Brazil's key farming state stands firm against GM (22/3/2006)

Brazil's key farming state stands firm against GM
Ochieng' Ogodo / 22 March 2006

Ochieng' Ogodo talks to the governor of Parana in southern Brazil, who has vowed to keep his state GM-free, in defiance of the federal government's positive stance towards GM farming.

[Curitiba, Brazil - PANOS] The state of Parana in southern Brazil is renowned for its rich biodiversity and for being the largest grain producer in the country, with harvests reaching more than 25 million tonnes per year, nearly 10 million tonnes of which are soybeans.

But beneath its pastoral beauty lies a tense relationship between the state government and Brazil's federal government over genetically modified (GM) products.

Parana stands out as a stronghold of anti-GM farming, while the federal government has no such qualms.

The governor of the state, Roberto Requiao, hasn’t minced his words about his dislike for GMOs at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity taking place in Curitiba, the capital of Parana.

In an interview with Panos, he said that he will keep fighting to keep the state free of GM crops and products. And he is ready to stick his neck out on this.

"The relationship between me and the federal government, which has decided to allow transgenic products, is tense but I am committed to keeping this state free of GM products," he said.

But this, he knows will be an uphill task. "We have not declared this state GM-free but we are going to introduce legislation making labelling [of GM food] compulsory," he said.

Requiao has consistently taken a stronger line than the Brazilian government on GM crops, including at last week’s biosafety meeting which he hosted.

Parana state, says Requiao, imports virtually no grain because it is the biggest producer in the country. But the risk of contamination, he said, is real as GM products may come across the state’s borders. "That is why we are demanding labelling and on Wednesday [22 March] I will sign this into law in our state," he said.

In a bid to discourage people from practising GM farming, the state government has banned the export of GM grain through the busy port of Paranagua in Parana, the largest public grain port in the world.

The state government has set up inspection centres along its borders with other Brazilian provinces to test soybeans for GM traces. According to Requião there is also a growing rift within the federal government over GM products, with the environment minister Marina Silva taking a stand similar to his.

"Parana wants to keep its agricultural products free of transgenics to preserve its economic sovereignty and to continue with its foothold in the non-GMO market. Also [we want] to protect the environment and take a precautionary measure against the risks they pose to human beings," he said.

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