A long awaited update of Argentina's pioneering seed law may reach the country's legislative floor soon.
The update would provide tighter regulation of the genetically modified (GM) seed market, allowing for more investment from the private sector. Under the current law, farmers can retain GM seeds without paying royalties to the companies that developed them.
Argentina has blazed a trail as one of the world's leading GM crop producers. Several factors contributed to this including agricultural practices that were compatible with the changes necessary to implement GM crops — and a positive government attitude in the 1990s, when it was persuaded that GM crops heralded the "new green revolution".
But now, outdated regulations, and a lack of public investment in research, have allowed other countries to catch up.
Brazil has now overtaken Argentina to become the world's second largest GM crop producer, just behind the United States. Brazilian scientists have created herbicide-resistant GM soy — something Argentina has been importing and growing since the 1990s. Another problem for Argentina is that farmers' retention of seeds has led to an illegal GM soy seed trade — the 'white trade' — within Argentina and into Brazil and Paraguay.
Critics of the new seed law fear agribusiness's growing influence on the government, whilst proponents say that increased yields from biotech crops have helped keep the "country's ailing economy" going.
But both sides agree that Argentina's early acceptance of GM biotechnology is "a model from which other developing countries can learn important lessons".