GENET archive


6-Regulation: Cartagena Protocol negotiations - voices from Latin America

                                 PART I
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TITLE:  Brazil to Press for Global Biodiversity Regime
SOURCE: IPS, by Roberto Villar Belmonte
DATE:   14 Mar 2006

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Brazil to Press for Global Biodiversity Regime

CURITIBA, Brazil, Mar 14 (IPS) - Curbing the loss of biodiversity and
achieving an international regime governing access to genetic resources
will be the two top priorities of Brazil, which is hosting the eighth
conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-
8), Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva told IPS.

"Our motto is 'implementation', since there are already a large number of
international treaties that have to be translated into concrete action,"
said the minister, who will preside over COP-8, to be held Mar. 20-31 in
the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba.

"Over the next two years, we are going to work hard in order for the
international regime to be binding, and so that it is not understood as a
tool to facilitate access, but to ensure protection and sustainable use
and the distribution of benefits" and profits arising from the use of
genetic resources, she announced.

The adoption of a regime governing access to genetic resources and the
equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of biodiversity and
biological wealth is key to meeting the Convention's target of reducing
the rate of loss of diversity of habitat and of animal and plant species
by 2010.

During COP-8, Brazil will try to strengthen political coordination with
the "Group of Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries", made up of 17
developing nations, said Silva.

Another of Brazil's aims is to announce, during the conference, a draft
law that would regulate access to biodiversity and guarantee the rights
of local communities.

The minister did not attend the first day of the May 13-17 "Third meeting
of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to
the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety" (COP-MOP3) Monday in Curitiba.

But she announced in Sao Paulo that Brazil had reached a decision on the
labeling of cross-border shipments of transgenic products.

The Cartagena Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity has been
in effect since September 2003, and is aimed at protecting biodiversity
from the potential risks posed by living organisms modified through
modern biotechnology.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's decision settled differences over
the question in his cabinet by opting to accept the wording "contains
LMOs (living modified organisms)" for the labels, rather than "may
contain LMOs", as he had pushed for at the COP-MOP2, held nine months ago
in Montreal.

But in Curitiba this month, Brasilia will negotiate a four-year timetable
for countries and companies to gradually put into effect a system of
mandatory labeling and separation of products containing LMOs. During
that period, labels would read "may contain LMOs", along with a list of
the genetic modification procedures approved in the country exporting the

After the period of adaptation, all cross-border shipments would have to
be clearly identified as containing LMOs, by labels that would also
provide information on genetic engineering.

Brazil decided on pressing for a four-year transition period because it
allows countries to gradually create the internal conditions for the
labeling of transgenic products, said a statement issued by the
Environment Ministry.

Minister Silva, who said the position taken by Brazil would help overcome
the biggest hurdle in the negotiations on the Cartagena Protocol, added
that "Now we have to negotiate this week, in order to keep moving forward."

But the decision was not welcomed by agribusiness representatives. "We
consider the Brazilian government's current proposal frustrating. It will
place a very large onus on Brazilian agriculture, because we will have to
segregate products from their point of origin," said Carlo Lovatelli,
president of the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries.

Nevertheless, he added, there could be changes before Friday. "We have
information that some Latin American countries, like Mexico, Colombia,
Paraguay, Peru and Nicaragua, could opt for the 'may contain' wording
previously advocated by Brazil," he told IPS.

Lovatelli presented an economic study at COP-MOP3, according to which the
requirement to identify LMOs would raise soy bean production costs by
between eight and nine percent.

"If Brazil sticks by its position, we would have to ask for financial
support from the government in order to comply with the Protocol," he said.

Soy beans are the main transgenic crop produced by Brazil and Argentina.

Environmental groups praised Lula's instructions for Brazilian
negotiators to back the "contains LMOs" wording, but criticised the four-
year timetable for implementation, arguing that many incidents of
transgenic contamination could occur over that period..

"From our point of view, agribusiness has already had six years to adjust
to the Cartagena Protocol, which was approved in 2000," observed Marijane
Lisboa, a representative of the Organic Agriculture Association and a
professor at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo.

"Four more years is unacceptable, because in the last six months alone,
there were cases of contamination in dozens of countries. Agribusiness
has been left to adapt to the new regulations when it feels like it," she
commented to IPS.

Statements by diplomats from Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru that echo the
stance dropped by Brazil have sparked suspicion among the
environmentalists attending COP-MOP3.

"All of these countries have had incidents of transgenic contamination or
have received unidentified transgenic corn as food aid from the United
States. It is remarkable that they are not defending the interests of
their populations here, since they have already proven to be unable to
identify transgenic products," remarked Lisboa, a former Greenpeace
representative and former secretary of environmental quality at the
Brazilian Environment Ministry in 2003 and 2004.

