Controversy over GM corn approval in Brazil
Luisa Massarani SciDev.Net, 20 August 2007
Brazil's biosafety committee has approved two sets of guidelines governing the use of genetically modified (GM) corn, despite criticism from within its ranks.
The Brazilian National Biosafety Technical Committee (CTNBio), which oversees the use of GM organisms in the country, last week (16 August) approved plans for monitoring and coexistence.
The creation of the plans was a condition for the commercial release of GM corn, which was set in motion in May when CTNBio approved the commercial release of the GM maize 'LibertyLink', developed by Bayer CropScience (see Bayer wins Brazil GM corn approval).
The coexistence plan allows GM and non-GM corn to coexist in the same field. It establishes a minimum distance - 100 metres - between GM and non-GM corn grown for commercial use.
A shorter distance of 20 metres is allowed if they are separated by a ten-row vegetable 'fence', made up of plants of a size and growth cycle similar to that of corn. No details of the monitoring plan are yet available.
The two sets of rules will act as orientation guidelines for companies.
President of CTNBio, Walter Colli, said the issues were discussed thoroughly before the decision was made, according to a news story from the Ministry of Science and Technology.
However, the decision has drawn criticism from seven of the 27 members of CTNBio, who abandoned the meeting in protest over both the approval of the plans and the way voting was performed.
According to them, their requests to assess the issue more carefully were not considered. Contrary to Colli's statement, they say the discussion was led in a "fast and superficial way".
Discussions concentrated on addressing the commercial release of GM corn, they say, rather than dealing with biosafety considerations.
In a letter issued to the press, the seven said, "Biosecurity must not be confused with the explicit flag of 'adopting transgenics' in the country. We cannot vote without considering the precaution principle and the interests of the Brazilian society."
The 11-member National Council on Biosecurity will now assess the plans.
CTNBio has also approved the commercial growth of another variety of GM corn, Monsanto Brazil's 'Guardian', resistant to Lepidoptera insects.