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2-Plants: Brazil demonstrates complexity of $30B global battle overGM seeds

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TITLE:  Brazil demonstrates complexity of $30B global battle over GM seeds
SOURCE: Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation
DATE:   Jun 30, 2003

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Brazil demonstrates complexity of $30B global battle over GM seeds

RIO DE JANEIRO - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation : Besides
questions of human health and the environment, the battle over
genetically modified (GM) crops involves a global market of seeds that
nets around $30 billion a year.

That is the estimate of Rabobank International, a Dutch bank with close
ties to agriculture that predicts that the business could triple in size,
given the potential of the market.

Trade in GM seeds is competing with traditional methods of growing, in
which farmers hold onto part of their harvest for seeds -- a system that
is losing ground in the face of intellectual property laws and
legislation designed to protect crops that are genetically engineered to
boost yields and resistance.

Groups like V-a Campesina, an international farmers' organization, argue
that seeds are part of humanity's heritage, and should be freely
available to farmers and not subject to the rules of the market.

In Brazil, GM crops represent "the consolidation of an agricultural model
of conservative modernization," which "has increased the concentration of
land ownership, leading to a rural exodus that has 'emptied' the
countryside," Roberto Baggio, one of the coordinators of Brazil's
Movimento dos Sem Terra (Landless Workers' Movement - MST), a group that
is affiliated with V-a Campesina, told IPS.

That model, which has been applied since the 1960s, has favored large
monoculture producers of export crops, and has sacrificed Brazil's "food
sovereignty" by making the country dependent on seeds and other inputs
produced by transnational corporations, he said.

If Brazil legalizes the commercial production of transgenic crops, it
will become "a hostage of the transnational corporations," which will
monopolize the market for seeds, said the activist.

The main target of the MST and other organizations opposed to GM crops is
the U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, which dominates the global market for
transgenic seeds with its Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans.

In recent years, the MST has staged several "invasions" of property
belonging to Monsanto to destroy experimental plantations of RR soybeans.

The genome of the RR soybean includes the protein CP4 EPSPS, taken from a
common bacterium found in the soil and incorporated into the plant
through biotechnology, in order to make it resistant to the herbicide
Roundup, which is also produced by Monsanto.

According to the company, Roundup, the trade name for glyphosate, needs
to be sprayed in smaller quantities than other weed-killers.

But Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First, a U.S.-based non-
governmental institute for food and development policy, said that
planting herbicide-resistant soybeans makes little sense for small
farmers, who tend to plant their soybeans alongside crops that are
vulnerable to the weedicide.

RR soybeans have been planted since 1996 in the United States, and by
2000 they already accounted for 54 percent of the area planted in
soybeans in that country, and 95 percent in Argentina, according to Monsanto.

In Brazil, the spread of GM crops has been slowed by a legal ruling that
heeded a demand set forth by environmentalists and the Brazilian
Institute of Consumer Defence for environmental impact studies to be
carried out before permission was granted for transgenic crops to be
commercially grown.

Only the experimental planting of GM seeds in limited, controlled areas
is currently legal in this South American country of 171 million.

Nevertheless, that legal obstacle has not kept RR soybeans from being
widely planted in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where seeds
are smuggled across the border from neighboring Argentina.

The proportion of transgenic soybeans grown in that state has grown
steadily, from five percent in 1997 to 70 percent last year, and
"probably to around 80 percent this year," Narciso Baris-n, president of
the Association of Seed and Seedling Producers and Merchants of Rio
Grande do Sul, commented to IPS.

In the meantime, sales of legally certified seeds produced by the 110
companies represented by the Association has plunged.

The widespread planting of GM soybeans led the Brazilian government to
authorize a one-time sale of around six million tons of transgenic
soybeans this year. But that "set a precedent," according to farmers who
said they planned to continue sowing illegal GM soybeans.

The government's waffling on the matter is "the worst of both worlds" for
seed companies, many of which have gone under, with only one-third of the
total that existed prior to this crisis still functioning, said Barison.

"We had to sell seeds of crops like soybeans for consumption, leading to
around $20 million in losses," he complained.

Annual sales of seeds in Brazil amount to around one billion dollars,
Joao Lenine Bonifacio, president of the Brazilian Association of Seed
Producers, said to IPS.

Barison and Lenine Bonifacio advocate the legalization of transgenic
crops and say farmers should be able to freely choose which kind of seeds
they want to plant.

GM crops are more expensive, since the royalties charged by Monsanto for
its RR soybeans drive up the cost by around $50 per hectare, said Lenine

The MST's Baggio argued that GM crops are not needed in Brazil. An MST
settlement in the southern state of Parana produced a yield of 3.7 tons
of soybeans per hectare, 50 percent above the average national
productivity level, with conventional soybeans, he pointed out.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

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