September 12, 2003
Brazil Soy State Pushes For Emergency GMO Rules
With only 20 days to go until soy planting starts and rules governing the use of gene-modified soy still unclear, farmers in southern Brazil are clamoring for the government to pass an emergency decree freeing the use of GMO soybeans in the coming 2003-04 season (October-September).
The call comes as large numbers of farmers get ready to plant illegal transgenic beans, despite government warnings not to do so.
"It's not a scientific issue, it's a social issue. They can't prosecute thousands of farmers," said Jorge Rodrigues, grains commission president at the agricultural federation in Rio Grande do Sul, where 70% or more was GMO last year, according to private estimates.
The government had previously indicated a new biotechnology law regulating GMOs would be ready for this season, but with a draft bill yet to be presented to the legislature, sector representatives now say that is very unlikely.
"It would be better to have regulations allowing GMOs as there is no way the farmers are going to turn their back on them," said Rodrigues.
But it is unclear how successful the farmers will be in convincing the government to change its policy. Government officials have repeatedly said the ban of GMOs would be reinforced from the 2003-04 season.
Meanwhile, a faction in the government, led by Environment Minister Marina Silva, remains opposed to the lifting of the ban until further health and environmental impact studies are conducted.
Representatives of Rio Grande do Sul's farm community, led by State Governor Germano Rigotto, are currently trying to set an emergency meeting with federal officials to propose a provision measure allowing the planting of GMOs for this season, while Congress debates a new law.
"By releasing the provisional measure last year, the government admitted GMOs were safe for consumption. We want them to repeat the measure," said Rodrigues.
At the start of the year, Brazil legalized the sale, but not the planting, of GMOs, rather than forcing producers to destroy transgenic soy, which accounted for somewhere in the region of 15% of the country's crop, according to private estimates.
Officials in Rio Grande do Sul note farmers in the south have already planned to use GMOs, from which they have enjoyed economic and technological benefits in recent years.
"There is very little certified soy seed available, and small farmers are unwilling to waste the (often GMO) seeds they have reproduced on farms," said Ezidio Pinheiro, president at the Agricultural Workers Federation, Fetag, which represents small farmers.
Meanwhile, the lack of effective segregation practices means much of the non-GMO seed is mixed with illegal produce.
The new provisional measure would be a precursor to the biotechnology bill, which sets down the processes for approving the technology, which is used in most major agricultural countries.
As part of an attempt to convince southern farmers not to break the law and plant GMOs, the state-run Banco do Brasil has been instructed to only extend crop credit for conventional soybean planting.
The bank finances around 45% of the Rio Grande do Sul crop, but Fetag's Pinheiro said it had been advising farmers to take loans on the basis that the regulations will not be imposed.
Meanwhile, the legal wrangle over GMOs in Brazil continues. On Monday, federal judges overturned a provisional ruling made in August that suspended a court ban on GMOs in place since 2000.
Brazil is the world's second-largest soybean producer. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it would produce 56 million metric tons in the coming 2003-04 season.