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Brazil Ag Ministry Threatens to Approve GE Soybeans

Brazil Ag Ministry Threatens to Approve GE Soybeans

Inter Press Service
July 26, 2001, Thursday

HEADLINE: ENVIRONMENT-BRAZIL:
TRANSGENIC SOYA RELEASE FACES PROTEST

BYLINE: By Mario Osava

DATELINE: RIO DE JANEIRO, Jul. 26

Environmental and consumer rights groups rallied here in protest of the
government's intention to allow commercial production of the
genetically modified soy bean, RoundUp Ready, produced by the
U.S.-based transnational Monsanto.

The demonstration came in reaction to the announcement by Agriculture
Minister Marcus Pratini Moraes that the government on July 30 will formalize
the release of RoundUp Ready (RR) soy beans, which have been genetically
manipulated to be impervious to herbicides also produced by Monsanto.
Also on July 30, officials are to establish the norms for transgenic seed
production, added the minister.

Andrea Salazar, attorney for the Brazilian Consumer Defense Institute
(IDEC), challenged the authority of the agricultural minister to authorize
the planting of RR soy. "He lacks the authority and the competence to do
so," said Salazar, since it also requires approval by the ministries of
Health and of Environment.

The Ministry of Agriculture can, at most, accept the registration of
Monsanto's transgenic soy, but cannot authorize its production, maintained
Salazar, who was one of the organizers of the Brasilia protest. She pointed
out that the production of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is banned
under a legal ruling that requires previous studies of environmental impact.
The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the protest are up
against an intense offensive by the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government to
open Brazil's doors to the commercial production of GMOs.

Brazil is the only of the three leading soy-exporting nations that has not
approved production of genetically modified varieties. The two others,
Argentina and the United States, are already producing RR soy in large
quantities -- as much as 80 percent of their total soy yields.
This has proven to be a trade advantage for Brazil because Europe, the
country's number-one market, generally rejects GMOs.

"If the agriculture minister is not concerned about the risks for human
health, he should at least respond to the country's economic interests,"
said Salazar, referring to the possibility that Brazil could lose markets if
it accepts this form of biotech farming.

But it was opinions from several sectors that prompted the government to
follow this route.

The National Technical Commission on Biosecurity (CTNBio), associated with
the Ministry of Science and Technology, came out in favor of the planting
and marketing of transgenic crops, ruling out the health and environmental
concerns that the NGOs have highlighted.

The Brazilian Agricultural Research Enterprise, an entity of the Agriculture
Ministry, took the same stance. The Ministry has 40 research centers whose
contributions have been decisive in Brazil's progress in the farming sector.
The research institutions also produce their own transgenic seeds.
Furthermore, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in its latest
Human Development Report, asserts that genetically modified crops could
contribute to reducing world hunger.

"That was a regrettable opinion, based on supposed benefits without
scientific backing, and it serves to fortify the interests of the United
States government and transnational corporations," charged Salazar.
The Cardoso government this year has stepped up efforts towards the release
of the new transgenic crops -- which include soy, maize, wheat and cotton,
among others. A decree from President Cardoso entrusted the CTNBio with the
authority to conduct the definitive assessments on biotech safety, in
an apparent bid to bypass criticism from NGOs.

Another decree, announced July 19, established the labelling rules for
products that contain transgenic products among their ingredients.
But this information would only be required for foods in which the presence
of genetically modified ingredients surpasses 4 percent.

The measure, which is to enter into force Dec. 31, caused an uproar among
the NGOs participating in the campaign "For a Transgenic-Free Brazil," begun
in 1999 and coordinated by IDEC, the international environmental watchdog
Greenpeace, and Esplar, a group promoting alternative and sustainable
farming practices.

"It is a violation of the Consumer Defence Code because in practice it means
not requiring information" on the presence of GMOs in foods, charged IDEC
director Marilena Lazzarini. In most products, the genetically modified
ingredients do not reach 4 percent, she said.

Lazzarini announced that her organization would petition the courts to annul
the decree.

In Europe, labelling is required on products containing more than 1 percent
transgenic ingredients. Japan is more lax, having set the limit at 5
percent.

Minister Pratini de Moraes had fought for Brazil's labelling limit to be the
same as Japan's, but accepted the 4 percent. Anything lower, he said, would
drive up production costs and food prices.

The government's decision comes in response to pressure from the food
industry. The Cardoso government had to make a choice due to the
proliferation of laws at the state level throughout Brazil, said Edmundo
Klotz, president of a business association for the sector.

In some states, such as the southern Rio Grande do Sul, laws have been
passed that explicitly ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops.
The national government's recent moves indicate that it is moving quickly
towards full approval of transgenic production, clashing with the policies
of several states and the demands of NGOs, landless peasant organizations
and family farmers.


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