Soya is an ancient crop from Asia that has been used for centuries for human nutrition. Now GE soya, GE maize, GE oilseed rape/canola and Bt cotton are the major GE (or GM) crops commercialised on a large scale, with GE soya representing the largest proportion of the total plantings of soya globally. The huge increase over the last few years in soy production, mainly in the Americas, is driven by the demand for animal feed and represents a massive increase in industrial intensification of monoculture plantations.
Over the years, the drive for ever-increasing productivity has led to the breeding of animals requiring increasing amounts of proteins in their diet. When 'Mad Cow' disease (BSE) forced an end to the practice of feeding animal remains to animals, the livestock industry turned to soya as a replacement protein source for livestock. At around the same time, Monsanto was planning how to cope with the end of its patent on glyphosate - the active ingredient in its best-selling herbicide RoundUp. The development of GE crops that tolerate the application of RoundUp meant that Monsanto could sell the GE seeds and the herbicide as a package.
Since 1997, RoundUp Ready (RR) soya has expanded in the US and Argentina, securing a new business model for Monsanto and providing the intensive lifestock industry with proteins. Most of the GE soya is exported as animal feed to Europe and increasingly to China.
The spread of RR soya monocultures in Argentina has been rapid and decisive. They affect the soils, water, biodiversity, forests and climate. hey also impact the food systems and health of rural communities and small towns, as the reports A case study on the impact of GE soya shows.
GE soy fields as carbon sinks?
The story of GE soya encapsulates much of what is wrong with industrial food & feed systems, but now the model of no-till GE agriculture for soya is being promoted for mitigating climate change at climate talks. The argument is that less CO2 is released from the soil if it is not tilled. Instead weeds are controlled with herbicides. Thus the soil under GE soya becomes a carbon sink and can be rewarded with carbon credits. However, there are many debates about whether no-till really sequestrates more carbon than other agricultural methods.
A dedicated chapter in the report Agriculture and climate change: Real Problems, False Solutions discusses why chemical no-till agriculture is no solution.