GM crops in Brazil: a review
Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, January 12, 2009
GM crops in Brazil: a review of 2008 and the outlook for 2009
2008 was the year in which the Federal Government abandoned any pretence of impartiality and ensured favourable conditions for the CTNBio (the commission responsible for evaluating the safety of genetically modified crops, linked to the Ministry of Science and Technology), which is dominated by advocates of biotechnology, to do as it pleased. The commission passed a series of rapid and irresponsible authorizations for transgenic seeds, demonstrating its complete indifference to the considerable evidence and numerous warnings on the risks associated with the technology and the seeds under analysis.
Civil society organizations and a few scientists from CTNBio have worked hard to warn government and society about the impacts of these releases. Some progress has been obtained more recently with the opening of CTNBio meetings to the public and the organization of public hearings to debate the commercial releases of GM seeds, but, even so, the authorizations were granted in an irresponsible form.
The final commercial authorization of the year, approved in December, is an example of CTNBio’s conduct throughout 2008. The release was for the transgenic maize Herculex, developed by DuPont and Dow Agrosciences, which combines the two genetic modifications currently found on the market: tolerance to application of herbicides (in this case, ammonium gluphosinate) and toxicity to insects. The commission’s president and other “key” members began the meeting having already taken the decision to release the maize, irrespective of any information or questions posed by its other members.
One of the rapporteurs declared that "substantial parts of the studies have not been presented [by the company] and some of the research presented fails to meet the proposed objective." Nonetheless, the voting was 16 in favour and 5 against release of the product, which will now be sold on the market.
With the latter authorization, six varieties of GM maize have now been released in Brazil, in addition to one variety of soya and three varieties of cotton. All the maize varieties and two cotton varieties were authorized in 2008. As the mainstream Brazilian press has proclaimed, “this was a very productive year for the Commission.”
In actuality, this is the outcome of the Federal Government’s stance on the issue: it believes that CTNBio “is blocked” when it is not granting commercial authorizations, pretending to ignore the fact that non-authorization may be related to the low safety level of the products. Pursuing this philosophy, the Government created the political conditions that CTNBio needed to ‘speed up’ the releases, bypassing the demand for rigorous risk assessments or ignoring evidence of risks presented to the Commission.
Civil society organizations and the few independent scientists from the CTNBio posed scientifically grounded questions throughout the process and denounced the lack of rigour in the evaluation.
The companies are now investing in the production of maize seeds. Estimates for the area already planted are somewhat sketchy, but in general adoption of GM maize is expected to increase in the ‘safrinha’ (planted after the summer crop is harvested). Traditional varieties will inevitably be contaminated, harming those farmers who depend on the conservation of agrobiodiversity to maintain the efficiency of their productive systems. Thousands of farmers face the prospect of their traditional seeds becoming contaminated, losing the alternative of producing for agroecological or organic markets and ending up hostage to the seed industries.
The next step for the biotechnology multinationals in Brazil - having set the foundations for dominating the seed market in soya, cotton and maize - will be to make inroads into the biofuels market. At the end of 2008 Monsanto bought the companies CanaVialis and Alellyx, members of Votorantin Novos NegÃ³cios. The two companies work in the area of the genetic enhancement and biotechnology of sugar cane and were strongly subsidized by the Brazilian government over the last three years. The number of requests to CTNBio for planned release of transgenic eucalyptus has also been growing (generally these are varieties tolerant to herbicide or with a lower lignin content to facilitate the production of cellulose).
In response, though, some industrial sectors and producer groups are beginning to organize to ensure the supply of non-GM seeds. The recent creation of the Brazilian Association of Non Genetically Modified Seeds (Abrange) is a sign of the market’s resistance to the domination of transgenic crops. Combined, the three main companies forming the group (Caramuru Alimentos, Imcopa and Maggi) purchase per year the equivalent of 5 million tons of non-GM soya for exportation and processing. The European demand for non-transgenic soya and soya cake is estimated to be around 7 to 8 million tons. One of the Association’s objectives is to combat the idea that Brazil will experience a shortfall in conventional soya. Another objective is to identify new destinations to increase exports of non-transgenic crops, such as South Korea and Japan.
And this is the direction we shall be pursuing over the coming year: insisting on documenting and questioning the failures and omissions found in the commercial release of GM crop varieties, working to increase public awareness of the issue and denouncing and pressurizing the government to adopt the precautionary principle.
The world according to Monsanto
At the end of the year, the French journalist Marie-Monique Robin visited some Brazilian cities and took part in debates with people participating in open sessions screening her documentary. This event also provided the occasion for the launch of the Brazilian edition of her book, produced by the Radical Livros publishing house.
The impact of Robin’s work in Brazil meant that, for the first time since the launch of the original in French, Monsanto went public to provide its explanations concerning the information contained in the film/book (Monsanto’s response can be read in full, in Portuguese, at http://oglobo.globo.com/blogs/razaosocial/post.asp?cod_post=143797
As can be expected, the reply fails to contain any consistent argument capable of exempting the company from the responsibility for its harmful actions.
Robin's material will undoubtedly prove an extremely useful tool for raising public awareness of the issues and placing pressure on decision makers.
GM-FREE BRAZIL - Published by AS-PTA Assessoria e ServiÃ§os a Projetos em Agricultura Alternativa. The GM-Free Brazil Campaign is a collective of Brazilian NGOs, social movements and individuals.
AS-PTA an independent, not-for-profit Brazilian organisation dedicated to promoting the sustainable rural development. Head office: Rua da CandelÃ¡ria, 9/6º andar/ CEP: 20.091-020, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Phone: 0055-21-2253-8317 Fax: 0055-21-2233-363
This article can be found on the AS-PTA website at http://www.aspta.org.br/por-um-brasil-livre-de-transgenicos/updates
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