Brazil's Landless Peasants' Movement on Lula and GMOs (27/10/2003)

"even the Vice President of Brazil didn't want to sign. Half of the ministers, the majority of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores - Workers' Party), were against, and the government suffered a great deal in public opinion."

Very informative on what's happening in Brazil and the political context of the Brazilain government's actions.
Taking the fight to Miami
by Naomi Klein and Justin Podur
Rabble.ca, October 23, 2003

Joao Pedro Stedile is one of the leaders of the Landless Peasants' Movement, the Movimento Sem Terra (MST), Brazil's most important social movement. More than three million people are directly involved in the MST. It embraces a wide range of people, from the young to the elderly, from rural workers to the urban unemployed. As the Free Trade Area of the Americas prepares to meet in Miami on November 20-21, Stedile is speaking out in Canada. He was interviewed in Toronto.


What do you think of Lula's decision on accepting genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?

Opposition to GMOs is one of the MST's pillars, and it seems an irreversible decision.

The decision of the government was to accept genetically modified soya, and it will be revisited in December 2004. The government made that decision under the pressure of the governor of the state of Rio Grande do Sul and his conservative party, the Partido de Movimento Democratico de Brazil (PMDB). The PMDB joined the government's electoral coalition, and one of the conditions was to accept genetically modified soya. In order to win votes for its other legislative projects, the government gave in.

This doesn't mean that we agree with the decision! The debate was an interesting one because even the Vice President of Brazil didn't want to sign. Half of the ministers, the majority of the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores - Workers' Party), were against, and the government suffered a great deal in public opinion. We are treating it not as a fait accompli but as the beginning of a long struggle. We are fighting on many fronts.

First, we are trying to overturn the law itself. The law hasn't been passed in Congress. Unfortunately we lack the congressional support to stop it despite the fact that the Workers' Party is divided, because of the PMDB's support for it.

Second, the government has promised to regulate all transgenics in a "Law on Biosecurity" that is to come before Congress. We hope to use that law to put the brakes on the diffusion of GMOs, restricting their use to research applications and other very specific purposes.

Third, a technical commission under the Ministry of Health has ruled that glyphosate (an herbicide made by Monsanto, the company that sells the transgenic glyphosate-resistant soy) cannot be sprayed on soy plants after they have grown to a certain height, because after that level of growth the toxins in glyphosate are absorbed into the soybeans making them unfit for consumption. This purely technical decision could help make the transgenic soy economically unviable.

Remember that the genetic modification to this soy was to make it resistant to glyphosate spraying. Remember also that the whole point of selling the soy, for Monsanto, is that they can also sell the glyphosate. If the government implements this decision, it could make the marketing of transgenic soy unprofitable for Monsanto.

Fourth, we are looking to have laws passed at the state level to outlaw GMOs. We have had three states do so: Santa Catarina, Parana, and Piawi.

Finally, there is the battle on the consumer front. Since there is no unity in the government, the Environment Minister was able to insert an article obliging companies to label, to declare if products contain more than one per cent transgenic products. So we go to the supermarkets and demand the labeling. The polls show that the public is against GMOs, so the sales of these products will plummet, causing the companies to suffer and change their tune.

Greenpeace has been involved in this campaign. Two businesses have already signed that they will not market transgenics: Carfour, a grocery chain, and Nestle. The pressure and example of Europe has been helpful here. Companies don't want to lose markets by using transgenics.

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