"The decision has created fertile ground for an institutional crisis, with the executive branch contradicting the judiciary, says Paulo Domingues, president of the judges association.
"All of the confusion was triggered by the government, which in addition to "trampling" on the judiciary, environmental laws and consumer rights, failed to keep its promises to end exceptional situations like these because it has not enacted definitive legislation on transgenics, says Marilena Lazzarini, coordinator of the Brazilian Consumer Defence Institute (IDEC)."
SOLIDARITY WITH BRAZIL - details of what YOU can do at end of message.
GM Soya Illegal, but Government Approved
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sep 26 (IPS) - Genetically modified soya is gaining ground in Brazil through an illegal channel that has now been given the green light by the government itself.
Brasilia this year has enacted two exceptional measures covering a fait accompli -- the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) soya -- amidst heated debate in the legal and agricultural arenas.
Authorisation to cultivate GM soya for the next growing season was published Friday, despite protests from Environment Minister Marina Silva, the governmental National Environment Council, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and even from the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference.
The Federal Judges Association announced that it will challenge the decision in the Supreme Court, saying it is unconstitutional because a court ruling from 2000 remains in force, prohibiting the planting of transgenic organisms without conducting environmental impact studies beforehand.
The decision has created fertile ground for an institutional crisis, with the executive branch contradicting the judiciary, says Paulo Domingues, president of the judges association.
The ruling from three years ago can only be revoked by another court decision, not by the provisional measure that was announced Friday, he said.
The provisional measure is an instrument created by Brazil's 1998 constitution, which replaced the decree-law and allows the president to legislate in urgent cases. Congress then must ratify or reject the measure in the next 60 days.
Vice-President José Alencar -- acting president while Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is visiting Mexico, Cuba and the United Nations this week -- hesitated three days before signing the provisional measure Thursday night, recognising that it 'contradicts Brazilian legislation'.
A series of meetings with ministers and lawmakers revealed the deep divisions in the government on the issue of transgenic crops.
Alencar made it clear that he was uncomfortable about putting his signature to the document, but did so in compliance with Lula's decision. It is the second time that the Brazilian government has used the provisional measure in reaction to the illegal cultivation of transgenic soya in Rio Grande do Sul state, where genetically modified seeds are smuggled in from neighbouring Argentina.
In March, the measure authorised the marketing of the soya that had already been harvested in the country's southernmost state. But it set a deadline of Jan. 31, 2004 for sales of the transgenic soya and maintained the ban on future plantings.
An estimated 70 percent of the soya grown in Rio Grande do Sul last year was transgenic. The exceptional measure was enacted with the argument that destroying the approximately six million tonnes of GM soya harvested would have triggered the collapse of the state's agricultural sector as well as a social crisis.
Those opposed to the move tried unsuccessfully to limit sales to foreign buyers only, with the goal of keeping GM soya off the domestic market. But this second measure is different because it allows further planting of GM soya, in other words, ongoing production, says Orlando Desconsi, lawmaker of the governing Workers Party (PT) and attorney.
"The judges are right," the measure violates an article of the constitution that requires studies certifying that the transgenic crops will not harm the environment, Desconsi said in a conversation with IPS. He said that most of his PT colleagues are also against the measure, but might vote to ratify it -- out of party loyalty to Lula.
"I'll vote against it," he said.
Disconsi's hope is that the Supreme Court will annul the provisional measure, given the threat of legal action by the federal judges, the Green Party, and potentially Brazil's Attorney General Claudio Fonteles.
According to Lula, this second provisional measures is a response to the "concrete reality" of emergency, because the farmers in the south say that only transgenic soya seeds are available and that they will plant them regardless when the season begins next week.
The legalisation of this "irreversible reality" was also sought by Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues, the authorities in Rio Grande do Sul, and agribusiness groups.
The measure is necessary so that farmers can "freely choose" among available alternatives, says lawmaker Francisco Turra, of the conservative Rio Grande do Sul Progressive Party.
"The consumer is also free to choose what he wants to buy," he told IPS.
Turra, also an attorney, says the provisional measure does not create a conflict with the judiciary because the ruling in 2000 has been appealed to a higher court that has yet to issue a decision "on the merits of the case."
Even so, the government has tried to prevent the issue from reaching the courts again, imposing several restrictions with the provisional measure.
GM soya can be cultivated and sold only until Dec. 31, 2004. After that date, it will be destroyed.
The farmers who plant transgenic soya will have to sign a waiver that they will assume the responsibility for potential harm the crop causes the environment or human health.
Because the provisional measure is valid for all of Brazil, not just Rio Grande do Sul, as was the case of the first measure in March, the GM seeds cannot be transferred amongst states. The aim is to prevent the problem from expanding to the rest of Brazil, and limiting the decree to just one state would have left that door open.
There is also a ban on cultivation of GM soya in environmentally protected areas or biodiversity conservation sites in order to reduce the risk of genetic contamination.
Environment minister Silva opposes the dissemination of genetically modified organisms, basing her argument on the "precautionary principle" laid out in the Convention on Biological Diversity's Cartagena Protocol, which entered into force this month.
The studies conducted so far on the soya variety in question, Roundup Ready, of the U.S. agribusiness transnational Monsanto, were in countries with lesser biodiversity so are not valid for the Brazilian context, argues Silva.
All of the confusion was triggered by the government, which in addition to "trampling" on the judiciary, environmental laws and consumer rights, failed to keep its promises to end exceptional situations like these because it has not enacted definitive legislation on transgenics, says Marilena Lazzarini, coordinator of the Brazilian Consumer Defence Institute (IDEC).
Studies remain inconclusive on the environmental or health impacts of transgenic crops, grown from seeds that have been altered by the introduction of genes from other species with the aim of improving yields or resistance to pests or climatic extremes.
SOLIDARITY WITH BRAZIL
The Campaign for a GM-Free Brazil asks for your help. Please, join them in a massive e-mail campaign to show Lula and his Ministers how serious the situation is. The proposed text and e-mail addresses follow. Please adapt and personalise as you wish.
Send emails to:
With copies to:
Rio de Janeiro, September 25, 2003
Mr. President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Mr. Vice-President José Alencar
and Ministers of State,
I request the immediate suspension of the planned sending of Provisory Measure to the National Congress for releasing GMOs in Brazil until this extremely important subject has been fully and widely discussed with all parties, just as it has been with the supporters of transgenics. This is only right in a supposedly democratic country.
I point out that there are no studies at all in any country that prove the safety of GMOs, eith for consumer health or for the environment, and that an eventual liberation would pose a serious threat to the food sovereignty of Brazilians and will damage the economy of this country, which has been achieving great success with its exports precisely because of the fact that Brazil is widely recognized in the global market as a GM free country.
I reiterate that even the Brazilian Company of Agricultural Research (Embrapa) affirms, in a document published and widely distributed on 2nd September that: Embrapa is conscious that practically no conclusive research exists on the risks to consumers' health, as well as on the current risks of releasing GMOs into the environment, which should be studied on a case by case basis.
I wish to express my confidence that your government will not betray the commitments made during your successful election campaign when in your government´s program you assured people, on four occasions, of your commitment to deal with the issue of GMOs by making use of the precautionary principle, which provides a scientific and internationally recognised means of approaching the safe introdcution of new technologies.
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