Science in Society Archive

Round Table on Responsible Soy a Green Wash

GM Soya, Deforestation, Landgrab, Glyphosate Poisoning… Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

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The Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS) was set up by the big environmental organisation WWF to provide “environment and social NGOs, finance and trade institutions, growers and retailers” the opportunity [1] “to jointly develop solutions leading to responsible soy production.”  It was proposed by WWF 2005 after the Basel Criteria for Responsible Soy Production failed to get big business support [2].

Among the members of RTRS is US-based biotech giant Monsanto, with a world monopoly on genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready soybean and a near-monopoly on other seeds ([3] US Farmers Oppose 'Big Ag' in Anti-Trust Hearing, SiS 46).

Critics see RTRS as an attempt to green wash large scale GM soy production, exacerbating deforestation and eviction of indigenous peoples [4, 5] (‘Land Rush’ as Threats to Food Security Intensify, SiS 46), not to mention glyphosate poisoning of humans and wild life [6, 7] (Glyphosate Herbicide Could Cause Birth Defects, Ban Glyphosate Herbicides Now, SiS 43), crops and soil [8, 9] (Scientists Reveal Glyphosate Poisons Crops and Soil and Glyphosate Tolerant Crops Bring Diseases and Death, SiS 47).

RTRS lost much credibility when two major Brazilian organisations in the soya supply chain resigned: Aprosoja (representing 6 000 soy producers in Matto Grosso) left in May 2009 and ABIOVE  (representing the Brazilian vegetable oil sector) left in March 2010. Both withdrew over the criteria relating to forest losses [2].

RTRS is expected to launch its “responsible soy” label after its conference 9-10 June 2010 in Sao Paolo, Brazil.

Please add your signature to Opposition to Round Table on Responsible Soy Open Letter now

Send the name of your organisation (and country, if relevant) before Friday 4 June 4:00 pm European time, to


  1. Round Table on Responsible Soy, A place for soy and forests, accessed 27
  2. Open letter, growing opposition to Round Table on Responsible Soy.
  3. Novotny E. US farmers oppose ‘Big Ag’ in anti-trust hearing. Science in Society 46, 30-31, 2010.
  4. Soy and Agribusiness Expansion in Northwest Argentina Legalized deforestation and community resistance. CAPOMA, La Soja Mata, and Chaya Comunicación
  5. Ho MW. ‘Land rush’ as threats to food security intensify. Science in Society 46, 42-45, 2010.
  6. Ho MW. Glyphosate herbicide could cause birth defects. Science in Society 43, 36, 2009
  7. Ho MW. Ban glyphosate herbicides now. Science in Society 43, 34, 2009.
  8. Ho MW. Scientists reveal glyphosate poisons crops and soil. Science in Society 47 (to appear).
  9. Ho MW. Glyphosate tolerant crops being diseases and death. Science in Society 47 (to appear).

  10. Opposition to Round Table on Responsible Soy

    Open Letter
    May 2010

    The undersigned organisations reject the “responsible” label for soy developed by the Round Table on Responsible Soy (RTRS). The attempts by the Round Table on Responsible Soy to greenwash large scale genetically modified (GM) soy production by labelling it as “responsible” will aggravate the problems caused by industrial soy production, instead of providing solutions.

    The RTRS is expected to launch its “responsible” label after its conference in June 2010 in Brazil. Industrial soy production has caused rampant social and environmental damage in South America, including habitat destruction, deforestation, destruction of local food production systems, degraded soil fertility, exposure of local people to toxic pesticides and the large scale displacement of local communities and small farming systems.

    In the North, large scale soy production has facilitated unprecedented industrialisation of the food chain, increasing reliance on imported animal feed and promoting unsustainable animal production with negative consequences for farming, the environment and people’s health, and encouraging unsustainable consumption patterns. Intensive meat, dairy and egg production is an important contributor to global greenhouses gas emissions , while agrofuels from soy could produce more emissions than fossil fuels.

    Multinational companies reap huge financial rewards from this unsustainable production system at both ends.

    The RTRS cannot succeed in its stated aims to deliver “responsible” soy because:

    1) RTRS lacks support and is not representative
    The RTRS claims to be an “international multi-stakeholder initiative” , but in reality the scheme has little or no support from sustainable family farmers, social movements or civil society, either in South America or in Europe. On the contrary the scheme faces strong criticism from these organizations especially in soy producing countries. Furthermore, major players in the Brazilian soy industry – APROSOJA and ABIOVE - have turned their backs on the RTRS due to disagreements on the inclusion of even the very weak deforestation clause (see 2).

    2) RTRS criteria are seriously flawed
    The RTRS claims to be developing a “responsible” label for mainstream soy, but is based on a wholly inadequate set of principles and criteria. For example:

    • GMOs and pesticides
    The RTRS will certify genetically modified (GM) soy as responsible. Most soy in South America is genetically modified to be resistant to the herbicide Glyphosate (marketed by Monsanto as RoundupReady soy). Both GM and non-GM soy are based on monocultures, both have destructive impacts on biodiversity and local communities and both use a range of agrochemicals, but herbicide-resistant soy has higher negative biosafety impacts than non-GM soy, particularly for soil life and fertility. While GM soy is promoted to farmers as a way to reduce labour costs, the continuous and indiscriminate application of herbicides resulting from the use of herbicide-resistant crops has severe impacts on the livelihoods and health of communities living around the soy fields. It has also accelerated the emergence of herbicide resistant weeds, which are a serious problem across thousands of hectares of soy in the US, Argentina and Brazil. This is also forcing a return to using more dangerous pesticides such as 2,4-D (a component of Agent Orange).

    • Deforestation and soy expansion
    The RTRS criteria for “responsible” soy agreed in May 2009 do not prevent further deforestation. According to the RTRS, “responsible” soy can be grown on land that has been deforested as recently as May 2009. “Responsible” soy can even be grown on land that will be deforested in the future, as long as the producer can provide “scientific evidence” that there were no primary forest, or High Conservation Value Areas (HCVAs), on that land and that it did not affect “local peoples’ land” (which is not further defined).

    It is not clear how these flawed criteria will be monitored and enforced.

    3) RTRS cannot address macro-level impacts of industrial farming
    Importantly, the RTRS cannot address the deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions and social conflicts caused by displacing agricultural activities elsewhere (Indirect Land Use Change). Other impacts include rising food prices and huge pressures on land and resources.

    4) RTRS claims climate benefits
    RTRS “responsible” soy claims to have climate benefits, but would largely supply feed for unsustainable intensive poultry, livestock and agrofuel production. The perverse lobbying at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen of the RTRS along with biotech giant Monsanto to gain carbon credits for industrial soy production gained them the international Angry Mermaid Award for worst climate lobbying. In the EU, the RTRS is trying to gain accreditation under the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) that contains the widely opposed 10% agrofuel target.

    Some of the pilot projects of the RTRS involve small scale farming of soy, but this cannot mask the fact that the bulk of the RTRS’s “responsible” soy will be grown on large-scale plantations with heavy pesticide use and no consideration for the local people or the environment. Consumers are currently prevented from seeing the extent of the damage done by industrial (RoundupReady) soy as it happens far from their homes. European supermarkets use the RTRS to claim they are acting responsibly while carrying on with business as usual. Any supermarket that participates in the RTRS risks a backlash from its customers.

    To address the impacts outlined above the undersigned organisations demand real solutions that move to a sustainable food production system that include:
    • phasing out monoculture production systems and instead promoting agro-ecological systems, diversification of production and stimulation of local production for local markets that contribute to food security and food sovereignty in producer and consumer countries.
    • promoting genuine land reforms and land rights in producing countries, which will address highly inequitable land ownership and concentration;
    • drastically changing production models and consumption patterns required to feed a population of 9 billion in 2050 sustainably and equitably ; this means reducing the shocking levels of overconsumption and waste in the industrialised world
    • abandoning intensive meat, dairy and egg production systems and moving towards low-input livestock systems
    • eliminating Europe’s dependency on plant protein imports and support a move towards more low input, grass based livestock systems.
    • stopping the promotion of agrofuel production as a climate solution for rich countries and instead developing better transport systems that reduce demand for energy and fuel.

    Article first published 31/05/10

    Signatories to date

    International networks
    Food and Water Europe
    Friends of the Earth International
    Global Forest Coalition

    ASEED Europe
    Corporate Europe Observatory
    GM Freeze, UK
    Institute of Science in Society

    Soy Alliance, UK
    VELT, Belgium
    Wervel, Belgium

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    There are 4 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

    Alan James Comment left 1st June 2010 14:02:30
    Monsanto produces the most commonly used broadleaf pesticide in the world, glyphosate -- Roundup. In addition to its inherent toxicity as a chemical pesticide, Roundup has now been found to aid the spread of fusarium head blight in wheat. This disease creates a toxin in the infected wheat, making the crop unsuitable for human or animal consumption. Canada's wheat industry is currently being ravaged by this disease. The soy industry will be next.

    Erastus Chege Comment left 19th July 2010 01:01:26
    I wonder if there is anything wrong with the growth of soy beans. My question is, other than the plantation on forest lands and the promotion of GM modified soy, is there any other opposition to the RFRS?

    Cherry Lavell (Miss) Comment left 1st June 2010 05:05:13
    I think the proposals are completely unacceptable. The inclusion of GM under the heading of 'responsible' is just crass -- it is anything but that. Further deforestation will not be prevented, thus endangering the whole planet ultimately. RTRS will not even begin to address the real problems of industrial farming, displacement of rural populations etc. It has already been criticised for 'worst climate lobbying' and it really must begin to mend its heedless ways.

    robert piller Comment left 22nd June 2012 01:01:51
    greenwash says it all. responsible this certified that and sustainable something else. contact me if you want campaign details. cheers.