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Explosive advance of transgenic
José Pedro Martins
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Lula´s government promotes genetically-modified organisms despite social opposition.

Brazil is home to one of the world´s largest areas of genetically-modified seed cultivations with 15 million hectares in 2007. The greatest increase of these crops occurred under the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, despite growing opposition from Brazilian farmers and environmentalists.

Brazil is expected to surpass its soy-producing neighbor, Argentina in area of cultivated transgenic seeds, to become the world’s second largest producer this year, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit organization.

The United States ranks first for genetically-modified seed cultivation with 57.7 million hectares in 2007, half the world´s transgenic farmland.

Between 2006 and 2007, the growth of genetically-modified seed cultivation in Brazil was greater than the increase in the United States. Brazil had sown 3.5 million hectares of GMOs, equivalent of 30 percent of its GMO farmland, compared with 3.1 million hectares´ increase in the United States.

ISAAA says the expansion of GMO farming in Brazil between 2006 and 2007 was only less than in India, where the GMO area increased from 3.8 million hectares to 6.2 million hectares, or 63 percent.

Transgenic boom
More genetically-modified products have been authorized under Lula´s administration than any other government. The first was transgenic soy by agricultural giant Monsanto, which entered the country in 1998 under the 1994-2002 government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

The other authorizations mostly took place under Lula, when the National Biosafety Technical Commission, or CTNBio, was reorganized. The CNTbio was once the seat of strong opposition to transgenics, but gradually changed its stance, and in 2008 alone, approved seven of 12 licenses approvals since it began working 10 years ago.

“The CTNBio has authorized transgenics in a worrying manner for the health of the population and the Brazilian environment,” says Mohamed Habib, head of the Community Affairs Department of the State University of Campinas, and one of Brazil’s staunchest critics of GMOs.

The first change within the CTNBio dates back to March 2007, when it lowered the commission´s quorum requirements for votes on genetically-modified products.

But it did not come without opposition.

In October 2007, the National Sanitary Surveillance Agency and the Brazilian Environment and Renewable Resources Institute, or IBAMA, a branch of the Environment Ministry, sought to block the approval of transgenic corn MON 810 by Monsanto at the Biosecurity Council, an inter-ministerial body.

They argued that the approval of MON810 for commercial use in Spain, Argentina and the United States, and other countries, had caused the contamination of conventional corn varieties with genetically-modified corn and led to social and economic problems.

“The lack of segregation, identification and effective procedures led to the contamination of conventional varieties with transgenic varieties,” they said.

But the Biosecurity Council, voted in favor to authorize this corn in February of this year, regardless.

Biodiversity and health risks
According to the Advisors and Services for Alternative Agriculture organization, or AS-PTA, MON 810 poses a list of 10 problems, including the fact that the Brazilian government did not carry out environmental studies to figure out whether there were any possible risks to the country´s ecosystems should the seeds be sold in the country.

Habib says the Brazilian government, and the CTNBio in particular, are not taking precautions that are recommended by scientists and environmentalists around the world.

“The path they are taking is mistaken and dangerous, exactly what happened with the agrotoxins that were presented as the solution for farming, and are today recognizably harmful,” Habib says. “The use of agrotoxins has even increased with the use of transgenics, unlike what its defenders´ say.”

According to IBAMA, between 2000 and 2004, the use of glyphosate, an agrotoxin used widely for transgenic soy, increased by 95 percent in Brazil, as the area of soy grown jumped by over 71 percent. In the state of Rio Grande do Sul, home to the country´s largest area of transgenic soy, glyphosate use increased 162 percent and the area grown by 38 percent.

In May, Sen. Marina Silva left the Environment Ministry she headed since 2003, sparking speculations that her departure was related to a series of disputes with Lula, including on the authorization to transgenic seeds.

The same day she left her post, Lula was being denounced in Bonn, Germany, during a meeting of Cartagena Protocol´s members, by six civil society organizations from Brazil. A report signed by Greenpeace, AS-PTA, Tierra de Derechos, The Organic Agriculture Association, the Brazilian Consumer Defense Organization and the National Association of Small Farmers said that Lula´s government had not implemented measures to avoid threats to biodiversity by failing to demand studies on the impact of transgenic corn on the country’s health and environment.

In June, a month after Silva´s departure, the Biosecurity Council again met to discuss a new request to ban transgenic corn. The government granted CTNBio the power to rule on whether to allow transgenic products. Shortly afterward, its members approved transgenic LibertyLink cotton from Bayer CropScience and transgenic corn varieties from Syngenta and Monsanto.

Defenders of transgenics are also present in Brazil´s legislature.

On Oct. 16, on World Food Day, Dep. Luis Carlos Heinze, of the GMO soy-producer Rio Grande do Sul state, presented a bill in Congress about the labeling of genetically-modified products in Brazil.

The current law states that all products with more than 1 percent genetically-modified components must be labeled. A “T” is printed within a yellow triangle T to indicate “transgenic” ingredients. According to Heinze’s project, the symbol would be removed.
—Latinamerica Press.

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