GM contamination in Brazil - 3 case studies (13/7/2007)

Update from the GM-Free Brazil Campaign
Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, August 13, 2007

Greetings from Brazil!

The release of genetically modified crops denies farmers and consumers their right to fields and food that are free of transgenics. There is no way to avoid the pollution of seeds, crops and food.

Promoters of this technology claim that farmers must have the right to choose the seeds they wish to plant. The problem is that the impossibility of keeping transgenic seeds under control is preventing farmers from being able to choose what they do not want to plant.

Here are three cases in point, all from western Parana, in one of Brazil's major agricultural regions.


Ademir and Vilma Ferronato live in Medianeira, western Paraná State, where they farm 16 hectares (40 acres) of organic crops. In addition to soybeans and corn as cash crops, the couple grows green vegetables, livestock and an orchard, which supply them with healthy and diversified food, all produced ecologically. Most of their neighbors, however, plant conventional or transgenic soybeans.

When they sold their 2007 harvest, however, the Ferronatos were surprised to have their soybeans rejected by the Gebana company, which markets organic produce and normally purchases the family's production. Tests detected the presence of GM soybeans mixed into their organic harvest. The seeds had actually been provided by Gebana, which tests all the batches before delivering them to farmers. The seeds sold to the family had tested negative for transgenic soybeans.

Ademir and Wilma believe the pollution took place during the harvest. In late 2006, they planted their soybeans in two stages, to have time to hoe the weeds out of the whole area. The first section they harvested was approximately seven hectares, and they sold the crop as organic. It was the second area - covering a little over four hectares - that tested GM-positive.

They used the same combine both times, but the first time it had only been used to harvest conventional soybeans. The second time, it had also been used in GM soybean fields. It was cleaned following the certifying agency's orientations, but it apparently had not been cleaned thoroughly enough.

There was no way to avoid the loss. The first harvest yielded 280 bags, sold at R$40.00 each. The 140 bags harvested from the other four hectares were sold for only R$28.50 each. The family's loss was thus R$1,610.00 (approximately US$800.00).


When the Guerini family moved to São Miguel do Iguaçu, they chose the farm based on their style of farming. After 20 years growing soybeans in Paraguay, they decided to go organic, and have a smaller impact on the environment. Looking for better ecological conditions over the area, they finally settled on a 1,500 hectare (3,700 acres) farm bordering on Iguaçu National Park, one of the world's most important conservation units.

They plant mainly soybeans and corn, on an area of 130 hectares. Most of their neighbors are large-scale monoculture farms, with soybeans in the summer, followed by corn in the autumn-winter season.

Silvio Guerini explains that the ecological advantage of having the park next door is canceled out by proximity of neighboring farms that use pesticides. "During the soybean season, the smell of pesticides comes all the way into our home," he complains. Moreover, pests end up being "pushed" onto his fields, sometimes by the spraying and other times due to the simultaneous harvests on huge areas that leave them with nothing else to eat.

During the 2006-2007 season, a new factor made things even harder for the Guerinis - the pollution of their organic soybeans with transgenic beans. They do their harvesting with their own machinery, which is only used there, so this potential source was discarded. The seeds were certified and had tested negative for GM-soybeans using the PCR method.

Only the first load they sold was polluted. The only difference between that load and the others was the truck used to transport the first soybeans to the Gebana silos, which was the company’s truck rather than their own. Since he was aware of the potential problem, Silvio had monitored the sweeping out of the truck bin before the first shipment was loaded. Even so, he was unable to sell that part of his harvest as organic.

Although there are still no official statistics on this problem in Brazil, reports of farmers who have been forced out of the organic system have been on the rise every year, in all major soybean-growing States.

Just taking the Gebana company as an example, in 2006 they identified four cases of pollution, and the figure more than doubled to nine cases in 2007. Farmers working with Gebana are a small universe, statistically, but they illustrate well the situation of soybean farmers in all areas of Brazil.


João Bússulo lives in the Linha Alegria Rural Community, in Medianeira. He grows soybeans, corn, oats, sorghum and sunflower. He also has an orchard and raises a dairy cows for his family’s own consumption.

In 2006 he purchased soybean seeds from a local cooperative. He intended to sell the entire harvest to the Sadia company, which prefers and pays a 5% premium for conventional, non-GM soybeans.

To keep their harvest GM-free, the family has their own equipment for planting and harvest. The seeds they bought were labeled "transgenic-free product." João planted 17 hectares (42 acres) with conventional soybeans and harvested 980 bags. The trucks used to transport the shipment to market were swept out.

Upon delivery of the harvest, 300 bags of the soybeans tested GM-positive, with over 4% of GM content, and he was not paid the 5% premium for that part of the harvest. The result was a total surprise for the farmer, who blames his loss on pollution of the seeds.

The Paraná State government has done inspections to check the contamination of conventional soybean seeds on sale in the State. They apprehended 283 metric tons of conventional seed that had been contaminated with GM seeds, from eleven different seed companies. In some batches, as much as 9% of the seeds were transgenic.


GM-FREE BRAZIL - Published by AS-PTA Assessoria e Serviços a Projetos em Agricultura Alternativa. The GM-Free Brazil Campaign is a collective of Brazilian NGOs, social movements and individuals.

AS-PTA an independent, not-for-profit Brazilian organisation dedicated to promoting the sustainable rural development. Head office: Rua da Candelária, 9/6º andar/ CEP: 20.091-020, Centro, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. Phone: 0055-21-2253-8317 Fax: 0055-21-2233-363

This article can be found on the AS-PTA website at http://www.aspta.org.br

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