Brazilian farmers complain that Monsanto restricts access to conventional soybean seeds
TraceConsult, 22 May 2010

Comment by TraceConsult: Was José Hermeto Hoffmann a clairvoyant or merely the Secretary of Agriculture in the Government of Rio Grande do Sul ten years ago, Brazil's southernmost state and at the time the only target of illegal smuggling of GM seeds from Argentina?

During his tenure in the late 90s until 2002 he gave quite a few interviews such as this one in his Porto Alegre office where he correctly predicted what farmers based two and a half thousand kilometers further north are experiencing now, ten years later: A severe dependency on the whims of seed giant Monsanto when procuring conventional soybean seeds, extortionist royalties for those planting GM beans and an overall restriction of freedom in their profession as farmers.

Owners of the comparably huge Mato Grosso farms are now getting a taste of the truth underlying these concerns expressed by Hoffmann back in 1999. Although in the end unsuccessful in his attempts to stem the tide of these early "imports" of Roundup Ready soybean seeds, the developments since those days of illegal smuggling have proven his government to be absolutely right about the warnings it issued at the time.

Analysts and policy makers working for the European food and retail industries today ought to realize this as well as their own role in the entire equation. They ought to come out in support of the efforts of those Brazilian farmers and soy crushers who want to continue supplying GM-free soy products. It may seem strange, but more and more are reverting to planting conventional soybeans. This trend is reflected by the fact that this year, for the third season in a row, the increase of the GM soybean crop in Brazil has leveled off at 55 percent. This fact remains despite the annual celebrations of one-man show ISAAA who this year predicted a "second wave of biotech growth" all the while grossly distorting the situation in Brazil. (Our subscribers may recall our coverage on 26 FEB 2010, still accessible on our website (Wishful thinking? - ISAAA prediction season regarding 2nd wave of biotech growth and development begins)

The fact that handsome premiums are paid for IP soy meal certified as Non-GMO is just a minor reason. The foremost reasons for the discontinuation of the expansion of Roundup Ready beans in Brazil are already listed here and in the article below; but they must be complemented by the following:

    * There is a rapidly growing issue of herbicide resistance among the major weeds and several other serious downsides to the planting of Roundup Ready beans.
    * Due to a number of factors, today, planting conventional soybeans in Brazil has become less costly than GM beans and it comes with higher yields! Simple, short and sweet!

Apart from these reasons for continuing or reverting to plant conventional soybeans, Brazilian law states unmistakably that withdrawing any successful conventional seed varieties from the market, as Monsanto has done with MONSOY 8866 and MONSOY 8757, is simply illegal. It should be interesting to see what the courts will do with this aspect.

For many years, European retailers and system restaurant chains have more or less sheepishly followed a non-GMO policy while carefully avoiding instructing their supply chains as to exactly what kind of soy meal to order for the animal nutrition used. Just like the notion of being "only a little bit pregnant" can be nothing but a  jest, pursuing a GM-free corporate policy that is not fully and consistently implemented and enforced is not worthy of its name.

In their own interest and in that of their customers, these two and other industries may be well advised to set the switches now for a long-term supply system of GMO-free soy products. If they continue to convey half-hearted messages to their suppliers that will then trickle down to Brazilian crushers and farmers as a mere whisper these last two groups will not feel much support in their opposition to Monsanto’s omnipresence. Antitrust legislation all over the world was put in place for the benefit of competitors as well as that of other industries!

Without this type of support it will be industries who suffer; only a few brave pioneers will keep benefiting from smaller supplies of GM-free soy ingredients commercially as well as in the public image. The support is also necessary to turn around the decade-old predictions of “seer” José Hoffmann down in Porto Alegre. He will be the first one to feel gratitude.

Hoffmann was the first official to take action on the then illegal smuggling-in of Roundup Ready soybeans. He probably did not expect to see the situation come to a full circle one decade later with Monsanto still deeply immersed in illegal activity.

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Farmers complain that Monsanto restricts access to conventional soybean seeds

English Translation and highlighting courtesy of TraceConsult / Texto original português na parte inferior

Danilo Macedo, Reporter of Agência Brasil

Agência Brasil 18 MAY 2010 -19:09 - Brasília - The Brazilian Association of Soy Producers (APROSOJA) and the Brazilian Association of Non Genetically Modified Grain Producers (ABRANGE) consider engaging the Administrative Council for Economic Defense (Cade), of the Ministry of Justice, against Monsanto. According to the two organizations, the U.S. company is restricting the access of farmers to conventional (non-GM) soybean seeds.

"They are imposing a sales ratio of 85% of GM seeds to 15% of conventional seeds. Seed production has to serve the market. You cannot monopolize or shape the market," complained the new president of APROSOJA, Glabuer Silveira.

The farming industry estimates that approximately 55% of the soybean seed planted in the country is genetically modified. Silveira said the problem is not the use of biotechnology but the withdrawal of the farmer's option to plant conventional seed. "Monsanto has about 70% market share in Brazil. The problem is they don't have the market but that they want to shape it. We are not taking the right option."

Some producers are afraid to become dependent on the U.S. company if GM seeds dominate the market since Monsanto is entitled to royalties on biotechnology supplied to them. "The seed producers say it's taxation by Monsanto. They are around us and by the end of the day they charge whatever they want, "says soy farmer Peter Riva, of Sorriso, Mato Grosso.

Silvio Munchalack, corn and soybean producer from Nova Mutum, also in Mato Grosso, says that until a few years ago he did not plant GM soybeans, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. "The Mato Grosso Foundation provides conventional seeds, but not for everyone. Now everything has to be GM," says the farmer, who last season managed to buy only 40% of conventional seeds out of the total planted on his property.

Besides the fear of future reliance on a single company, which has caused some producers to prefer planting conventional soybeans, is that they are becoming more profitable, primarily due to the premium European and Asian countries pay for this type of product.

The executive director of ABRANGE, Ricardo de Souza Tatesuzi, complains of abuse of economic power and lack of transparency in the collection of royalties. "The invoice does not show they are charging royalties. The patent law allows them to charge whatever they want."

Contacted by Agência Brasil, Monsanto said that the "information is unfounded."

Despite the denial, the president of APROSOJA said he will try to have one last discussion with the company. "Let's get an understanding. If that fails, we'll go to Cade," he says, adding that the meeting needs to occur soon to have the matter resolved before the next harvest.