Hyped as a major GM breakthrough for Monsanto in Brazil, the "legalisation" of GM cotton for the coming year turns out to be pure hype:
"Monsanto confirmed the delay and declared: 'we are not going to be able to commercialize varieties adapted to Brazilian conditions for several years.' This decision is yet another setback for Monsanto which is already: 'studying the best way (to collect royalty) during the 2005/06 crop season.'
Based on this information, lawyers are claiming that any importer which attempts to commercialize GE cotton in Brazil could be charged. Cotton producers that plant GE cotton would face similar criminal charges."
Planting Bollgard cotton is illegal in Brazil
by Etienne Vernet, Polaris Institute, Brazil
Over the past several months we are witnessing a worldwide marketing campaign celebrating the future planting of GE cotton in Brazil. According to some sources: "Brazil, the world's fifth-largest cotton-grower, will probably become the largest growth market for biotech cotton after the government officially approved the release of genetically modified varieties in March."(1)
What these sources do not say is that bollgard's planting for the coming years will be illegal, as were the five percent of Brazil's 1.3 million tonne of last year harvest "that were coming from black market".
It all began last spring when the CNTbio(2), the Biotechnological National Assessment Committee under the authority of the Ministry of Science and Technology, authorized the commercialization of "conventional cotton containing up to 1% of transgenic traits for the 2004/05 harvest."
However, according to the prosecutor of the Republic, Ana Paula Mantovani: "the decision was taken without a proper and rigorous technical assessment which could have detected potentials impact to food security, human health and environmental risks." Furthermore she added that: "it lacked the approval of two third of the eighteen members as determined by the Law 8.974/95."(3)
On the 20th of July, the Public Ministry sent recommendations to all the interested parties to inform them that CNTBio's decision should not be implemented. These recommendations were not compulsory, but the CNTBio had 10 days to respond and justify its decision. If the Public Ministry does not find the justifications satisfactory then it will enter into a public challenge against the decision.(4)
Similarly to the CNTBio's controversial decision and because it took some time for the new Biosafety Law to enter effectively in force, the activity of the Ministry of Agriculture was paralyzed. Until now, it had not finalized the registration proceedings of the GE variety, which therefore cannot be legally planted in Brazil.(5)
The GE cotton seeds have been imported into Brazil since May 2004 by the MDM, a joint venture between the Brazilian group Maeda(6) and the American Delta & Pine Lands. The company is the only one authorized by Monsanto to commercialize the bollgard seeds in Brazil. For the moment, GE cotton seeds are in quarantine until they can be assessed. After this period, the seeds will be tested during two harvests by the Embrapa to verify whether or not they present environmental risks to other "local" cotton varieties. If after this period, they are approved, the seeds will be commercialized by MDM. The process should take upwards of three years before the GE cotton seeds reach the market.(7)
According to Eleuterio da Silva, the Program Director of the Agropastoral's Defense Secretariat of the Ministry of Agriculture: "the process of analyze of the MDM's Bollgard seeds will take at least three years." The company will not be able to sell the seeds before the variety is registered in the national seed catalogue. Registration can only occur after the ongoing assessment process."
The slowness of the assessment process was not well received by Jorge Maeda, President of Maeda, the main shareholder of MDM. He noted that: "our company made a request to the Ministry of Agriculture to multiply the seeds, six months ago, to be able to commercialized them in October 2005, so that we would have been able to made them available to the cotton producers, for the next harvest 2005/06, but the government did not send us any response."(8)
Monsanto confirmed the delay and declared: "we are not going to be able to commercialize varieties adapted to Brazilian conditions for several years." This decision is yet another setback for Monsanto which is already: "studying the best way (to collect royalty) during the 2005/06 crop season."
Based on this information, lawyers(9) are claiming that any importer which attempts to commercialize GE cotton in Brazil could be charged. Cotton producers that plant GE cotton would face similar criminal charges.
A coalition of Brazilian NGOs is ready to file court challenges to stop GE cotton from being planted. The next months will show us whether the Agriculture Ministry's will act on its claims. In the meantime, the Brazilian NGOs will continue to apply pressure to make sure it does.
Rio de Janeiro
1) The Abrapa and the Aiba alledge that by the harvest 2006/07, 50% to 60 % of the cotton of Brazil will be transgenic.
2) On 17th of March the CNTBio approved the commercial use of the GE cotton, Bollgard of Monsanto
3) Modified by the MP 2.191-9
4) The CNTBio's response was not accepted by the Public Minsitry, which asked for further evaluations to be presented.
5) Correspondance of the Ministry of Agriculture in response to a letter
coming from the Agriculture Secretariat of the State of Parana, dated 25th of July.
6) A group considered as the largest cotton producer of the world. <www.bndes.gov.br/conhecimento/setorial/gs1_11.pdf>
7) Valor Economico 27th of July 2005
8) Valor Economico 1st, 2th, 3rd of July 2005
9) Ibid 5.
10) Etienne Vernet is the South American Research Director of the Polaris Institute