In order to be consistent with its new stance, the Brazilian government
should send the police to investigate why the agribusiness sector is not
complying with the labeling requirements for transgenic foodstuffs
stipulated by Brazilian law, said Joao Pedro Stedile, a national
coordinator for the Landless Workers' Movement (MST), speaking on behalf
of the international peasant and small farmers'movement, Vía Campesina,
at the opening of the Civil Society Global Forum taking place parallel to

On Tuesday morning, roughly 1,000 Vía Campesina activists occupied
facilities owned by the Switzerland-based transnational agribusiness
giant Syngenta in Santa Teresa do Oeste, some 550 km from Curitiba.

The protesters demanded an end to the company's illegal experiments with
transgenics at the installation, which are prohibited because of its
proximity to Iguazu National Park, a conservation area.

                                 PART II
------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Latin America: Controversy Grows Over Transgenic Crops
SOURCE: IPS News/Global Information Network, by Diana Cariboni*
DATE:   15 Mar 2006

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Latin America: Controversy Grows Over Transgenic Crops

MONTEVIDEO, Mar. 15, 2006 (IPS/GIN) -- Genetically modified organisms are
leaving an indelible mark on several Latin American countries, regardless
of the standards for their use and the attempts to adopt international
rules governing their production and transportation.

Extensive areas in which transgenic soybeans are cultivated mark the
landscape in Argentina and Brazil, and are expanding in Paraguay, Bolivia
and Uruguay as well.

Argentina, the United States and Canada are responsible for 90 percent of
the world production of transgenic crops.

Soybeans are vital to the Argentine economy. The country is the third-
largest producer in the world -- output reached 32 million tons in 2004
-- after the United States and Brazil, and the top exporter of soybean oil.

Soy accounts for half of the total harvest in Argentina, according to the
Secretariat of Agriculture. The "Produce and Conserve" Foundation,
financed by biotechnology companies, says that up to 95 percent of the
crop is transgenic.

The starting point was U.S. biotech giant Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy,
which is resistant to the herbicide of the same name.

Farmers and the Argentine state are locked in a legal battle with
Monsanto, which is trying to recover years of royalties that were not
paid on its patented seeds, because of illegal sales of Roundup Ready soy
or the replanting of seeds that were culled and saved by farmers.

The Secretariat of Agriculture reports that soy exports are the most
important source of tax revenues in Argentina today. But it acknowledges
that monoculture farming (regional production of a single crop)
"undermines the sustainability of agroecological systems" and degrades
the soil, while transgenic plants pose a risk of contaminating non-
modified crops.

Since 2001, the National Commission on Agricultural Biotechnology has
authorized 788 research projects, most of them involving corn. These are
experimental field trials of transgenic varieties, only a few of which
will eventually be marketable. The research permits were granted to
subsidiaries of the U.S. corporations Monsanto, DuPont and Dow
AgroSciences, the Dutch company Nidera, and the Swiss laboratory Novartis.

Research to solve local problems is supported by national producers and
by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology, which is studying,
among others, a variety of corn resistant to the Rio Cuarto virus,
endemic in this country. The cost is financed by farmers who purchase
shares in the patent.

Argentina has not ratified the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, in force
since September 2003, which aims to protect biological diversity from the
risks posed by live organisms that have been modified by modern biotechnology.

The treaty establishes the need for informed consent before authorization
is granted to bring transgenics into a country. In addition, it outlines
the "precautionary principle," which gives governments the right to
suspend production or trade of transgenic crops until there is proof that
they are harmless to the environment and to human health.

There is no conclusive evidence on the risks of transgenic organisms,
constructed in the laboratory by inserting genes from other plant or
animal species.

Soy is the star transgenic crop in Brazil too, although genetically
modified (GM) cotton and corn are also planted. The transgenic seeds are
smuggled in from Argentina, following in the footsteps of GM soybeans.

Soy makes up nearly half of Brazil's total grain output of 120 million
tons. It is the chief export product, especially as beans, and to a
lesser extent as flour and oils.

At present, an estimated 90 percent of the soy cultivated in the southern
Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul is transgenic, as is 10 percent to
20 percent of the soy grown in other southern and central-western states.
In normal circumstances, Rio Grande contributes one-sixth of the national
soy harvest, but drought had a severe impact on production in 2005.

Transgenic crops, which are illegal in Brazil, have been smuggled in
since 1996. Cultivation of the GM varieties was temporarily authorized by
a decree in 2004, and in 2005 a biosafety law came into effect to provide
a definitive legal framework.

Although Brazil is a party to the Cartagena Protocol, it has not lived up
to the terms of the treaty, particularly the precautionary principle.
Environment Minister Marina Silva called unsuccessfully for prior
research on transgenic soy and other GM crops, arguing that the results
of studies performed in other countries were not applicable to Brazil
because of its immense biological diversity.

The National Technical Commission on Biosafety has received more than 500
requests to authorize field research projects.

