Brazil Can’t Make Its Mind on Transgenics

Brazil Can't Make Its Mind on Transgenics

    Marina Silva, Brazilian Minister of Environment is calling for a
    definitive ruling on transgenetic
    crops. The minister says that
    her position is one of caution since Brazil is a member of the

    Biodiversity Convention and the Brazilian Congress is
    examining ratification of the Cartagena agreement.



    Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, saying that she is concerned that a temporary measure (MP) on transgenetic
    crops may be limited to the state of Rio Grande do Sul, declared that there should be broader, more definitive legislation on
    the issue. She cited a study now underway by various ministries which will be sent to congress in the future.

    Silva called for a responsible discussion of the issue within the government, bearing in mind that whatever is done
    must have a legal basis. She added that her ministry’s position is one of caution on the issue, pointing out that Brazil is a
    member of the Biodiversity Convention and congress is examining ratification of the Cartagena agreement. "Over the last eight
    years there has been patchwork legislation that did not resolve the problem. We need a long lasting solution," she declared.

    The Minister cited the decree signed by President Lula making labeling of transgenetic food mandatory. The
    Brazilian law is similar to European legislation, requiring that food that is one percent transgenetic be labeled as such.
    "Consumers deserve reliable information on the food they purchase," she said.

    Silva said that one idea being examined was the distribution of conventional soybean seed by the Brazilian Farm
    Research Corporation (Embrapa), which has developed a first-class seed.

    The Minister declared that her ministry’s position is not political-ideological against scientific or technological
    knowledge, but one of caution regarding the use of such knowledge. "This is not something it is easy to resolve. If it were we
    would not be doing all this work," said Silva. She concluded by saying that the presidential Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, was
    working together with the ministries involved to find a solution.

    On September 4, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva received a report containing the results of the discussions in
    the Interministerial Work Group, and, based on this document, he should examine the conclusions and then announce
    the Administration’s official position on this question. Lula received the document during a meeting with 13 ministers who
    are involved in the discussions about transgenics.

    The pressures are intense. Agricultural sectors defend the cultivation, but environmentalists are fearful of the
    consequences for human health and the environment. In the midst of the discussions, technical impasses also delay a decision. One of
    the items that is still pending is related to whether the mandate of the National Biosecurity Technical Commission
    (CNTBio) empowers it to conduct the environmental impact studies required prior to authorizing the cultivation of genetically
    modified food crops in the country.

    Moreover, the composition of the organ itself has still not been defined. "After receiving the report prepared by
    the Interministerial Work Group on transgenics, the President will examine its conclusions and then make a decision on this
    matter," summed up Presidential spokesman, André Singer.


    Brazil is on the eve of the soybean planting season (it officially begins on October 1). In Rio Grande do Sul farmers
    say they will be planting a genetically modified (GM) strain known as "Roundup Ready" Further complicating the situation,
    the multinational Monsanto, which developed the Roundup Ready seeds, has placed ads in local newspapers warning that it
    will demand royalty payments when the crop is sold.

    In response, the president of the Rio Grande do Sul Agricultural Federation, Ezidio Pinheiro, declared that GM soybean
    seeds have been planted in the state for five years and there is no reason for farmers to pay Monsanto anything. The only
    payments Monsanto has a right to, says Pinheiro, are for seed purchases.


    Brazilian agrobusiness achieved a record surplus of US$ 16.15 billion between January and August of this year, with
    exports of US$ 19.25 billion and imports of US$ 3.1 billion. This represents a 38.4 percent improvement over the performance
    of the sector during the same period last year.

    Between January and August, 2002, exports totaled US$ 14.7 billion, and imports, US$ 3 billion, earning the
    country US$ 11.7 billion. The soy complex (beans, meal, and oil) was responsible for 23 percent of this activity. These data
    were released by the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA).

    Export revenues in general grew 31.2 percent over these eight months, which means that agrobusiness plays an
    increasingly important part in Brazil’s trade balance. Foreign sales of agricultural goods increased from 39.7 percent to 42.3
    percent of overall exports, when the January-August periods of 2002 and 2003 are compared.

    According to CNA technical adviser, Paulo Mustafaga, agrobusiness is expected to export US$ 27 billion and
    import US$ 4 billion this year, producing a surplus of US$ 23 billion. The growth in the trade surplus was stimulated by the soy
    complex, with total exports of US$ 5.43 billion in the January-August period, 73.6 percent more than the US$ 3.13 billion
    registered during the same period in 2002.

    The performance of the sector, according to the CNA, is due to a set of favorable factors, such as the new record
    harvest, estimated at 52 million tons, improvement in the exchange rate, and the increase in world prices, as a result of the
    expansion in global consumption, which should attain 174 million tons this year.

    Soybean prices rose 18 percent, from an average of US$ 179.6 per ton, in the January-August period in 2002, to
    US$ 211.7 per ton, in the same period in 2003. The increase amounted to 33.6 percent.

    Meat also performed well during these first eight months. Sales attained US$ 2.;44 billion, 29.7 percent more than
    export proceeds during the same period last year (US$ 1.88 billion).

    Imports, although far less expressive than exports, also experienced a slight evolution, of 3.2 percent, during these
    eight months, compared with the same period last year. The items that had the greatest weight were wheat, cotton, and rice.


    The material for this article was supplied by Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian
    government. Comments are welcome at 

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