Brazil and the global battle over GM seeds/GM-Free Brazil
Brazil demonstrates complexity of $30B global battle over GM seeds
30 June 2003
RIO DE JANEIRO - Inter Press Service via NewsEdge Corporation :
Besides questions of human health and the environment, the battle over genetically modified (GM) crops involves a global market of seeds that nets around $30 billion a year.
That is the estimate of Rabobank International, a Dutch bank with close ties to agriculture that predicts that the business could triple in size, given the potential of the market.
Trade in GM seeds is competing with traditional methods of growing, in which farmers hold onto part of their harvest for seeds -- a system that is losing ground in the face of intellectual property laws and legislation designed to protect crops that are genetically engineered to boost yields and resistance.
Groups like V-a Campesina, an international farmers' organization, argue that seeds are part of humanity's heritage, and should be freely available to farmers and not subject to the rules of the market.
In Brazil, GM crops represent "the consolidation of an agricultural model of conservative modernization," which "has increased the concentration of land ownership, leading to a rural exodus that has 'emptied' the countryside," Roberto Baggio, one of the coordinators of Brazil's Movimento dos Sem Terra (Landless Workers' Movement - MST), a group that is affiliated with V-a Campesina, told IPS.
That model, which has been applied since the 1960s, has favored large monoculture producers of export crops, and has sacrificed Brazil's "food sovereignty" by making the country dependent on seeds and other inputs produced by transnational corporations, he said.
If Brazil legalizes the commercial production of transgenic crops, it will become "a hostage of the transnational corporations," which will monopolize the market for seeds, said the activist.
The main target of the MST and other organizations opposed to GM crops is the U.S. biotech giant Monsanto, which dominates the global market for transgenic seeds with its Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans.
In recent years, the MST has staged several "invasions" of property belonging to Monsanto to destroy experimental plantations of RR soybeans.
The genome of the RR soybean includes the protein CP4 EPSPS, taken from a common bacterium found in the soil and incorporated into the plant through biotechnology, in order to make it resistant to the herbicide Roundup, which is also produced by Monsanto.
According to the company, Roundup, the trade name for glyphosate, needs to be sprayed in smaller quantities than other weed-killers.
But Peter Rosset, co-director of Food First, a U.S.-based non- governmental institute for food and development policy, said that planting herbicide-resistant soybeans makes little sense for small farmers, who tend to plant their soybeans alongside crops that are vulnerable to the weedicide.
RR soybeans have been planted since 1996 in the United States, and by 2000 they already accounted for 54 percent of the area planted in soybeans in that country, and 95 percent in Argentina, according to Monsanto.
In Brazil, the spread of GM crops has been slowed by a legal ruling that heeded a demand set forth by environmentalists and the Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defence for environmental impact studies to be carried out before permission was granted for transgenic crops to be commercially grown.
Only the experimental planting of GM seeds in limited, controlled areas is currently legal in this South American country of 171 million.
Nevertheless, that legal obstacle has not kept RR soybeans from being widely planted in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where seeds are smuggled across the border from neighboring Argentina.
The proportion of transgenic soybeans grown in that state has grown steadily, from five percent in 1997 to 70 percent last year, and "probably to around 80 percent this year," Narciso Baris-n, president of the Association of Seed and Seedling Producers and Merchants of Rio Grande do Sul, commented to IPS.
In the meantime, sales of legally certified seeds produced by the 110 companies represented by the Association has plunged.
The widespread planting of GM soybeans led the Brazilian government to authorize a one-time sale of around six million tons of transgenic soybeans this year. But that "set a precedent," according to farmers who said they planned to continue sowing illegal GM soybeans.
The government's waffling on the matter is "the worst of both worlds" for seed companies, many of which have gone under, with only one-third of the total that existed prior to this crisis still functioning, said Barison.
"We had to sell seeds of crops like soybeans for consumption, leading to around $20 million in losses," he complained.
Annual sales of seeds in Brazil amount to around one billion dollars, Joao Lenine Bonifacio, president of the Brazilian Association of Seed Producers, said to IPS.
Barison and Lenine Bonifacio advocate the legalization of transgenic crops and say farmers should be able to freely choose which kind of seeds they want to plant.
GM crops are more expensive, since the royalties charged by Monsanto for its RR soybeans drive up the cost by around $50 per hectare, said Lenine Bonifacio.
The MST's Baggio argued that GM crops are not needed in Brazil. An MST settlement in the southern state of Parana produced a yield of 3.7 tons of soybeans per hectare, 50 percent above the average national productivity level, with conventional soybeans, he pointed out.
U P D A T E
An international monthly news&analysis bulletin of the Campaign For GM-Free Brazil
Issue # 1
Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, June 25th, 2003
This is the first issue of the international monthly news & analysis bulletin to be edited in English by AS-PTA Assessment and Services to Projects on Agroecoly, member of the Campaign "For a GM-Free Brazil", which is run by a collective of Brazil's non governmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements.
Every 30 days we will let you informed of the most updated developments to impede the commercialization of Transgenics in this country, a fight that started back in 1988 and that has up to now blocked the spread of the frankcommerce in this nation.
