by GRAIN | 8 Jun 1999

June 1999


When a new Workers Party government came into power in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul (RS) last January, one its first actions was to declare its opposition to transgenic crops. The new government acted urgently in the face of actions being taken by the Federal government and biotechnology transnationals to bring the country's industrial agricultural sector under the cultivation of transgenic crops, particularly pesticide- and insect-resistant genetical ly-mod ified soybeans and corn. Brazil is the world's number two producer of soybeans (31 million tons in 1998), 20% of which is grown in RS. The state government has declared its initiative "a matter of state policy" and acted on the growing scientific evidence that genetically-modified (GM) crops may pose serious and uncontrollable effects over health and the environment. As the issue developed, it also became clear that RS - and the rest of Brazil, for that matter -could suffer important trade losses by switching over to transgenic crops.

The government's first step was to implement a state law of 1991 through a local bill which regulates field trials of GM crops. The department of agriculture has seized -and sometimes destroyed - non-complying transgenic crops, including a 432 ha soybean field owned by Monsoy, a Monsanto subsidiary. The state has also been acting against farmers who have been sowing GM seeds illegally smuggled from nearby Argentina, which has wholeheartedly embraced transgenic crops. Rio Grande do Sul has had to face up to Brazilian Federal authorities, including EMBRAPA, the national agricultural research agency, and CNTBio, the federal biosafety agency, and is also dealing with fierce multinational-led opposition. At the same time civil society organisations - consumers, environmentalists, landless rural workers, some farmers' unions - have come together to back the state government initiative.

As Seedling goes to press, pressure is buidling up in two opposing directions around RS initiative. On the one hand, consumer opposition in Europe has grown to the point where many major supermarkets, fast-food chains and food companies are shunning GM products. As a result, major corn. and soy traders in the US are looking for non-GM sources of crops. Wholesale buyers have already been contracting RS soybeans, and an RS delegation visiting Europe in May had an warm reception from traders.

Meanwhile - even though a majority of state agricultural authorities have called for a moratorium on GMO releases - federal authorities have recently authorised the sale of transgenic seeds in seven Brazilian states, including RS. Luckily, since RS has a State Decree requiring environmental impact assessments for GM crops, which have not been done by the companies involved, they have been able to stop their release so far NGOs are also challenging the Federal decision to release GM seeds.

For more information contact: Ms Angela Felippi, EMATER (Rio Grande do Sul's extension agency).

Email: [email protected] Internet:

Author: GRAIN
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