Marshall Plan, the support for agriculture was huge.
Governments were forced to invest in seed production, research and methods. This resulted in a 50% surplus every ten years.
This boom continued into the 1980s.
Since all research was public, thoughts arose in the 1960s and 1970s on how to protect this research so that even more success could be achieved and, of course, more money could be made from it. And this is how commercial interests began.
Brazil started only later to protect intellectual property.
Embrapa provided the biggest forward thrust for conventional seed in Brazil. Shortly after Embrapa, additional corporate players appeared.
Since all research was public, many breeders produced seed until 1995/96. A small breeder with a small germplasm bank would be able to breed varieties together with a small farmer.
Subsequently, they would bring their product to market and sell it.
In addition, there was the role of the seed multiplier. The multiplier is the one who refines the seed, to improve the quality and germination rate.
Many farmers would buy some and retain some, but even so, there was also a market for multipliers.
Beginning in 1997, with the introduction of protected varieties, there were proprietary varieties that commanded the payment of license fees.
The multiplier became a licensed authorized multiplier. He was not permitted any more to multiply a variety without the authorization of the breeder.
So far, so good – up until now.
Then came the introduction of GM varieties here in Brazil. And so began also some of the problems. For until now, the majority of seeds were Brazilian, or they were produced by foreign companies in Brazil in compliance with Brazilian norms.
Seeds are related to the topic of food security, which is why this is so much about self-determination and sovereignty.
Since the introduction of GMOs people started to talk about patents and no longer about protected varieties [before GM, there were – and still are – non-GM varieties that are licensed or protected. They can be more expensive when you buy the seed, but unlike with GM, whatever you harvest belongs to you]. However, for patents one has to pay.
Lately we feel the pressure coming from companies who own this research in such a way that they don't want to see the multiplier any more marketing their seed because they feel that their profits are too low in this way.
And what does a multiplier do today? He has a permit from the breeder or the company and there are 100 or 200 multipliers producing seed of one variety under license.
So there is a selection of several suppliers for the farmer where he can buy his seed. He buys from whom he wants to. Often there is a price difference. Now, the companies think that this [competition] does not enhance the value of their product. It is too cheap.
Today, life seems carefree; royalties are paid for the seed, but in 2012, some say 2014, the patent for Roundup Ready soybeans will expire.
Other companies will have entered the market and license fees will become due on the seed. These companies think that under the current licensing model they will not be able to fetch an interesting price on the market [because there would be too much competition].
The trend aims at linking the until-now independent, accredited seed multiplier to a specific seed supplier.
So we are running the certain risk that tomorrow, for instance in Mato Grosso, we will not have 40 seed multipliers any longer but perhaps only ten suppliers.
This is what they call verticalization.
This has a direct influence on the sovereignty, on the production autonomy, of the country.
Why? Because this way production is concentrated in the hands of a few people and many jobs are inevitably abolished.
And most importantly, it will deprive the farmer of the possibility to negotiate seed prices. Without sufficient competition prices cannot be beaten down and the price will always be determined by the suppliers.
This is an extremely serious issue as we are cartel-izing the market. This is the first step [towards a cartel]. But why is this cartel not yet fully in place?
The 2003 seed act (the Brazilian Cultivars Act – law No. 9.456/97) stipulates that the farmer has the right to save some of his seed [whether GM or non-GM] for his own use. He is not allowed to sell this quota. That is the legal situation today.
But the new legislative proposal for the protection of seed varieties that is being submitted for vote would remove this right.
It will continue only in some exceptional cases, for example, in the scope of the agricultural reform [in Brazil land reforms have been instituted to solve the problem of landless people. The government gives people land in order to settle them, along with certain rights, including the right to save some of their crop seed for home use. At the moment Brazilian law – the Cultivars Act – says whether seed is GM or non-GM you should be able to save it, but lobbyists for the GM seed companies are trying to change the law. If the GM companies succeed, farmer will not be able to save GM seeds].
This means that within the next decade ALL of us, from the smallest to the biggest, will be asked to pay more.
This bill is currently in Congress and a possible omission of the right for seed saving for one's own use could have a disastrous effect. For it would be the last leverage against uncontrolled price increases for seed.
Up until now one can retain seed if one feels squeezed by current market prices. So far, this is a way out of the dilemma in order to compensate undesired price developments today and in the future.