This bulletin will be distributed in English free of charge to every citizen or organization interested in hearing the experience of Brazil's civil society on impeding large corporations from making Brazil a field for the cultivation of their seeds of death.
As you possibly know, Brazil is the last producer-exporter of grains that has not capitulated Transgenics. This led the nation to a key position in the geo-political chess of GMOs. If Brazil falls, then world's largest grain consumers Europe and China will have no other choice than to import transgenic products from GMO producer countries since there is no other large world producer capable of supplying these big consumers.
This bulletin will circulate in the form of a moderated email list I am the moderator, by the way. Please, fell free to indicate other individuals or organizations you believe would be interested in getting in contact with us. Also, tell as us if you are not to be interest in receiving the upcoming issues of BRAZIL GMO FREE UPDATE.
Carlos Tautz, Editor
Federal government to submit a bill on GMOs to Brazil Congress
Three ministries are now discussing the terms of a new bill on GMOs to submit Brazilian Congress in the very short term. The goal is to fix a national position on GMO.
Co-ordinated by the Civil Cabinet (a kind of Ministry of Interior, that in Brazilian current administration has superlative political powers), the bill is being discussed by Ministers of the Environment, Science & Technology and Agriculture and will be voted in the Congress, according to government sources, by the end of the year. To date civil society hasn't had the opportunity to meet in person José Dirceu, Civil Cabinet Minister, and present him it's concerns and data (of all kinds, ranging from economy to risks to human health and the environment). Since the beginning of December, 2002, the Campaign For GM-Free Brazil has been trying to meet with the then recently elected president Lula, of the leftist Workers Party (PT), and his closest counselors but hasn't succeeded.
The anti-transgenic movement, that puts side by side NGOs and social movements, has gained access only to peripheral ministers, who are close to the very issue but kept aside from the derisory nucleus of the government.
On June 12th, the Campaign sent to President Lula, the Civil Cabinet and Ministers of the Environment, Health, Agriculture and Science&Technology a letter with six points considered nonnegotiable and that, according to civil society, must be incorporated into the new project (see the six points at the bottom).
The letter is signed by a broad coalition of organizations including the Landless Workers Movement (MST), the National Conference ob Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) as well as trade unions, NGOs and other organizations. Government decided to propose a law after passing in the Congress in May 14th a Provisional Measure to regulate the commercialization of the 2002/2003 soya harvest which is 8% GM contaminated.
Who is who
Environmental Ministry Marina Silva has publicly expressed her concerns over GMOs, what led herself to propose a five years moratorium on the issue when she was a Senator. She was nominated Minister after a broad coalition of social movements and NGOs have declared total support for her name, [which] inflated expectations of her political space in the government and her personal will to fight Transgenics.
Science & Technology Minister Roberto Amaral is a newcomer into the issue but has declared to feel the need for more researches to prove the safety of transgenic crops.
The big problem lies on the Ministry of Agriculture and more recently also in the Civil Cabinet.
Minister Roberto Rodrigues of Agriculture is a former president of the Brazilian Association of Agribusiness (Abag), a leading pro-GMO lobbying group of corporations, who has firmly and professionally pushing for a de facto situation of acceptance of transgenics in Brazil. Under Mr. Rodrigues co-ordination, 18,000 tons of transgenic maize were illegally imported from Argentina and distributed regionally a couple of months ago. The Civil Cabinet is now headed by lawyer José Dirceu who was considered by the Brazilian anti-GMO movement as a natural ally but his performance in the charge of Minister has been to date very elusive. Mr. Dirceu has preferred to be fed with data provided by Minister Rodrigues.
Six civil society priority points
1.Environmental impact study previous to the commercial cultivation of any transgenic;
2. Previous evaluation of risks to human health by Anvisa, a regulator body of the Minister of Health;
3. Redefinition of the members of the National Commission of Biosafety (CTNBio), a body of the Science&Technology Ministry to include scientists from the field of ethics, toxicology and representatives of other sectors of the society, such as family farming and environmentalism as well as a member of the Minister of Justice;
4. The project must make it as clearer as possible that the findings of CTNBio do not serve for deliberative purposes but only for consultative objectives and cannot limit legal attributions of other governmental agencies such as Anvisa and Ibama, the federal environmental agency.
5. Plenty labeling of any good produced or that has incorporated transgenic in any percentage;
6. Legal responsabilization of those whose transgenic crops contaminate their neighbors crops.
BRAZIL GMO FREE UPDATE - An international monthly news & analysis bulletin on the developments of the fight against GMOs in Brazil. Published by Assessoria e ServiÃ§os a Projetos em Agricultura Alternativa (AS-PTA). The Campaign For a GM-Free Brazil is a collective of Brazilian NGOs (such as ActionAid Brazil, Esplar, Fase, Greenpeace Brazil, Ibase, Idec) and social movements such as Contag, MST and Via Campesina.
Editor: Carlos Tautz AS-PTA main Office: Rua da Candelaria, 9/6o ,
Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Phone: 0055-21-2253-8317 Fax: