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Brazil: Activists Outraged by Decision on GM Crops

by Mario OsavaInter Press Service
July 4th, 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO -- The Brazilian Consumers Defence Institute (IDEC) asked the courts to issue arrest warrants for the members of a government scientific commission that gave the go-ahead to imports of transgenic corn, on the argument that the decision was released in violation of the law.

The non-governmental IDEC charged Monday that the members of the National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio) committed ''civil disobedience'' by issuing a resolution in favour of the import of 13 strains of genetically modified (GM) corn.

After a three-day examination of studies carried out in Argentina, Canada, Europe and the United States, the CTNBio released a statement last Friday maintaining that using the corn in animal feed would pose no risk to human health or the environment.

The decision reached by the CTNBio, which answers to the Ministry of Science and Technology, recommends however that shipments of GM corn be inspected, and that the product be transported in conditions that prevent its release into the environment, and in a totally processed state in order to keep it from being used as seed corn.

IDEC coordinator Marilena Lazzarini accused the CTNBio of violating a court ruling prohibiting it from issuing any resolution on transgenic food before meeting several legal requirements.

On Jun 26, Judge Antonio de Souza Prudente, in Brasilia, set a 90-day deadline for ''standards on safety, marketing and sales, and consumption of transgenic foods'' to be defined before the CTNBio released any opinion on the question. He also ordered an environmental impact study.

IDEC formally asked the judge Monday to enforce his decision, to leave without effect the technical resolution released by the CTNBio Friday, and to arrest the members of the Commission on charges of civil disobedience.

The chair of the CTNBio, Leila Oda, said she had not been notified of the Jun 26 legal ruling.

However, IDEC reported that it had sent Oda a written communication on the ruling and, moreover, that she was present in the courtroom when it was handed down.

Oda clarified that the CTNBio evaluation did not amount to authorisation of imports of transgenic corn, which is still pending a final decision by the Ministry of Agriculture.

In recent weeks, the courts impounded several shipments of Argentine corn deposited in ports in Brazil, after IDEC and international environmental watchdog Greenpeace filed complaints alleging the possible presence of GM crops.

The planting and marketing of transgenic crops is prohibited in Brazil, on the initiative of IDEC and Greenpeace, which argue that there are no reliable studies on the effects of GM crops on the environment and health.

The CTNBio, however, had already issued a resolution stating that 'Roundup Ready Soy', produced by the US-based seed giant Monsanto as resistant to its 'Roundup Ready' herbicide, posed no risks.

The debate is expected to pick up steam this year, because Brazil will need to import two to three million tonnes of corn to meet a rise in production of chickens and pigs.

Furthermore, the local corn harvest was damaged by a lengthy drought in Brazil's farming regions.

In Argentina, Brazil's traditional supplier of corn, transgenic crops can be freely planted and marketed, which has led environmental and consumer groups here to suspect that any shipment from that country could contain GM grains. Genetically modified crops are also widely planted in the United States.

Chicken and pig farmers welcomed the CTNBio decision due to their worries about possible shortages of animal feed. But on the other hand, they are concerned about losing markets, especially in Europe, if the word gets out that their livestock might be fed with transgenic corn.

Europe is the chief market for Brazilian soy and meat, and the European movement against the genetic modification of food is one of the reasons the government is reluctant to authorise the commercial planting of transgenic crops.

Thus, the CTNBio's technical opinions run up against commercial, environmental and health arguments, with the advantages of GM grains, such as increased productivity and reduction of costs, set against the risk of losing market share abroad.

Another concern involves possible reactions by the domestic market, which consumes 85 percent of the chickens raised in Brazil.

Two weeks ago, IDEC and Greenpeace reported that 11 food products commonly found on supermarket shelves were found in lab tests to contain traces of transgenic products.





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