Political Implications

How will biotech affect farmers in developing countries?

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In September of 1998, Monsanto announced a $550 million investment in Brazil to build a factory that will produce their Roundup herbicide. The Brazilian government has made Roundup Ready soybeans the first approved GM crop (Mack, 1998). Developing countries, like Brazil, have existing, unstable conditions that could amplify negative effects of GM crops. The adoption of Round-up Ready soybeans may not help local farmers because it may not be available to them. Most likely, Monsanto crops will be used by large farmers who grow soybeans for export. If local farmers choose to use Round-up Ready soybeans, they will face the ecological concerns and economic concerns of U.S. farmers, with additional troubles. For example, the soybeans cost $24 for a 50-pound bag as opposed to $18 for regular soybeans. Many U.S. farmers buy new GM seeds every year to assure higher yields. Farmers in developing countries, who usually recycle seeds, may not have the money or resources to purchase new seeds every year. This would become a problem especially in the use of terminator seeds. If they choose Monsanto seeds and do not purchase new seeds every year, they may deny themselves the higher yield that makes the crops so effective. Monsanto's Round-up Ready soybeans require Round-up herbicide. This would be an additional cost for farmers whose strategies do not include chemical herbicides. Preliminary tests show herbicide resistant crops weaken when not sprayed with herbicide. In fact, if denied herbicide, they die off after approximately five generations (Brookes, 1998). The unidentified consequences of GM crops under stress conditions pose high risks for developing countries that already deal with adverse conditions, such as soil erosion. Countries such as Brazil and Belize already suffer from high levels of soil erosion partially due from monocropping. Round-up Ready soybeans are known to decrese soil erosion by not requiring tillage. However, how will the crops fare in mediocre soil conditions? The new GM seeds require less labor, thus furthering the loss of employment in Brazil. Additionally, social and cultural concerns arise, like the loss of local seed varieties and farming traditions. One can only assume the introduction of GM crops will amplify existing problems in Brazil and other developing countries.

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