Soya was once considered a superfood. As with any trendy food from afar, deforestation and use of herbicides increases as poor farmers grow more high priced food. I am guilty of jumping on the superfood bandwagon, especially with chia seeds lately.
Soya, which is the same as soy, was one of the original superfoods thought to prevent cancer. Now, soy is often mentioned as a food to avoid.
When it comes to environmental issues, the growth of soy has left the South America rainforest in destruction. Ecologist reports:
Deforestation and slavery
Brazil, the second biggest grower and the biggest exporter of soya, is such a big player in the industry that there are major concerns about how this is affecting the Amazon Rainforest. According to Greenpeace, in 2005 around 1.2 million hectares of soya was planted in the Brazilian rainforest…
Along with deforestation, there are also concerns about the use of agrochemicals in soya production – risking pollution to water supplies and soil – as well as labour issues and tension over resources.Greenpeace’sEating Up the Amazon report also says, chillingly, that modern-day slavery is also a serious problem in the region.
The rainforest does remain cleared for long, as plants try to grow and return the forest to its original state. Thus, herbicides are heavily used.
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is causing birth defects in Argentina where it is sprayed on soya crops. Glyphosate has been linked to many health problems, like Autism, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
The Nation of Change explains:
Raul, a six-year-old boy, is virtually paralyzed from the head down. He lies snugly in the arms of his young mother, Maria Almeida, but she can’t stop the tears flowing as, sitting outside her home in the village of Saenz Peña in the north of Argentina, she says how much she would love to see him walk like his sister does. Raul is one of many children being born with congenital deformations in this town, which is surrounded by huge plantations of genetically modified soya.
Although no one can ever be sure in an individual case, many doctors are blaming the GMO soya boom for the alarming rise in health problems. Doctor Seveso, who works in the neonatal ward in the local children’s hospital, says that the number of congenital malformations in babies has increased from 14 per 10,000 live births in 1996 to 81 per 10,000 live births in 2008. Pointing to two graphs, she says that the sharp rise in malformations is mirrored very closely in the steep increase in the cultivation of GMO soya.
This story and others like it were recently told in an extraordinary documentary on Al Jazeera television. In the village of Ituzaingó, also in the north of Argentina, mothers became so worried by the number of children falling ill that they carried out their own epidemiological study and discovered that birth defects and cancers in children, particularly leukemia and melanoma, were running at many times the national average.
They took their results to Andrés Carrasco, Argentina’s leading embryologist. He carried out laboratory studies and discovered a link between glyphosate and malformations. Carrasco was not surprised at his results: “We are applying 300 million liters of agro-chemicals, 200 million of which are glyphosate, on to our fields. We have to realize that this will cause harm, both to human health and to the natural environment.”
After a vigorous campaign, the mothers succeeded in getting a judge to ban aerial spraying around their village, a remarkable victory considering how strong the pro-soya lobby is in Argentina. But this isolated victory will not change the bigger picture. Argentina is adding another 10 million hectares of land to the 34 million hectares currently under cultivation. Most of this new land, which can only come from felling woods and forests, will be used to cultivate GMO soya and GMO cereals.
Since 1996 the Argentine government has given the go-ahead to 27 GMO crops. No other country in the world has adopted genetic modification on such a scale. GMO soya, cultivated in vast plantations, has depopulated huge areas.
The growth in popularity of soy products, as well as this ingredient being used in many other products, has caused health and environmental degradation in South America. With the introduction of GMO soya, the problem is being exacerbated.
The Nation of Change continues:
Soya has spread like a plague across Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, and Bolivia over the last 20 years, destroying rural communities and demolishing valuable natural habitats. The model of monoculture agriculture it promotes is harmful in all its forms but there is little doubt that the GMO mode has particularly noxious consequences for people and habitats. Now, with the new GMO seeds, the deluge of toxic chemicals will get even worse.
In typical hypocritical fashion, as I write this I am drinking a soy latte. I am shifting more towards almond milk, homemade if possible, but I do not always have it on hand. My soymilk is organic, so it is non-GMO, but I don’t know the country of origin. We must try to consider the impact of our daily lives on those far away. Is my soy latte, which I look forward to every morning, causing the destruction of rainforest? If not the soy, is the organic shade-grown coffee ethical? Perhaps I should just pick some herbs from the garden and make tea.
Image: Sleeping Angel at La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires on Bigstock