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Brazil: Yes to GM Soy. No Joy.

Brazil: Yes to GM Soy. No Joy.

Brazil’s Vice-President signed a temporary decree authorizing
Brazilian farmers to plant
genetically modified soybeans. He
could barely hide his discomfort though on having to decide
on an issue
that has split the Lula administration. At the
end, environmentalists were deeply disappointed.


Gabriela Guerreiro


Brazilian Vice-President José Alencar finally signed into law the controversial temporary measure (Medida
Provisória) which authorizes farmers to plant genetically modified (GM) soybeans. Alencar, which is the acting president while
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is traveling overseas, avoided signing the measure for a number of days, barely hiding
his discomfort on having to decide on an issue that had split the government. Alencar moved very cautiously, consulting
various organizations interested in the problem.

In practical terms, the measure limits the planting of GM soybeans to the state of Rio Grande do Sul by prohibiting
their use in other areas of the country. A series of restrictions are placed on GM crops under the terms of the measure. The
authorization, for example, is only for this harvest (2003/2004). And farmers will have to sign contracts specifying the use
of GM seeds.

Environmentalists were deeply disappointed when Alencar decided to sign the measure. They had insisted on
further environmental impact studies.

Controversial Matter

Alencar spent the whole day in meetings. He met with Minister of Environment, Marina Silva, who opposed GM
crops. He also met with Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, who is in favor of them. Rodrigues pointed out that a
decision against the GM crops would be detrimental to farmers in Rio Grande do Sul who had stockpiles of GM seeds.

The Vice-President also met with deputy Fernando Gabeira from Rio’s Green Party and a state deputy, Frei Sérgio
from Rio Grande do Sul’s Workers’ Party, who tried to get him to refuse to sign the measure. Gabeira said they disagreed
with Alencar’s decision to sign the measure, but remained on friendly terms. "We hope to make up for this defeat at some
time in the future," said Gabeira.

Alencar also received a report against signing the measure from the National Environment Council (Conama). But,
when all was said and done, the Vice-President did what he had to do. He followed orders from president Luiz Inácio Lula da
Silva and authorized the planting of genetically modified soybean seeds.

Greenpeace Protest

Protestors from Greenpeace held a demonstration on Thursday in front of the Planalto Palace, in Brasília, in
opposition to the authorization to plant genetically modified organisms in the country. One of the demonstrators used a mask with
Lula’s face and a presidential sash on which was written "PT – Party of the Transgenics." Two of the protestors carried a poster
with a question that Lula was asked last September, when he was a Presidential candidate: "Lula, if you are elected, will you
maintain the ban against sales of transgenics in the country?" According to Greenpeace, Lula’s response was affirmative.

The demonstrators tried to climb the ramp of the palace, but they were stopped by security guards. The coordinator
of Greenpeace Brazil’s Consumers Campaign, Tatiana Carvalho, affirmed that the protestors would continue opposing
the cultivation of transgenic soybeans in this planting season. "If the provisional order is signed, we shall seek the
appropriate judicial measures," she affirmed. According to Carvalho, Greenpeace is opposed to transgenics all over the world, since
there exists the risk that genetically modified seeds will contaminate other plants, doing harm to biodiversity.

Another problem, according to Carvalho, is consumers’ lack of information. "When the government published the
provisional order at the beginning of the year authorizing the sale of transgenic soybeans planted in the last harvest, it
committed itself to inspecting the labeling of transgenic products, which did not occur. Nowadays, the consumer doesn’t know
whether or not he(she) is buying genetically modified food products," she affirmed. The activist recalled that there is no
scientific proof that transgenic food products are healthful.

Actor for Organic Food

Marcos Palmeira, a popular TV actor, who has a farm near Teresópolis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, says that he is
in favor of the production of organic food for the government’s Zero Hunger program that is grown without chemical
additives. Palmeira said that the production of organic food was self-sustaining. "It is demagogy to give people food baskets.
What we need to do is turn these people into farmers," he said.

Palmeira made his remarks at the BioFach, the world’s biggest organic food conference and fair, where he is
exhibiting produce along with some 800 other farmers. Among other things the actor grows fruits, vegetables and herbs. He also
has dairy products.

"Brazil could become a great exporter of organic food. But at the moment that would be a contradiction because
there are so many hungry people in the country," said the actor.


Gabriela Guerreiro works for Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government.
Comments are welcome at lia@radiobras.gov.br

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