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GMO-FREE REGIONS & PRODUCTS: Update from the GM-Free Brazil Campaign

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Update from the GM-Free Brazil Campaign
SOURCE: AS-PTA Assessoria e Serviços a Projetos em Agricultura Alternativa
DATE:   29.03.2007

Update from the GM-Free Brazil Campaign

Greetings from Brazil!

As of March 2007, the GM-Free Brazil Campaign is resuming its monthly
newsletter in English. We hope the information will be useful to our
partners abroad and facilitate international support actions when needed.

In this first issue we discuss the three most important events in the
country this month: a public hearing to debate the commercial release of
GM maize, President Lula's signing into law of a lower quorum for GM
authorizations and the CTNBio's attempt to block the public
participation at its meetings.

The GM maize public hearing

At the public hearing held last week by the National Technical Biosafety
Commission (CTNBio) to discuss the commercial release of several types
of transgenic maize in Brazil it was clear that there is no safe basis
for GM approvals in the country.

Presentations by biotech industry representatives were superficial and
rife with generic, unsubstantiated assertions, just like what we read
everyday in the papers: "GMOs have been tested more than any other food
and hence are safe," "GMOs produce higher yields and consume less
pesticides," and "GMOs have been approved for growing in the USA and
Argentina and therefore can also be released in Brazil."

The only novelty presented by industry, actually its new propaganda
element, argues that GMO crops can significantly reduce CO2 emissions.
But, like the other claims, not one study was presented to substantiate
this assertion.

The CTNBio hand-picked the scientists who would have 15 minutes each at
the hearing to present their views on the impacts of the transgenic
maize. They all spoke in unison with the official industry
spokespersons. In order to feed the myth that scientists are for and
environmentalists are against GMOs, the CTNBio refused to allow any
critical scientist who had signed up in advance to speak at the event.

Despite that filter, civil society representatives who spoke did raise
several questions that went unanswered and presented resounding
critiques of the technical arguments used to support the GM maize
approval. They also pointed out errors and omissions in applications
submitted to CTNBio, the total absence of any environmental impact
assessment for Brazilian ecological conditions and the lack of any post-
release control measures.

Biotech researchers moved by the dogmatic conviction that genes alone
program organisms, avoided engaging in debate and did not counter the
information and studies presented by civil-society organizations showing
that GMOs are inherently unsafe and unstable and that no coexistence
with conventional crops is possible.

Actually, the public hearing was only called after a judge in the State
of Paraná made it mandatory, in response to a lawsuit filed by civil
society organizations (AS-PTA - agroecology; Terra de Direitos - human
rights; Idec - consumers; and MPA/Via Campesina - small farmers).
Although the current biosafety law's case-by-case approach implies that
one transgenic event should be examined at each public hearing, CTNBio
chairman Walter Colli drew up an agenda to cover all seven pending
applications for GM maize, even those that had never been analyzed by
the Commission.

Thus the hearing originally required by the court to debate only Bayer's
Liberty Link corn, also opened room for six of Monsanto's, Syngenta's
and Pioneer's GM corn events, some of them insect-resistant, some
herbicide-tolerant and some "stacked". Colli said it would be better to
cover everything at one hearing because "it's all maize" and in any case
he lives in São Paulo and would rather not have to go to Brasilia more
than once a month.

Absence of studies

Bayer's Liberty Link maize (genetically designed to be packaged with
Bayer's own gluphosinate ammonium herbicide) is at the top of the
CTNBio's agenda of commercial release applications. Bayer's
representative at the hearing was challenged to identify the pages
containing environmental studies in the material the company submitted
to CTNBio.

It was Jairon do Nascimento, the CTNBio's executive secretary, who
answered, however, recognizing that no one had brought the whole file to
the meeting. There was silence, since Bayer in fact has no study carried
out under Brazilian ecological conditions to show. Even so, the CTNBio
sees no problem in approving Bayer's GM corn.

Even one of the most conservative and pro-GMO newspapers in the country
stated that "after all the presentations for and against, the CTNBio's
president showed his irritation and threatened to suspend the
participation of those who from the floor were raising questions and
criticizing the absence of conclusive studies on the plants."

Embrapa, the federal agricultural research system, which has
partnerships with Monsanto and other transnationals to develop
transgenic crops, presented its own pro-GM position but set some
conditions for the release of GM maize. They include risk assessments
for Brazilian conditions and the development of technical
recommendations to allow the co-existence of different types of
agriculture (conventional, transgenics, organic and agro-ecological).
None of Embrapa's conditions have ever been met.

More changes to the biosafety law

The day after the hearing, president Lula signed into law amendments the
Biosafety Law to further accelerate GM crop approvals. Before this
amendment, the votes of 18 of the CTNBio's 27 members were needed for a
commercial approval. Now, 14 will do. Even if the other 13 members vote
against, the application will pass. Permissions for field trials and
other decisions are taken by 14 votes.

The measure originally proposed by the Government was to allow GMOs to
be planted in buffer zones around ecological conservation areas. This
became an issue when Syngenta was caught carrying out illegal GM field
trials near the National Iguaçu Park, and fined a million reais (about US
$ 450 thousand) by Ibama, the federal environmental authority. Via
Campesina farmers occupied the area in March 2006 to denounce the crime

The elite farmers and agribusiness lobby in Congress added the reduction
of votes for GMO approval as a rider to the government's original
"Provisional Measure" on GMOs around conservation areas.

The impact of Lula's decision not to veto the rider will be more
political than practical. Pro-GM members have always held a strong
majority on CTNBio, and the 18-vote requirement has never blocked
commercial approvals. Average attendance at CTNBio monthly meetings is
generally low. But the government felt the need to send a political signal.

Both the Environment and the Agrarian Development ministries were
against changing the law. The Science & Technology and the Agriculture
ministries were in favor. The tie-breaker was presidential chief-of-
staff Dilma Roussef, a guerrilla fighter in the 1970s and now Lula's
main political coordinator. She refused to speak with social movements
but is known to have met with pro-GM lobbyists.

Lula also ignored an open letter signed by approximately 80 CSOs and 90
members of Congress asking him veto the amendment on CTNBio votes.

Actually, rather than solving the CTNBio's procedural issues, the
government wanted to make it clear that it is sensitive to biotech
industry demands, above and beyond the public interest.

Behind closed doors

To close the week, CTNBio president Walter Colli led a very unpleasant
scene on March 22. As the Commission convened its plenary session with
the Liberty Link release decision near the top of its agenda, it was
forced to respond to a petition from Greenpeace for two of its
representatives to participate in the meeting as observers, as provided
by law.

Colli refused to vote the petition in the presence of the
environmentalists, claiming that this should be a secret decision. Some
CTNBio members insisted the environmentalists leave the room, while
others backed Greenpeace members. The police were called and Colli
finally decided to adjourn the meeting before it began.

Accordingly to a press release issued by the Regional Federal
Prosecutor's Office in Brasília, the refusal to allow public
participation at the meeting "offends constitutional principles (...) by
which it is the rule that public agencies' meetings and acts must be
public, moral and legal, principles which this Commission must obey as a
provider of public services in the interest of Brazilian society as a whole."

The unavoidable question is, what does the CTNBio want to hide?

A Federal prosecutor also present at the abruptly adjourned meeting
assured that steps will be taken to assure free access and participation
to all, as observers at CTNBio meetings, except at times when
confidential matters are under discussion.

The GM-Free Brazil Campaign and its member organizations will continue
to follow these issues especially industry and CTNBio attempts to
release GM maize and will keep you informed. Whenever necessary, we will
be asking for support from our international partners.

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