April 2003

Beware Brazilian Food

In the south of Brazil, some farmers have been illegally cultivating
genetically modified soy. In addition, Brazilians have been left
without measures to identify GMO's or genetically
modified organisms in food products.

Brazilian foods containing soy products are now suspect since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva signed Provisionary Measure 131 authorizing commercialization of genetically modified soy. Currently, some farmers are cultivating the soy illegally in Rio Grande do Sul. To add to the situation, consumers are faced with another difficulty: how to know if a given soy product contains a GMO (genetically modified organism) or not.

One of the articles of the measure demands that all products that use GMO's indicate as such on the label. However, specialists are saying that this is not going to be an easy task. Carlos Sperotto, the president of the Farmers' Federation of Rio Grande do Sul—a group which will benefit from the Measure 131—admitted that it will be impossible to label the GMO soy because the total harvest is sold in huge volumes, and GMO soy is harvested together with conventional soy.

Without labeling, the consumer will have no way of knowing if the product contains GMO's. "If the farmers do not do the identification, then the government should take responsibility for the risks. As it is, you are awarding the producer who is breaking the law and you are penalizing the population," said Marlene Lazzarini, coordinator of the Institute in Defense of the Consumer (Idec).

The new measure stipulates a US$ 6,000 fine for those who do not do the identification. Lazzarini announced that Idec will test all of the products derived from soy. If a component of a GMO is found without identification, the industry will be penalized. "So the industry will blame the farmer who didn't identify the product and the government will have to resolve one more problem."

According to Jean Marc von der Weid, the coordinator of the "Brazil Free of GMO's" campaign, the federal government gave in to the political pressure exercised by large-scale farmers and by Monsanto, the U.S. based company that retains the patent on Roundup Ready soy (which uses GMO's). Mr. von der Weid theorized that Monsanto has a geo-political strategy to destroy Brazil's conventional soy market, which is the world's largest exporter of conventional soy. "From their point of view, if Brazil surrenders, the other countries resistance to GMO's will also give in."

Some policy makers suggested that if the government allows the production of GMO's then at least this harvest should be exported. However, this solution was vetoed as some said it would adversely affect the "Circulation of Goods and Services Tax" of Rio Grande do Sul. According to the governor, the state would lose nearly US$ 300,000.

The genetically modified soy will be commercialized until January 31, 2004, after which time the entire stock will be burned and the fields be cleared of the soy before the 2004 crop. "This process of decontamination guarantees that the next harvest will be conventional. This is a great defeat for Monsanto," said Friar Sérgio Görgen, coordinator of the MPA (Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores—Movement of Small Farmers." However, he noted that the federal government will need to be rigorous in monitoring the fields. "Next year, the social movements will have great difficulties in preserving conventional seeds."

The use of GMO's has yet to be properly evaluated in terms of health-risks. In the U.S., no studies have been done to determine if certain diseases or illnesses are a result of the consumption of GMO's. As a precautionary measure, European countries demand that products that contain GMO's be labeled as such.

According to Rubens Nodare of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, the chemicals used on soy plants may provoke allergies. This is because soy has three types of allergenic proteins. Genetically modified soy can contain a greater quantity of these proteins.

Besides health concerns, there are environmental concerns. The Brazilian Constitution stipulates that a thorough environmental impact study must be conducted before allowing any sort of activity which may be dangerous to the environment. "To allow for the commercialization in this country is not only an affront to the consumer, but a break from the Federal Constitution," commented Ventura Barbeiro, an agricultural engineer.

Brief History of the Juridical Battle over GMO's

1995—Implementation of the Law of Bio-security and the creation of the National Technical Commission of Bio-security (CTNBio). Use of GMO's must have the authorization of this Commission.

1996—Monsanto begins research with genetically-modified soy in Brazil

1998—CTNBio approves of the use of Monsanto's Roundup Ready soy in the south of the country. The authorization was given without an environmental impact study. The consumer watchdog group Idec obtained a court order barring CTNBio's authorization.

2000—Judge Antonio Prudente extends the court order that prohibited the planting of GMO's. The Union and Monsanto try to appeal the decision, but their appeal was denied.

2002—The Union and Monsanto make a new motion which is sill pending vote in the Federal Regional Tribunal. One of the tree judges has already indicated she is in favor of the use of GMO's in the country.

A Few Facts about GMO's

-Nearly 99 percent of all cultivated GMO's are restricted to four countries: United States, Canada, Argentina, and China.

-There are already 30 countries which prohibit the cultivation of GMO's.

-The majority of countries require labeling of GMO's on food products if the GMO's make up more than 5 percent of the product.

-Nearly 80 percent of Europeans do not want to consume products with GMO's.

-What is increasing in the world is not the cultivation of GMO's, but the cultivation of organic products. It is estimated that by 2005 nearly one fourth of all agriculture will be organic.

-If the Brazilian government permits the cultivation of GMO's, five transnational companies will completely dominate the corn, soy, wheat and cotton seed markets. This puts at risk the country's sovereignty, relying on the good will of these companies.

-During the Fernando Henrique Cardoso presidency, the government gave a low-interest US$ 250 million loan to Monsanto for the construction of a factory which produces Glifosato. Glifosato is the prime material of the Roundup herbicides, generally sold with Roundup Ready genetically-altered seeds. The former president therefore helped to lay the groundwork for the production of genetically-altered seeds.

-If the government had used the aforesaid money to construct domestic water wells in the semi- arid Northeast, the problem of potable water would have been solved for one million families.

This material was supplied by Sejup, which has its own Internet site:  

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