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Update from GM-Free Brazil (25/2/2008)

Update from the GM-Free Brazil Campaign
Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, February 23, 2007

Greetings from Brazil!

Last week the Brazilian government licensed the commercial release of two varieties of GM maize: MON810, produced by Monsanto, and Liberty Link, produced by Bayer. In 2007 CTNBio (the National Technical Commission for Biosafety), the body responsible for analysing risk assessments and licensing genetically modified products and activities in Brazil, had ruled in favour of the commercial use of GM maize. However, appeals lodged by IBAMA (the federal environmental institute linked to the Ministry of the Environment) and ANVISA (a federal health authority linked to the Ministry of Health) had blocked the release.

The case was referred to the National Biosafety Council (CNBS), a body formed by 11 ministers. Last week the council of ministers, by seven votes to four, ignored the technical analysis of both federal agencies and approved the cultivation and commercialization of GM maize - the first time that commercial planting of transgenic maize has been licensed in Brazil.

Those ministries with a direct involvement in this issue opposed the ruling. As well as the Environment and Health Ministries, both Agrarian Development and Fishing also voted against release of the GM crops. Those voting in favour were the Office of the Chief of Staff, along with Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice, Trade & Industry, Agriculture and Science & Technology. In other words, biosafety was clearly placed second to economic interests. The okay given to Monsanto and Bayer reflects the Brazilian government's policy of favouring large companies and ceding to the demands of agribusiness and the rural lobby in the National Congress.

The CNBS had already met on January 29th to consider the appeals lodged by ANVISA and IBAMA. However, the Agriculture Minister, Reinhold Stephanes, appointed to report on the case, had sent his report to the ministers in favour of GMOs by this date, but not to those who stood opposed. Voting was therefore postponed to February 12th and the Presidential Chief of Staff, Dilma Roussef, sent a communication to the Federal Attorney General's Office asking for clarifications concerning the role of IBAMA and ANVISA in approving transgenic crops: a blatant attempt to 'frame' these agencies, overriding their legal powers and monopolizing the decision on GMOs in the CTNBio.

Following the meeting held on January 29th, the Agriculture and Science & Technology Ministers, Reinhold Stephanes and Sergio Rezende, issued statements in the press claiming to know of the existence of illegal plantations of transgenic maize in Brazil and arguing that the best solution to the problem would be to legalize the illegal crops 'under clearly defined regulations' - a shameful argument in support of the release of transgenic crops.

The organizations and social movements involved in the Campaign will insist that the seven ministries who voted for release of the crops justify their decision. In the name of transparency, we demand to know their positions on biosafety and the socioeconomic impacts of releasing GM maize.

In addition to the pressure from social movements and consumers, which will undoubtedly continue, a judicial ruling on the legality of the CTNBio's decision is still pending. Also the Health Minister JosŽ Gomes Tempor‹o declared that ANVISA will not register GM maize products until its safety is demonstrated.

Maize crops in Brazil possess an enormous genetic diversity. In the Central-South of Paran‡ alone, one of the regions where AS-PTA is active, 145 varieties of maize have already been identified. As well as being incompatible with the monopoly imposed by transgenic crops, this diversity plays a fundamental role in ensuring the food security, income generation and technological autonomy of thousands of families.

So who will assume responsibility for the widespread contamination of this genetic heritage and for the losses faced by these farmers, including the loss of external market? Who will assume responsibility for future legal actions over alleged patent violations prompted by crop contamination? Certainly not the 15 or 17 members of the CTNBio who gave their assurance that this maize is safe.

'Now, I am radically opposed [to the release of GM crops] and I believe it is a backward step for the government to pursue this policy. In reality, this is happening because this country's political elite is once again succumbing to the overtures of a multinational.' So said Luiz In‡cio Lula da Silva in July 2001 on the Family Farming Caravan during his electoral campaign for the Presidency, referring to the release of transgenic soya.

The multinational remains the same. Meanwhile the political elite has changed, but likewise remains the same.

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GM-FREE BRAZIL - Published by AS-PTA Assessoria e Servios 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 Candel‡ria, 9/6¼ 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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