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9-Misc: Argentine organic farmers seek anti-GM court fight

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TITLE:  Argentine organic farmers seek anti-GM court fight
SOURCE: Reuters, by Athena Jones
DATE:   November 15, 2001

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UPDATE - Argentine organic farmers seek anti-GM court fight

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Argentine organic farmers expect a ruling soon on 
whether a legal challenge against the state's support of genetically 
modified (GM) corn crops will go to trial, the group's president said. The 
Argentine Movement for Organic Production (MAPO) filed a complaint last 
week against the Agriculture Department demanding that it stop approving 
the use of and suspend all past authorizations of BT corn, modified to 
resist insects.

MAPO, which represents 300 organic farmers, also wants to bring a stop to 
the use and sale of GM corn seeds. "We are asking that approvals of 
transgenic corn be stopped forever," MAPO President Rodolfo Tarraubella 
told Reuters late Tuesday. "I expect a response from the judge within 30 

Argentina, a major producer of grains and oilseeds, is second only to the 
United States in the use of GM products. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of 
Argentine corn is genetically modified, while 90 percent of the soy crop is 
transgenic. The country has been criticized by some consumer groups and 
farmers for its strong support for GM products, such as a decision earlier 
this year to set up a government-sponsored biotechnology commission to 
research and promote GM products. While many producers applaud the cost 
savings GM seeds make possible, critics have shown concern over their 
potential long-term health effects.

The presentation of the complaint is just the first step in the legal 
process. A judge must now determine whether the group of farmers will be 
allowed to bring their case against the government to trial. The judge 
handling the complaint said this was "just the beginning" and that he was 
not certain how long it would take to reach a decision. The MAPO case 
highlights the controversy GM products have stirred up around the world. So 
far, resistance has been strongest in Europe where the European Commission 
plans compulsory labels for foods containing GM products.

In Argentina, where organic production has grown steadily in recent years, 
this is the first legal challenge against GM corn, said Tarraubella. There 
are an estimated 1,500 to 1,700 organic farmers in Argentina, compared with 
just 220 six years ago and the number of hectares certified for organic 
production has sky-rocketed to about 3 million from 5,000 in 1993. Even so, 
organic growers make up only about 0.5 percent of Argentine farmers.

Argentina exports about 90 percent of its organic production, mostly to the 
European Union and the United States. with grains and oilseeds, especially 
soybeans and corn, making up the bulk of organic exports, according to 
official data. Organic production is more expensive than conventional 
farming because of lower productivity and certification and labor costs. 
However, producers can pass on the higher costs of organic foods to 
consumers, who are willing to pay more for these products.

Tarraubella estimated organic corn sold for about three times as much as 
conventional corn and said contamination of an organic crop by a 
traditional crop, through cross-pollination, meant producers would lose the 
benefit of that price differential. "There is clear economic harm being 
done here, far beyond the philosophical discussions," he said. Tarraubella 
said that if strong measures weren't taken to control the use of GM seeds, 
Argentina ran the risk of becoming known as "an open air laboratory for GM 
experiments." The Argentine Agriculture Department said it had not yet been 
officially notified about the case.


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