Massive conflict of interest of Brazil's biosafety committee
GM cotton was approved even before the bill, which minimises the input of the Ministry of the Environment, was signed into law.
Jorge Guimares, CTNBio's president says other parts of the government lack his committee's expertise and so should keep out, but a representative of the Ministry of the Environment who was present at the meeting says it seems "the GM cotton decision had already been taken before the meeting, which had its "to-do list" altered in order to give priority to the commercial liberation process of the Bollgard cotton".
He also says that there was no evaluation at all of the environmental risk of the GMO in the Brazilian context, and that the decison was based on low-quality scientific studies.
In case anyone's in any doubt about what's going on, he spells it out, "Lets see, four of the current members are counselors of the CIB (Council for Biotechnology Information), an organization supported by biotechnology multinational companies, which are directly interested in the transgenic products liberation. Half of the scientific community members work with biotechnology and four in genetic improvement programs."
All this overseen by a President who when he was seeking election promised there would be no GMO releases by his government. Such a policy, Lula said, would be madness.
In the meantime, the yields of the genetically modified soy grown in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul dropped sharply this year due to drought, according to farmers. (item 2)
The Transgenic Wild Party
Planeta Porto Alegri, Outras Palavras
Even before the promulgation of the Bio-Security Law, transgenic varieties, like the poisonous cotton by Monsanto, were approved in a hurry. A veto by President Lula could have stopped the GMOs but the Ministry for Environment lost once again
The final decision took place on Thursday but the approval machine of the National Technical Biosafety Committee (CTNBio) is already at work.
This Thursday President Lula sanctioned the Biosecurity Law and granted the CTNBio its powers. The approval of the transgenic variety by the CNTBio, an organ related to the Science and Technology Ministry, allows the plantation and commercialization of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The Ministry for the Environment (Minist*rio do Meio Ambiente - MMA), which, according to the project approved in Congress last March 2nd, cannot give legal opinion on environment security, has worked with the President to establish a veto but has lost another battle. The veto would restitute the MMA the power of decision and would be compensation to Minister Marina Silva, who has been accumulating defeats in battles against other government sectors, mainly against the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA). The minister’s survival to ministerial reform, because she was politically worn down, was a surprise to some people.
The CTNBio was working intensely for the past week. Its aim, according to declaration given by the Committee's coordinator to newspaper Valor Econâ„¢mico, was to speed up the process of old petitions for legal opinion that could restrain CTNBio's work. The coordinator foresees a great flow of claims for the next months. "The CTNBio does not want to leave lawsuits open, without knowing when they could be studied after the law's sanctioning," he declared.
The CTNBio's "hush" was so intense that the MMA [Ministry of the Environment] even thought of a presidential veto to its full powers. Within only one day of work, this Tuesday, the Committee studied 11 liberation requests for genetically modified organisms, including varieties of corn and rice by transnational Monsanto, Bater and Syngenta. In the same section was approved the importation of 370 thousand tones of transgenic corn from Argentina - a decision that got a counter vote from the MMA [Ministry of the Environment] representative, who qualified the legal opinion as "fickle".
However, the CTNBio's decision that seems to have bothered the government the most was taken last week, on the 17th. The CTNBio allowed the plantation of the Bollgard, known as the "Monsanto poisonous-cotton"; the decision's relevance can only be compared to the liberation of transgenic soy for plantation and commercialization in 1998, and which resulted in a lawsuit that is still open.
This variety is a genetic mix and carries genes from bacteria that work as an insecticide against plagues attacking cotton. The eagerness to approve petitions has been used as an example of the Committee's loose criteria and of its efforts to please the industry's interests.
The MMA [Ministry for the Environment], which is contrary to the approval, disclosed a note stating that "the decision was taken with no evaluation of the environmental risk regarding Brazilian conditions, and based on low-quality scientific studies, many of which have not been published, therefore, without the scientific community's appreciation". The note also states that this decision "puts the environment protection in the country and the life quality of the present and future generations at stake".
According to Rubens Nodari, the MMA [Ministry for the Environment] representative at the CTNBio and the one who gave the only opposing vote against favorable ones, it was a political decision.
"It seems that the decision had already been taken before the meeting, which had its "to-do list" altered in order to give priority to the commercial liberation process of the Bollgard cotton", he declared.
As he sees it, if current CTNBio members do not have a direct connection with these companies, they are at least facing a conflict of interest.
"Lets see, four of the current members are counselors of the CIB (Council for Biotechnology Information), organization supported by biotechnology multinational companies, which are directly interested in the transgenic products liberation. Half of the scientific community members work with biotechnology and four in genetic improvement programs," he accuses.
Jorge Guimares, CTNBio's president, has answered to the accusations with attacks, specially directed to the MMA [Ministry for the Environment]. According to Guimares, the "CTNBio has very competent employees. I do not know if other government organizations have the same expertise. Organs which were supposed to take care of fires have been interfering in matters that need scientific know how".
The Brazilian rush in approving transgenic products is taking place while important studies are being published abroad, pointing out how noxious transgenic products can be to the environment. Last Tuesday one of the biggest and widest reports on the matter was published. It analyzes the interaction of two varieties of rape plants, one of corn and the other of beetroot, with the environment in British Transgenic crops. In three cases the interaction was proved damaging to biodiversity. The only result favorable to the GMOs had flaws. The comparative study between conventional and transgenic crops shall be published by the British Royal Society. According to researchers the harm is not caused by transgenic plants but by strong herbicides that must be applied to them, which are responsible for the killing of other types of neighboring plants. It is the same procedure adopted in the plague control of transgenic crops in Brazil.
2. BRAZIL: Soy Boom Highlights Biotech Advances, but Encounters Resistance [shortened]
RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 29 (IPS)
Large numbers of transgenic seeds have been smuggled into southern Brazil from neighbouring Argentina, and genetically modified soy is now widely planted in that region.
The Brazilian legislature only recently passed a Biosafety Law that will allow genetically modified crops to be legally planted.
But transgenic crops face resistance from a broad movement in Brazil in favour of a country free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Activists point out that no conclusive studies have been carried out to demonstrate that food containing GMOs is safe for human health.
In addition, a group of non-governmental organisations in Brazil just released a study showing that the fast spread of soy plantations is contributing to deforestation in the country's Amazon jungle region, by driving up the value of land and encouraging clear-cutting and logging.
In the meantime, the yields of the genetically modified soy grown in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul dropped sharply this year due to drought, according to farmers.
Because the seeds planted in the state are the product of contraband, and are not specifically adapted to the local climate, they are less resistant to drought, reported the Association of Producers and Traders of Seeds and Seedlings of the state of Rio Grande do Sul.
Conventional varieties of soy, developed by national companies and institutions and adapted to the specific characteristics of the region, performed better, with up to 25 percent higher yields.
Soy also causes other "environmental imbalances" by requiring intensive use of toxic agrochemicals and mechanisation, as well as economic and social problems, since it is a monoculture crop, Altermir Tortelli, the coordinator of the Federation of Family Agriculture Workers of the Southern Region, remarked to IPS.
Monoculture export crops accentuate the concentration of land ownership in Brazil, leaving millions of small farmers without land and aggravating the rural exodus, at the expense of diversified farming, which contributes to food security and the fight against poverty, he argued.
But soy already represents nearly half of all production of basic grains and oilseeds in Brazil, and is cultivated by 243,000 agricultural producers, according to the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oils. (END/2005)