Growing tension

Published: Thursday 15 January 2004

In mid-December, residents in the rural community of Coror'i, in San Pedro, Paraguay, mobilised to impede the spraying of herbicides on a field of transgenic soybeans owned by former president Juan Carlos Wasmosy (1993-1997). They were just one irate band of small farmers demanding that the government take measures to keep family farms and local residents safe from the fumigation of hazardous chemicals.

But the only thing president Nicanor Duarte has done is to threaten judges and prosecutors for failing to take steps to curb what the government describes as "an attack on the environment." Indeed, in this landlocked country of nearly six million, farmers' complaints of contamination have become louder and louder. The process began in 1997, when the cultivation of transgenic soybeans began to expand in the country, after genetically modified (gm) crops were legalised in neighbouring Argentina a year earlier.

gm crops account for 80 per cent of the one and a half million hectares planted in soybeans in Paraguay, even though transgenics are prohibited in this country.

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