The fight over the introduction of GE soya in Brazil has been
going on for five years, since Monsanto first won approval for its
Roundup Ready soybeans from the government's biosafety board,
CTNBio, in 1998. In the same year, a lawsuit was filed by
Greenpeace and the Brazilian Consumer Defense Institute (IDEC) to
prevent the commercial release of GE crops. Several preliminary
orders and a historic sentence issued by Federal Judge Antonio
Prudente in June 2000, ordered the government to introduce
standards and carry out complete environmental and health impact
studies. Implementation of full traceability and labelling rules by
the federal government were requested as a prerequisit of any
commercial GMO releases. Current Brazilian labelling rules do not
comply with these requests, since the decree issued in July 2001
only requires products with more than 4 percent GE content to be
The Regional Federal Court headquarted in Brasília first
addressed the issue in February 2002, but, as of today only one of
a three-strong panel of federal judges has given an opinion. While
she favours lifting the injunctions that were imposed in 1998, the
two other judges haven't yet voiced their decisions.
With a newly-elected government in place, the political climate
in Brazil is becoming less favourable for GE agriculture. The new
environment minister, Marina Silva, asked the federal advocate
general to suspend the outstanding ruling scheduled for mid
February, stating that the new government needed more time to
re-examine the issue. No decision on this request has yet been
made. Questioned shortly before the elections in October 2002,
President Luis Inacio 'Lula' da Silva said he favoured a commercial
moratorium as long as there continues to be no scientific consensus
on the safety of GE crops and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
has not been ratified. The Protocol controls the transportation
across borders, handling and use of any GE organisms.
Monsanto's GE seeds have already caused some contamination of
Brazilian soya. The GE seeds were illegally imported to the
southern state of Rio Grande do Sul from neighbouring Argentina.
However, the original suspension of Monsanto's GE soybean sales is
still in place and the sale of the seeds or the use in food
products remains illegal in Brazil.
GE crops: a lose, lose proposition
GE crops pose serious threats to the environment and human and
animal health. Genetic contamination through outcrossing or during
transport and handling has the potential to be a problem that
multiplies as plants grow and reproduce. In addition, there are
economic concerns connected with the introduction of these
Brazil has a golden opportunity to take advantage of its status
as a top world soya producer that does not allow GE crops. Brazil's
non-GE status has already gained the country market shares and
premiums because of the increased demand for GE-free food. While
Brazil was able to extend its market in Europe in recent years,
demand for US and Argentine exports fell sharply since the
introduction of GE soya. Brazilian exporters can expect further
increases in demand with growing interest from the Asian market,
where GE foods are more and more seen as a matter of concern. In
Europe, tightened legislation on GE labelling and traceability is
If GE crops are legalised in Brazil, in addition to dwindling
markets, farmers will suffer because of herbicide resistance
problems, increased use of chemicals, and loss of control of seeds.
There is a wide gap between the GE-industry's fanfare of promises
and the actual realities of decreased yields and increased
herbicide use with Roundup Ready soya. Herbicide resistant weeds
are another problem that farmers growing GE crops are faced with.
The take-over of the seed market by a handful of GE industry giants
such as Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta not only affects the farmers'
right to save and exchange seeds, it also considerably reduces
agricultural biodiversity since these companies focus on a few
high-yielding varieties. Brazilian organisations of small farmers
have repeatedly voiced their opposition to GE agriculture. And they
have good reason. Farmers in North America have been battling an
array of GE induced problems: herbicide tolerant weeds, corporate
control and loss of foreign markets.
Consumers will lose if GE crops are legalised in Brazil because
of potential health risks of GE food. Current Brazilian labelling
laws would not give consumers full information about what they eat.
Consumers would not have the right to say "no" to GE products.
A network of seven Brazilian NGOs, including Greenpeace,
ActionAid and IDEC, are campaigning for a GE-free Brazil. A recent
opinion poll conducted on behalf of the NGO network shows support
from a majority of Brazilian consumers: more than 70 percent reject
GE foods, 65 percent are in favour of a moratorium on the
commercial growing of GE crops.
Prevention: the best solution
The only beneficiaries of GE crops in Brazil would be a handful
of transnational agrochemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta or
Bayer. The precautionary approach to stay GE free offers only
advantages. Brazil can increase market shares as non-GE produce is
increasingly requested, environmental harm is prevented, and farmer
and consumer interests are protected. To this end, we are calling
on the decision-makers involved to decide in favour Brazil keeping
its non-GE status.
The advantages of non-genetically engineered corn and soya for the
Brazilian market (pdf)
Monsanto out of our food (pdf)