Daily News Archive

Brazil Measure Ignites Congressional GM Soy Debate
(April 8, 2003)
A draft measure proposed last week by the new Brazilian government will take further measures to uphold the country's ban on genetically modified (GM) crops, according to Reuters News Service. Statesmen drew sides in debate on the lower house floor, some pushing for stricter enforcement of Brazil's ban on genetically modified crops, to which the former government had turned a blind eye for years. Others statesmen said the government proposal to clamp down on the huge black market in GM seeds and illicit plantings was a step backward and called for a permanent lifting of the ban.

In 1999, a federal judge ruled that Brazilian farmers could not grow genetically modified crops--at least not until there was more scientific investigation. In December of that same year, the state legislature outlawed government monitoring for GM crops. Agriculture officials checked farms for bioengineered soybeans; this generated enormous resentment among medium- and large-scale growers.

But the new government said officially last month that it would uphold Brazil's ban and proposed provisional measure 113 last week in an effort to gain control of illegal GM soy planting. Measure 113 calls for the testing of nearly the entire soy crop for GM, the separation of conventional soy from GM and the temporary legalization of sales of new crop GM soy with labels until January 2004, after which time GM would again be banned.

By unofficial estimates, transgenic soy seeds, smuggled from Argentina where they are legal, are responsible for as much as 30 percent of Brazil's record 50-million-ton crop - the world's second largest after the United States, according to the Association of Brazilian Seed Producers (Abrasem).

However, nearly half the new crop has been harvested without segregation of GM soy and by the time the measure leaves committee the whole crop would have been harvested. GM soy has been running unsegregated through the food system for years. In addition, only a fraction of the logistic, storage and processing chain is equipped to separate GM from conventional soy. Food processors in Brazil have never labeled for GM contents and there is no standard for testing the genetic integrity of a truck or silo of soy.

The lower house will install a special committee by next Wednesday to wade through the 70 proposed amendments to 113 and should put a measure before a plenary vote by May 10, about the time when the soy harvest traditionally ends.