Victories in Chile and Brazil
2.Chile: Names and locations of GM seed growers must be made public
EXTRACT: Current law prevents the cultivation and exportation of transgenic crops from Chile, but not the cultivation and export of transgenic seeds.
1.Bayer retreats and suspends its application for approval of Liberty Link rice in Brazil
GM-Free Brazil Campaign, July 7 2010
Brazil, Rio de Janeiro - At Bayer's request, the company's application for commercial release of its Liberty Link rice (LL62), genetically modified for tolerance to glufosinate ammonium herbicide, has been temporarily dropped. In a communiqué to the CTNBio (National Technical Biosafety Commission, the official body responsible for approving GMOs in Brazil) Bayer claimed that it needed more time to reach an agreement with leading rice producers, who are opposed to the product’s release.
Bayer had already lobbied for release of the product last year, but a public hearing held at the order of the Brazilian courts clearly showed that main sectors linked to rice research and production were against its approval.
At this hearing the representative for Embrapa Rice and Beans (the largest public research centre in the area) set out its official position, ‘authorized by the presidency,’ emphasizing that the company is not opposed to transgenics, but that in this case Bayer’s product "will worsen pre-existing problems.” He added: "We shouldn’t use technologies that will only work for a few crop seasons."
The principal technical hurdle faced by rice growers is controlling red rice, an ancestral species of commercial rice that competes with the crops. Their worry is that the transgenic plant will inevitably cross with its red relative, producing herbicide-resistant transgenic red rice. The latter can germinate after years lying dormant in the soil. According to the researcher, "contamination is irreversible."
Other researchers point to failures in the studies presented by Bayer to prove the rice’s safety, including the possible deletion of a nucleotide (adenine) in the gene section regulating the protein expression that provides tolerance to the herbicide. After the hearing, the company admitted the existence of the deletion, identifying an alteration to one of the protein’s amino acids. This alteration means that the protein produced by LL rice differs from the protein produced naturally by the Streptomyces bacteria, the gene donor. Since no study was presented relating to this issue, no information exists on the effects of this unintentional genetic alteration. The protein has not lost its function of providing tolerance to the glufosinate ammonium herbicide, but it may generate unanalyzed risks.
During the same public hearing, representatives of Brazil's main rice producers also voiced their concerns. They fear losing ground in both domestic and international markets if the variety is commercially released. “Given that there is no consumer demand or global market for GM rice, our organization is not in favour of release at this time,” announced the representative of Farsul (Rio Grande do Sul Agricultural Federation), Federarroz (Rio Grande do Sul Rice Growers Associations) and IRGA (Rio Grande do Sul Rice Institute).
Faced by this overwhelming rejection, in 2009 CTNBio opted to suspend debate on the release of Bayer’s rice temporarily. Its strategy was to wait for the dust to settle and return at a more opportune moment.
When the new president of CTNBio came to office in 2010, he told the press that the objectives for his mandate included the release of GM rice. Various actions were taken to achieve this goal, including the staging of a pseudo-debate at CTNBio to which researchers favourable to the product were invited. The ploy was designed to symbolically annul the positions advanced during the 2009 public hearing. In addition, voting on approval was timetabled for mid June this year when everyone's attention would be focused on the World Cup.
Fortunately those opposed to release were ready. The main rice producer organizations combined forces once again to block any approval. After a meeting with sector representatives in Rio Grande do Sul, the state where most of the country’s rice production is concentrated, leaders went to BrasÃlia to hold talks with various authorities, including the Agriculture Minister Wagner Rossi.
Organizations linked to the Campaign for a GM-Free Brazil also released a document highlighting the problems with LL rice, signed by 35 civil society organizations and networks.
Finally Bayer itself backtracked and withdrew its request for approval. Although this is undoubtedly an important victory, it is by no means definitive since no vote has yet been taken on releasing the rice. The request can return at any moment as quickly as it was dropped - the company simply has to wait for resistance to ebb away.
Irrespective of Bayer's own evaluation, it remains the legal and moral duty of the National Biosafety Council - formed by 11 ministers of state and the only authority higher than CTNBio - to take a stance and make a final decision on the issue. If not, they will be basically telling society that key questions of biosafety and food security are decided by companies and producers, leaving the public authorities to watch from the sidelines.
2.Chile Transparency Council orders transgenic seeds' information be made public
Merco Press, July 8th 2010
The debate is finally over: early this month Chile's Transparency Council unanimously ruled that the Agriculture and Livestock Service (SAG) has 15 days to publicize the names and locations of transgenic seed growers in Chile.
Current law prevents the cultivation and exportation of transgenic crops from Chile, but not the cultivation and export of transgenic seeds.
In April 2009, Maria Rozas, regional coordinator of the environmentalist group Pesticide Action Network of Chile, asked SAG for the "exact locations and names of the people or entities responsible for growing and exporting transgenic seeds, as well as those who were involved in experimenting with transgenic vegetables."
SAG responded that since this information affected others, it had to consult with companies to see if they agreed to with the request. Of 26 firms asked, only Viveros del Sur and Ventria Bioscience agreed openly to identify themselves and their locations.
The companies argued that releasing the information infringed on their commercial and economic freedoms, pointing out that the 2001 SAG resolution 1.523 guaranteed the "confidentiality" of sensitive information, and that breaching that confidentiality could harm foreign investment in Chile and do serious damage to the agricultural industry.
The Transparency Council, however, noted that this particular resolution was quietly abolished in 2005, after a constitutional amendment guaranteeing freedom of information went into affect.
The transgenic seed growers also argued that attacks on genetically modified seed plantations have threatened security in other countries and that the same could happen in Chile.
Rozas insisted that her request tackled "serious issues that have environmental, social and health implications," and that organic farming could be "threatened by possible genetic contamination,” in transgenic farming. Organic farming is a growing trend in Chile.
The Transparency Council examined legal precedents, particularly in Europe where the debate over publicizing the names and locations of transgenic farmers has been an especially hot-button issue recently, before making its decision.
The council hopes the ruling will encourage more public debate about transgenic seeds in Chile.
While SAG and the companies can appeal, it is unlikely that they will, said SAG director Victor Venegas.
Flavia Liberona, from the Fundacion Terram (an NGO that focuses on sustainable development), says that despite the recent Transparency Council verdict, a serious dialogue about genetically modified organisms in Chile must still take place.
"The lack of an open debate, with open access to information creates, instead, a feeling of distrust, so that the potential social, economic and environmental impacts are ignored,” Liberona said.