In the meantime, Monsanto has had mixed success in its efforts to get
farmers in Brazil to pay royalties on Roundup Ready soy seeds.

Further evidence of the flouting of regulations is the issue of labeling
transgenic products. A presidential decree in Brazil makes specific
labeling mandatory when more than 1 percent of ingredients are
transgenic, but it is not enforced.

"The entire Cartagena Protocol depends on labeling; it's a crucial factor
which makes it viable or non-viable," Gabriel Fernandes told IPS.
Fernandes is an expert at Advice and Services for Projects in Alternative
Agriculture, and one of the coordinators of the Campaign for a
Transgenic-Free Brazil.

A label reading "contains LMOs (living modified organisms)" is obligatory
throughout the production chain, from the seeds onward, to clearly
indicate the presence of transgenics.

"Agribusiness uses arguments against this," such as the difficulty and
high cost of labeling. But according to studies, the added cost is very
low, Fernandes said.

"Legal cultivation ensures traceability, because Monsanto would keep
track of its seeds in order to collect royalties," he said. It all comes
down to abandoning the attempt to continue illegal cultivation, he maintained.

Furthermore, "the buyers have to be taken into account. The big import
markets have ratified the protocol, and they have the right to know
whether or not they are importing transgenic products," Fernandes argued.

Brazil not only exports grains, but also imports transgenic wheat and
corn products from Argentina, and it is in its interests to have precise

But politics in Brazil tends to yield to the economic clout of
agribusiness, said the expert. Despite hosting the Mar. 13-17 third
conference of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol in the southern
Brazilian city of Curitiba, the government left it to the last minute to
decide whether it would support firm labeling rules.

Against a very different economic and legal backdrop, Cuba is also
researching transgenic varieties of at least eight food crops.

Insect-, virus- or herbicide-resistant varieties of potatoes, papayas,
tomatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, rice, plantains and bananas may become
available to Cuban farmers if the research projects under way are successful.

Three Cuban institutions are working in this field, but no product has
yet been released on the market. "That's still a long way off," Merardo
Pujol, head of the Botany department at the Center for Genetic
Engineering and Biotechnology in Havana, told IPS.

For now, Cuba's scientific researchers are focusing their efforts on
coming up with crop varieties that are resistant to viral or fungal
diseases, salinity, drought and pests.

The experiments are carried out in greenhouses or on segregated plots of
land under closely controlled conditions, monitored by the National
Center for Biological Safety.

Cuba is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol, and officials say the
country strictly complies with the treaty.

But Cubans are apparently not worried about the potential negative
effects of transgenic crops. "There is no scientific report that has
clearly documented health problems caused by the transgenic plants
currently sold in the world," said Pujol.

Humberto Rios at the National Institute of Agricultural Sciences (INCA),
however, said transgenic crops lead to increasing economic dependence by
farmers, and threaten the cultural diversity of peasant farmers.

Rios is working on improving seeds through other plant-breeding
techniques, with the participation of small farmers, as "an alternative
aimed at avoiding dependence on transgenic crops," and as "a route to
food sovereignty," he told IPS.

Transgenic crops are not cultivated commercially in Mexico either, and
the area used for experimental cultivation is small.

But in 2001, it was discovered that native varieties of corn had been
contaminated by transgenic corn in some parts of the country, despite a
moratorium on the commercial planting of GM corn in Mexico since 1999.

However, the authorities maintain that new studies carried out on crops
in 2005 found no sign of contamination by GM corn.

Although the cultivation of transgenic corn is banned in Mexico, it is
imported as food and animal feed. It is believed that the transgene
contamination occurred when farmers planted corn imported from the United
States, the world's biggest producer of GM crops. In the shipments,
modified corn is not separated or labeled. And in poor parts of the
country, peasant farmers sometimes plant corn imported as livestock feed,
thus unknowingly planting GM seeds.

Mexico purchases 4 million tons a year of transgenic corn from the United
States, around 25 percent of which is GM corn.

The wealth of varieties of corn cultivated in Mexico, where it is the
staple food, could be threatened by contamination, as it is almost
impossible to protect corn from cross-pollination because the pollen can
travel long distances in the wind.

For centuries, farmers in Mexico took advantage of the fact that corn is
wind-pollinated to create new varieties that were better adapted to
specific climatic and geographical conditions.

Mexico ratified the Cartagena Protocol in 2002. But according to a pact
signed with the United States and Canada in October 2004, shipments
containing up to 5 percent GM products can be identified as "non-
genetically modified," and shipments with "unintentional" contamination
do not require identification or labeling.

Environmentalists complain that neither the agreement nor Mexico's 2005
law on biosafety are in keeping with the Cartagena Protocol.

* With additional reporting by Mario Osava (Brazil), Patricia Grogg
(Cuba), Diego Cevallos (Mexico) and Marcela Valente (Argentina).

European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
news & information

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