- Seeds of Power: Environmental Injustice and Genetically Modified Soybeans in Argentina by Amalia Leguizamón
South american neighbors argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, together with the United States, are the largest exporters of soybeans in the world. In these countries and others, the use of genetically modified (GM) varieties of soy, developed by Monsanto (now owned by Bayer), has allowed for the lucrative automation of the bean's cropping on vast rural expanses. GM soy is supposed to be part of a green revolution of high-tech, no-tillage agriculture that is profitable and sustainable, coupled with the highly effective and safe-for-humans glyphosate herbicide. The planet—with its ever-expanding human population and diminishing availability of land and water—gains from genetic engineering that helps produce more food with fewer resources. Soybeans are one of the most significant protein sources for humans in today's world—both as a legume for direct consumption and, more importantly, as farm-animal feed. In the communities where soybeans grow, however, global GM agriculture's benefits may materialize at insurmountable local costs. Soy expansion in Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay has caused extensive deforestation in biologically diverse landscapes, in addition to the dispossession, displacement, and, likely, the poisoning (via glyphosate) of indigenous peoples and traditional peasants. In addition, protest against soy expansion and related land disputes have given rise to the murder of some of these traditional peoples.
In her excellent book, Seeds of Power: Environmental Injustice and Genetically Modified Soybeans in Argentina, Amalia Leguizamón has focused on less-studied social groups as well as subaltern rural peoples. The author shares her journey in investigating the various actors linked to soy production in Argentina, revealing a complex case of environmental injustice against some of the very people who profit from the industry. Leguizamón's research examines different attitudes towards GM soy expansion based on in-depth interviews and participant observation over a number of years and locations. Though the author finds an array of attitudes, from enthusiastic support to utmost rejection, the heart [End Page 191] of her book lies in discussing attitudes that are in between such extremes, related to actors who are in between soy elites and the subaltern peoples more obviously harmed by the industry. Most notably, middleclass women in the Province of La Pampa disclose their silent (or silenced?) discontentment towards the periodic spraying of glyphosate herbicide in their communities, to which they attribute the rise in local cases of cancer and birth defects. Despite the perception of hazard, these women recognize the necessity of an industry that has brought jobs (mostly for men/husbands) and prosperity to their communities. Leguizamón portrays these women in a humane light, caught between perceptions of financial security and a sense of powerlessness to reject the hazardous conditions soy fields may have brought to their communities. Ultimately, the author underscores that these women's failure to mobilize and protest plays a role in reaffirming Argentina's unwavering commitment to promoting soy expansion at multiple levels of governance and civil society. Interestingly, Leguizamón also recounts the perspective of a female agrarian technician who works for a GM soy enterprise. This technician's attitude is as supportive towards soy production as her male counterparts' attitudes; her criticism focuses on the difficulty, for women, to integrate the industry at higher positions.
Furthermore, Leguizamón illustrates how a male-dominated and patriarchal system preconditions technicians (male and female) to accept the alleged safety of glyphosate, grounded in the industry's own—seemingly scientifically sound—precepts of GM agricultural best practices and self-funded envi ronmental impact studies proving the safety of glyphosate. Unsurprisingly, the author shares evidence from several interviews and field observations that soy producers violate environmental regulations and ignore the industry's best practices. Examples of violations that have imperiled locals' health include the previous or current absence of buffers between soy fields and...