Brazil: Rush in Congress for Biosecurity Law

The Brazilian government once again placed the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the forefront. Currently, leaders are frantically debating a proposal called the Law of Biosecurity.

According to the Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, the proposal, presented by Senator Osmar Dias, should be voted on soon, and then sent on to the Congress for a vote sometime before September 20th. The deadlines are essential as the planting for the 2004/2005 season begins in October.

Angela Cordeiro, an agriculture engineer and specialist in biosecurity, says that government is trying to push through a vote rapidly for two reasons:

First, President Lula does not want to sign another provisionary measure, because every time he does so, his image among the Left suffers; secondly, the agro-industrial lobby is exerting great pressure for approval of the use of GMO.

At the end of 2003, during a trip to the United States, President Lula bowed to the pressures of agro-business producers and directed Vice-president José Alencar to sign a provisionary measure to allow for the planting of transgenics.

This same group said that they are satisfied with Dias’ proposal which allows for the commercialization of some transgenic products as well as augmenting the power of the National Technical Commission of Biosecurity (CTNBio) who will be entrusted with the debate over the use of GMOs.

CTNBio is comprised of ministers, workers, business people, farmers and representatives of civil society. Their objective is to give advice to the government in the formulation and implantation of policies related to biosecurity. In the past, this commission has consistently been in favor of GMOs.

According to Cordeiro, the proposed law favors large-scale farmers and agricultural business as it gives them carte blanche to plant transgenics, which GMO companies allege are cheaper to plant, but whose environmental impacts have yet to be evaluated.

In article 30, the proposed law grants amnesty to all producers of GMOs who obtained favorable decisions from the Justice Department or from investigative governmental branches, such as Ibama (Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources) or Anvisa (National Agency for Hygiene) before the passage of the proposed law.

In Rio Grande do Sul, with so many confusing and contradictory lawsuits, many farmers took advantage of the situation and began to produce transgenic soy, without any time to study the impact of such planting on the environment. This amnesty says to them, You are free from all responsibility! said Cordeiro.

In article 17, the proposed law states that inspection of transgenics be done by Ibama e Anvisa at the request of CTNBio. A goal of these organs would be to control the activities of farmers and corporations who use GMOs.

So, large-scale farmers get the economic benefits, the government controls political decisions, and the tax-payers flip the bill, commented Cordeiro.

The right thing to do would be that businesses and farmers that use GMOs finance research and inspection of their products. The proposal assumes equipment and technology that the State does not have.

Today there is no one trained to do inspections. Imagine what will happen if this law passes. According to Cordeiro, to evaluate if one seed is transgenic or not costs between 3-5 dollars. Some seeds cost as much as US$ 300.

The government will need to restructure Ibama and Anvisa to enable them to do inspections. They will need to hire and train personnel for this work.

The investment is very high, and according to the government, will be done before the approval of the use of GMOs. But this is impossible. The public organs cannot be ready for this work with such short notice. There is no technology nor personnel. If the law is passed, there will be no way to control transgenics, affirmed Cordeiro.

In article 21, Dias’ proposal states that there will be the formation of the FIDBio Initiative Fund for the Development of Biosecurity and Biotechnology for Family Farmers.

The objective of this fund would be to provide universities and public organs with resources for projects which would benefit family farmers, like studies about products with make up basic foodstuffs.

The resources of the fund would come from a tax imposed upon the commercialization and import of genetically modified seeds and seedlings.

It is a fund for the poor. The government grants complete freedom to big business, and gives a little bit of change for small-scale farmers, commented Cordeiro.

According to her, social movements and scientists have already given the government diverse proposals on how to better the Brazilian agriculture. Many propose investing in organic production, which is cheaper and more productive.

But these proposals have never been implemented. It is not transgenics that will end hunger and poverty in Brazil, but a change in the logic of agricultural production.

Source: Brasil de Fato

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