GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?

A group of international scientists has released a report detailing health and environmental hazards from the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready soy and the use of glyphosate (Roundup®) herbicide.

The report, GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?,[1] highlights new research by Argentine government scientist, Professor Andrés Carrasco,[2] which found that glyphosate causes malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses far lower than those used in agricultural spraying.

“The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy,” said Carrasco.

Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology, University of Buenos Aires Medical School and lead researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), Argentina, is a co-author of the new report. The report is released with testimonies of Argentine villagers whose lives have been radically disrupted by the cultivation of GM soy.[3]

In Argentina and Paraguay, doctors and residents living in GM soy producing areas have reported serious health effects from glyphosate spraying, including high rates of birth defects as well as infertility, stillbirths, miscarriages, and cancers. Scientific studies collected in the new report confirm links between exposure to glyphosate and premature births, miscarriages, cancer, and damage to DNA and reproductive organ cells.

Carrasco said people living in soy-producing areas of Argentina began reporting problems in 2002, two years after the first big harvests of GM Roundup Ready soy. He said, "I suspect the toxicity classification of glyphosate is too low ... in some cases this can be a powerful poison."

Residents have also reported environmental damage from glyphosate, including damage to food crops and streams strewn with dead fish. These accounts are backed by studies in the report that show glyphosate is toxic to the environment.

Scientists and others who speak out against Argentina’s GM soy agricultural model report censorship and harassment. In August 2010 Amnesty International called for an investigation into a violent attack by an organized mob on an audience assembled to hear Carrasco talk about his research in the agricultural town of La Leonesa.

“Responsible” soy?

GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible? challenges commercial claims that GM soy cultivation is sustainable and that the glyphosate herbicide it is sprayed with is safe. In 2011 the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS), a multi-stakeholder forum on sustainable soy production, will launch a voluntary label for “responsible” soy that will reassure ethically minded traders and consumers that the soy was produced with consideration for people and the environment.[4] It will label GM soy sprayed with glyphosate as responsible.[5]

RTRS members include multinational companies such as ADM, Bunge, Cargill, Monsanto, Syngenta, Shell, and BP, and NGOs such as WWF and Solidaridad.

Claire Robinson of GMWatch, a group that campaigns against GM foods and crops, said, “It is a cruel farce to call the GM soy with glyphosate farming model sustainable and responsible.

“The RTRS criteria are so weak that they don’t protect people from the known health hazards of GM soy and glyphosate shown in the new report.[6][7]

“The RTRS also ignores serious social problems caused by GM soy monocultures. Livelihoods and food security have been lost as land that used to grow food for people to eat is given over to toxic GM soy monocultures.

“Over 200 civil society organizations have condemned the RTRS criteria as corporate greenwash.[8] It’s time for responsible members of the RTRS to abandon this discredited body.”

Europe imports around 38 million tons of soy per year, which mostly goes into animal feed.[9] Food products from GM-fed animals do not have to carry a GM label.

The maximum glyphosate residue limit allowed in soy in the EU is 20 mg/kg. Carrasco found malformations in embryos injected with 2.03 mg/kg glyphosate, nearly 10 times lower.[10] Soybeans have been found to contain glyphosate residues at levels up to 17mg/kg.[11]


  1. Antoniou, M., Brack, P., Carrasco, A., Fagan, J., Habib, M., Kageyama, P., Leifert, C., Nodari, R., Pengue, W. 2010. GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible? GLS Gemeinschaftsbank and ARGE Gentechnik-frei.
  2. Paganelli, A., Gnazzo, V., Acosta, H., López, S.L., Carrasco, A.E. 2010. Glyphosate-based herbicides produce teratogenic effects on vertebrates by impairing retinoic acid signalling. Chem. Res. Toxicol., 9 August 2010
  3. Interviews in English and Spanish and photographs available here
  4. Marks & Spencer. Tackling deforestation
  5. The RTRS Standard can be downloaded from the RTRS website, GM soy is treated the same as non-GM – see p.i.
  6. La Soja Mata (Soy Kills). Against “Responsible” GM soy: reply to Solidaridad, WWF
  7. GM Freeze. Thirteen Reasons Why the Roundtable On Responsible Soy Will Not Provide Responsible or Sustainable Soya Bean Production. May 2010
  8. La Soja Mata (Soy Kills). Statements against the 3rd RoundTable on Responsible Soy
  9. Cert ID. Cert ID Certified ‘Non-GMO’ Soy Meal and Other Soy Products: Volumes Available from South America. Porto Alegre, Brazil, July 14, 2008.
  10. FAO. Pesticide residues in food – 1997: Report. Report of the Joint Meeting of the FAO Panel of Experts on Pesticide Residues in Food and the Environment and the WHO Core Assessment Group on Pesticide Residues. Lyons, France, 22 September – 1 October 1997
  11. FAO. 2005. Pesticide residues in food – 2005. Report of the Joint Meeting of the FAO Panel of Experts on Pesticide Residues in Food and the Environment and the WHO Core Assessment Group on Pesticide Residues, Geneva, Switzerland, 20–29 September. FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper 183, 7.

About the authors and publishers of GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?

This report was compiled by an international coalition of scientists who hold the view that the complete body of evidence on GM soy and glyphosate herbicide should be made accessible to everyone – government, industry, the media, and the public. The scientists and their contact details are as follows:

The publishers and copyright owners of the report are GLS Gemeinschaftsbank eG, Germany and the Austrian industry association ARGE Gentechnik-frei (Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Gentechnik-frei erzeugte Lebensmittel or the Consortium for Food Produced without Genetic Engineering). The publishers were inspired by the scientists’ work on this issue to support its release to the public. The full report and summary of key findings can be downloaded from the publishers’ websites:

The copyright owners hereby grant permission to individuals and organizations to place the full report and summary of key findings in unchanged form on their websites and to distribute it freely through other channels, contingent on disclosure of authorship and publishers.

Note: The views expressed in the report, “GM Soy: Sustainable? Responsible?” are those of the individuals who co-authored the report. There is no implication or claim that they reflect or represent the views of the institutions with which these individuals are or have been affiliated.