There is an enormous pressure to ignore this aspect and to rush the new bill through Congress.
Let me assure you of one thing: As soon as the option of seed retention is gone we will have a verticalization of the seed business two years later. In 4 to 5 years, there will be hardly any seed suppliers left.
That is one side of today's situation.
In principle we are not opposed to agro-biotechnology. Everyone should be able to offer their technology on the market.
What concerns us is that the big biotech players are the same companies that also offer us agrochemicals. That is a disastrous combination – one more creation of a monopoly! Now these companies are pushing more and more into the fertilizer market. They all move closer to the big agro-trading companies.
This means that in the future farmers will be reduced simply to a fictitious form of independence while nevertheless bearing all the risks alone: weather changes, employer risks, as well as the entire ecological responsibility, for minimal compensation.
Among seed suppliers this kind of concentration cannot be good for Brazil, for the profits are not re-invested in Brazil.
In fact, these profits are transferred abroad. This is normal for foreign companies, but for Brazil it is not advantageous because this way we completely lose control over our own seed breeding and germplasm.
In my opinion, this is an issue of food security.
Let me give you an example: Let's look at the State of Mato Grosso and its tropical climate, where seed production is difficult.
If tomorrow the seed trade would be in the hands of only four companies, then, in case of a natural decrease of seed production and the abolition of the right to retain seed, a critical shortage of seed could occur, with Mato Grosso running the risk that a major part of its fields would go unfarmed simply because not enough seed is available.
Seed is something that is alive, different from fertilizers, which, in contrast to seed, you can process and store.
Seed for Mato Grosso is not the same seed as that for Brazilian's South – and vice-versa. So seed is not simply exchangeable.
These increasingly manifesting market changes literally scream for a solution. We will have to keep that in mind.
This is today's situation. And all of us should contribute more.
This can be done on the technical level jointly with existing research institutions. We should support that which is already publicly available, in particular Embrapa, for that type of work is its purpose.
But further support is needed in order to strengthen the entire industry.
As a next step we ought to explain to the farmers what is happening at the moment. And they should be aware of what may happen.
Awareness should also be developed among the big city population.
Then this debate must be taken to Congress, for that is where legislation is created.
Today with regard to this system, we have no law that allows us to define or limit large organizations. In my opinion we need to redefine, to revisit the laws, not only in Brazil but worldwide.
This is a new technology and each country must have its laws. At this point we arrive again at national sovereignty.
Each country must first discuss its own sovereignty in this area, respecting international trade agreements, but mainly in its own interests. In our case these are the interests of Brazil in particular.
Many people are interested in controlling Brazil's production because tomorrow Brazil could be the largest producer with the lowest costs worldwide. That is what we are capable of.
But precisely that is what irritates a lot of people.
So today we must join forces: entrepreneurs, associations; I see here Roger from APROSOJA; farmers; students. Together we must discuss the issue.
This is not about being radical or to prohibit scientific research, but everything should happen with more discipline, and this is important, for Brazil should determine its own future and that of its food production.
Obviously, no food can be produced without good seeds. This is the foundation of all production.
That is why today's conference is so important. It is a milestone, the beginning of a more far-reaching debate that has got to take place, where a consensus is needed so that all international companies can work in Brazil but within Brazilian law, without imposing the laws of other countries on us.
All this must be discussed and explained to everyone.
Also today, people think everything can be resolved through the seed. If soybean rust occurs they say, "Just wait, this can be resolved with genetic engineering!"
A problem with nematodes? – "We'll change the seed directly!"
They want to solve all problems that way. Soon a seed will have to be the size of a ping-pong ball to contain all the modifications that have to go into it.
But as long as we have alternative solutions we don't need genetic engineering to get rid of all problems.
Today we have a big problem with nematodes for a simple reason, not least because of the lack of a medium-term agricultural policy.
There is a solution known to every agronomist: Crop rotation! That is how weeds and pests are weakened.
It is so simple! Another way is soil management and measures to correct the soil – fundamental things nobody pays attention to anymore because everything has to be resolved through the seed.
No one does rotation any more – everyone does succession [planting same crop in succession].
These are problems that are not resolved by biotechnology.
The man who is going to spend 150-200 Brazilian real [unit of currency] per hectare would do much better to invest it in the [quality of the] land. The profitability in the medium term will be much better for sure.
