Update from GM-Free Brazil (20/12/2007)

Update from the GM-Free Brazil Campaign

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, December 20, 2007

Greetings from Brazil!

The year 2007 has come to an end without any approval for GMOs in Brazil. The Federal Government has tried hard to push through approval, even reducing the quorum for commercial voting at the National Technical Biosafety Commission (CTNBio). But despite these attempts, the authorizations issued so far by CTNBio have all been suspended. Irregular procedures have led to lawsuits, while the absence of sound scientific risk assessment has prompted objections from federal environmental and health authorities and civil society organizations.

Since approval of the new Biosafety policy in 2005, both the Federal Court and the Prosecutor's Office have being playing a vital role in pursuing denunciations made by civil society organizations (CSOs) concerning the CTNBio's irregularities and enforcing compliance with existing legislation. And despite the new law’s reduction in the scope of the environmental and health federal authorities, these agencies have managed to use their few remaining powers to challenge hasty and rash GM authorizations.

A number of events have marked CTNBio's work this year. One of them was the virulent reaction of the Commission's president and many of its members to the presence of a representative from the Regional Federal Prosecutor’s Office at the Commission's meetings. Indeed, CTNBio has fought hard to block the opening of its meetings to external observers, a CSOs requirement that has been enforced through judicial action. Only those few Commission members whose work is guided by the Precautionary Principle and defense of the environment and human health have supported these initiatives.

This aversion to the principles of transparency and public divulgation also became clear when the majority of CTNBio’s members voted against the organization of a public hearing to discuss the impacts resulting from the commercial release of GM maize. Once more, it was the Federal Court that obliged CTNBio to hold the public hearing, after civil society organizations started another court case.

Unfortunately, CTNBio organized a 'fake' public hearing, failing to present its own views and proposals concerning the GM maize release and preventing the participation of researchers who maintain a critical position on the issue. Holding the event was merely a way of complying with a judicial request and reopening the path to authorize GM maize.

Indeed, ignoring all the problems exposed by CSOs at the public hearing, the majority of the Commission voted for authorization of Bayer's GM maize, despite the absence of any in-depth studies into the potential human health and environmental impacts, and the lack of rules on risk analysis, coexistence and post-commercialization monitoring.

Immediately, ANPA, AS-PTA, IDEC e Terra de Direitos, organizations belonging to the GM-Free Brazil Campaign, filed a lawsuit demanding the annulment of the decision due to irregularities in the process and the lack of proper rules within CTNBio’s procedures.

In a preliminary injunction, the Federal Justice ordered the suspension of the authorization for Bayer’s GM maize and also prohibited CTNBio from authorizing any other GM maize until adequate Biosafety rules are implemented. Federal Government has tried without success to revert the decision. Nevertheless, this decision is not yet final. At the center of the issue is the right of farmers and consumers not to plant or eat GM maize.

The absence of sound scientific grounds for the Commission’s decision also motivated Ibama (the Brazilian environmental authority, part of the Environment Ministry) and Anvisa (Brazilian health authority, part of the Health Ministry) to present their objections to members of the National Biosafety Council (the political body to which CTNBio is responsible), demanding suspension of the authorization.

Anvisa went even further. Considering the CTNBio’s refusal to address GM risks adequately or to discuss the issue with civil society organizations, Anvisa organized a public consultation to collect suggestions for the establishment of its GM food security and health assessment. More than 40 civil society organizations, social movements and parliamentarians declared their support for Anvisa’s initiative in response to attacks from agribusiness, the media and the government itself.

Aiming to comply with the judicial orders to suspend GM maize approvals, CTNBio published a ridiculous pack of monitoring and coexistence rules. Once again this was founded on biased scientific data and in breach of the Biosafety legislation. Soon after, the Commission authorized two more GM maize varieties, this time Monsanto’s MON 810 and Syngenta’s Bt 11. Civil society organizations demanded the extension of the preliminary injunction to these other maize varieties. The Federal Court subsequently accepted this demand, suspending also these authorizations. Conjointly, Ibama and Anvisa also objected to commercial release of Monsanto and Syngenta’s GM maize.

Finally, in a desperate attempt to avoid completing the year without authorizing a single GM seed in Brazil, last week CTNBio tried to vote through an emergency measure to meet an import request from the poultry raisers and feed industry associations for 2 millions tons of GM maize from Argentina, which could lead to a massive and irreversible contamination of Brazilian maize. CTNBio maintained its decision to approve the request, despite advice from the National Supply Company, an agency of the Agriculture Ministry, that there was enough maize stocked in the country.

Indeed, CTNBio only gave up on voting through the request when the legal office from the Science and Technology Ministry, which hosts the Commission, advised them not to go ahead. A warning from the Federal Prosecutor reminded the CTNBio’s president that he could be fined and prosecuted for administrative malpractice were the request to be approved.

Conflict of interest is another serious issue within the Commission, whose members include many researchers who develop GMOs, rather than scientists specialized in risk assessment. Many of CTNBio’s GMO developers receive private support linked to their research and/or work as consultants to multinational companies. At the end of 2007, the mandate of many of these researchers comes to the end. The Science and Technology Ministry appointed most of them to the post. We hope that this time the Ministry will look to ensure the Biosafety analysis of GMOs when renewing the Commission’s members.

What we can see is that the work of CTNBio, which should be run as a technical body responsible for guaranteeing Biosafety, is guided instead by political-ideological support for agribusiness (mirroring the position of the Federal Government itself). In defense of agribusiness’s interests, the Commission actively opposes debate, transparency, public participation and even sound science.

Nevertheless, this space is not hermetic and the campaigning of civil society organizations, as well as actions from the Prosecutors Office and Federal Court, have found ways to cut through the technocracy and bring to the public arena much needed debate concerning an issue crucial to our agriculture, health, environment, and food safety and sovereignty


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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