CTNBio approves GM corn by force (22/5/2007)

NOTE: Since the decision making of Brazil's regulatory commission CNTBio has been opened up to public scrutiny, the farcical nature of the way it carries out GMO approvals has been made apparent. Sadly, of course, what's going on in Brazil is matched in many other countries around the world.


CTNBio approves GM corn by force
Source: AS-PTA Number 345 - May, 2007
[translation for GM Watch by Ralph Miller]

Last Wednesday (05/16) the CNTBio approved the commercial release of Bayer's GMO corn, by 17 votes to 5. But without recent changes the government made to the law, the approval would not have been possible as the number of necessary votes for an approval would have been 18. Now a simple majority of 14 out of 27 is enough.

Right at the start of the meeting, the Commission's president made clear what the the day's objective was: "I may be subject to a penalty if I don't put to the vote" the commercial release of the corn. There was an evident nee to give the biotech market concrete answers.

Members of the Commission questioned the lack of data regarding the corn's environmental impact, the absence of internal norms to evaluate the requests for commercial release, and the fact that CNTBio ignored the contributions made during the public consultation when the release of the GM corn was debated. The decision had already been made.

CTNBio also circumvented the rules required by the Biosafety Edict by not appointing someone to be in charge of analyzing the proposition and making a report to the Assembly who should have submitted an overall view together with the votes of the commissions for health and the environment. The representatives of the multinationals and the farmers present were keeping an eye on things.

All the scientific arguments brought up by CTNBio members showing the risks and the issues regarding GM corn that had not been studied, were solemnly disregarded by the Commission's pro-biotechnology majority.

When questioned about the problem of approving the corn without previously establishing a plan on how to monitor what happened post-commercialization or rules for coexistence between GM and non-GM crops, the Commission's president immediately said there was no point in creating these norms, as nothing had been released. First one has to release the GM crop.

Besides, the president Walter Colli continued, monitoring post-commercialization would only be useful for finding "eventual problems [with GMOs] that he couldn't see" might exist. This sentence, perfectly captures what CNTBio is: a Commission whose legal remit is to evaluate the risks and impacts of GMOs, but which has a majority of members, starting with its president, who do not believe any such problems exist.

In view of all the irregularities committed by CNTBio, the Federal Public Prosecutor has already stated it will take the case to Law, in order to appeal the decision.

CNTBio behaves with such a lack of propiety that the day after it approved the release of Bayer's Liberty Link corn, its members held a meeting to take steps to create new rules for evaluating applications for the commercial release of GMOs.

It was interesting to observe the same people who the day before had voted in favour of approving the release of the GM corn, afterwards insisting on the necessity of prior studies before a GMO could be released. If these rules that are being created had been in effect the day before, Bayer's GM corn could not have been approved.

At CNTBio's next meeting in June, these rules for commercial release will not have been completed and everything indicates that it will be Monsanto's turn to be rewarded by the government through CNTBio's "technical" decisions (approving Monsanto's Bt MON 810). The worst of it is that probably the same thing will happen to other requests for commercial release that are on the Commission's agenda. This way the Commission makes it seem like it's trying to achieve strictness in its decision making, while approving requests without any regard to such rules.

Another high point of the meeting was the letter of resignation submitted to the Commission by the representative of civil society, the environmental specialist Dr. Lia Giraldo. She drew attention to the Commission's irregularities, such as the lack of conflict of interest declarations by several of the Commission's members, and declared that many of the members had already made their minds up on how to vote [before the Commission's deliberations] and considered biosafety questions to be merely stumbling blocks to the advance of biotechnology. In her view, the Commission "is incapable of carrying out the duties the law requires."

Official bodies such as IBAMA (Brazilian Environment Institute) and Anvisa (National Agency for Sanitary Vigilance) may submit an appeal against CNTBio's decision, and the National Biosafety Commission may assemble the eleven ministers that compose it to decide on the social and economical aspects of the release and on the eventual technical disagreements between the CNTBio and IBAMA and Anvisa, as well as the relevant body of the Ministry of Agriculture.

In the meantime, the planting of any GM corn continues to be forbidden in the country. Once released, the contamination of non-GM varieties will be overwhelming.

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