This does not mean that constant seed improvement will not bring solutions. But we ought to cooperate and define the base for new regulations, so that everyone may collaborate harmoniously without abusing their economic power.
Because today there are no brakes on the abuse of economic power over seed, and even worse, this affects the sovereignty of a country, because it is a matter of food security and food security is national security.
Wars are waged for two reasons: to gain space for agriculture, and religion, but mostly it is about food.
If tomorrow a country were to abandon control over its agricultural technologies or over how to implement them, then this country would also abandon its independence in these areas.
One cannot say any longer that it is a big, independent exporter or producer.
We should consider in Brazil today that many keep a vigilant eye on us. A vigilant eye because Brazil could triple or quadruple its meat production.
And this is so regarding all types of meat. Perhaps exactly this carries the biggest threat.
I observe that it is our meat production that is most feared abroad. Poultry, swine and cattle breeding.
In this area Brazil can quadruple its production in a few years – and do this at lower costs!
This means it competes with other countries with commercial interests of their own but that cannot compete with our prices.
This is why we are under a lot of pressure from abroad – for environmental concerns, seed production, or for working conditions – always with the goal to slow down Brazilian production somehow.
Our seed and also the forest protection code are all part of our national sovereignty.
I am saying all this about Brazil as a Frenchman observing it from the outside. Frenchmen have a tendency to be like this.
I remember General de Gaulle. After the War, when NATO was being founded, he did not want to come under the nuclear protective umbrella of the Americans. Nothing against Americans, but thus came about the creation of France's nuclear program. And in those days that was the best solution.
Seen from the outside, today every country must be allowed to determine its own fate.
All states must show respect for each other and not dominate by means of war or other measures of pressure, as is the case with seed. For with the way seed is produced, it will become extremely important who controls the seed; in 50 years he will control the world's food supply.
By way of genetic manipulation it can happen that all the seed we own today, all the old varieties, the original varieties, may tomorrow be in the hands of a few.
This would lock us out and leave us no option in the future to reverse this process!
The message I am bringing to you is that we must put this topic on the agenda – among seed multipliers, farmers, enterprises, associations and their members. Among Brazilians – for this is a Brazilian matter!
This is also the reason why I am particularly grateful to ABRANGE and its supporters, because today's conference emphasizes the self-determination and the sovereignty of the country.
This is how we say, No, we don't want this technology, we want our own technology with our own seed. For me, this is an expression of our sovereignty!
This is one of the first statements of this type and I hope others will follow. I hope this conference is able to initiate a broad public debate.
This has to happen quickly now because these days quite a few companies have employed more lawyers than agronomists!
This proves with certainty that the interest is quite big.
We should be fully aware that this is only the beginning. And it is a great beginning: The first declaration of sovereignty through ABRANGE!
The "Soja Livre" program proves that already a tiny stone in one's shoe can cause irritation. And the stones can grow in size.
In my opinion we should solve the Brazilian problems exactly here in Brazil. I also feel Brazilian because I have lived in this country longer than in France.
It is up to us to take the matter in our hands. We can also observe how others handle things and take only the best, but leave alone the bad.
By now we are fully capable of being a great nation! A huge food producer for ourselves and for others – and that at low costs.
All technologies can easily coexist without any problems, but, please, without wanting to push through a particular one at any price only because it may be a bit more profitable! That would only be of value for a few thousand shareholders who make millions with it. And the others – do they have to foot the bill?
That wouldn't be fair. Someone applying for a patent on a plant variety today claims part of the legacy of humankind for which nothing has to be paid! So there must be a trade-off.
One must not only rake in profits at one's pleasure; negotiations must take place more fairly and without the abuse of economic power.
I would like to congratulate ABRANGE on this milestone. It is truly a new beginning. You have proven you are on the side of Brazil! And so we can say, "We are something special. We have our own qualities.
"And we have our national sovereignty. We have now begun it and we will follow this debate further."
I hope everyone contributes the same amount of engagement. I see students here and hope that tomorrow the will ask their agricultural associations and their board members, "What do you know about this?" And when they then wave you aside, you can urge them to obtain better information – or they will be replaced. For their position requires that they always keep up to date.
We should strive to find a solution that is satisfying for all parties – whether from Brazil or not – but without any abuse of economic power! Thank you!
GM companies threaten food security and sovereignty - soy industry leader
1. How GM seed companies threaten food security and food sovereignty – call to action by soy industry leader