2-Plants: Brazil GM soy move sparks green fury and farmer doubt
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TITLE: Brazil GM soy move sparks green fury, farmer doubt
DATE: Mar 31, 2003
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Brazil GM soy move sparks green fury, farmer doubt
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Environmental activists reacted angrily last
week to a Brazilian government measure allowing the sale of genetically
modified soybeans, while farmers were worried about its terms and
Traders said the measure dispelled uncertainty about marketing of this
year's record harvest and would boost trade in Rio Grande do Sul, the
No.3 soy producer state in Brazil, which is the world's second largest
soy producer and exporter.
About 80 percent of the soy crop in Rio Grande and 12 percent of the
national crop is privately estimated to be transgenic.
"It's a serious attack on Brazilian justice," said Greenpeace genetics
campaigner Mariana Paoli.
Transgenic crops are banned in Brazil while a federal court considers
whether the government's commission on biotechnology, CTNBio, has the
authority to approve their commercial planting and sale.
On Wednesday, the president's spokesman said that a provisional measure
would be published last week allowing GM soybeans to be sold until the
end of Jan. 2004.
Paoli charged that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government had
broken an election pledge to adopt a precautionary approach toward GM
crops, carry out environmental impact studies and stop illegal planting.
"The worst thing is that the government is now allowing domestic sales of
GM soy, Brazilians will be consuming a product that hasn't received
either health or environmental approval," Paoli said.
Producers, while pleased that GM soybeans could be marketed this year,
were unhappy about labeling requirements and worried about the future.
"It won't be easy to fulfill the provisional measure because nobody is
ready to segregate the harvest," said Rui Polidoro Pinto, President of
the Agricultural and Livestock Cooperatives of Rio Grande do Sul (Fecoagro).
Pinto complained that the process of certification, involving the
segregation of conventional and GM soybeans, starts before planting, but
harvesting has already started.
He also noted that 25 percent of Rio Grande do Sul's soy crop had been
sold in advance without definition of the type of grain.
The president of the Rio Grande do Sul Agricultural Federation (Farsul),
Carlos Sperotto, agreed.
"We aren't equipped to segregate and label," he said, adding that
arrangements for 2004 must be debated widely in congress and the courts.
Farm workers were apprehensive.
"It only applies for this harvest. We want a wide debate to fix clear
rules for next year," said Elisario Toledo of the Federation of
Agricultural Workers of Rio Grande (Fetag), noting that there were
142,000 soybean growers in the state.
Rio Grande do Sul is expected to produce 7.8 million tonnes of soybeans
in 2002/03, up 39 percent from last crop season, according to the
government's crop supply agency Conab. It forecast the national crop
rising 18 percent to 49.6 million tonnes.
Soy traders said that at this late stage in the crop cycle, the
government had no option but to allow the marketing of transgenic
soybeans in 2003.
"Harvesting has already started in Rio Grande and banning GM soy now
would hurt too many people," said a grain trading manager in the state
capital Porto Alegre.
Uncertainty about government policy had brought soy trading to a virtual
standstill in the southern state.
"It's been painfully slow. We're way behind last year," the manager said.
Analysts noted that six harvests of transgenic soybeans had been marketed
in Rio Grande do Sul without problem or publicity.
"However GM soy has now become a soap opera," said Anderson Galvao Gomes,
soy analyst at Celeres-MPrado.
Story by Peter Blackburn