By backing the detailed identification of transgenic products for export, Brazil is meeting a demand made by social movements that defend environmental security and human health throughout the world, especially in Third World countries.
"In truth, 90% of the international trade involving transgenics is subjected to controls, because the major import markets demand it. Now what we are discussing is to control the remaining 10%, which generally goes to countries like the ones in Africa, Nicaragua, Peru, and Bolivia, which don’t have the chance to perform tests and lack the political power to prevent the entry of food assistance, for example," argues Marijane Lisboa, a professor of international relations at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC-SP) and a representative of the Organic Agriculture Association (AAO), one of the groups that supports the Brazil Free of Transgenics Campaign.
The labeling of transgenic products for export, whether for human or animal consumption or for processing, is spelled out in the Cartagena Biosecurity Protocol, an international agreement which has been endorsed by 130 countries with rules for trade involving living modified organisms (LMOs). The protocol, adopted in 2000 by the members of the Convention on Biological Diversity, entered into effect in 2003.
The question of whether or not to require the identification of transgenics in detail was raised for the first time at the first Meeting of the Parties, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2004, and the debate continued when the parties met for the second time, in Montreal, Canada, last year.
At that time Brazil and New Zealand were the only countries that defended the use of the expression "may contain transgenics" on the labels of products for exports. The other signatory countries that attended the meeting voted for the precise and complete identification of products when they are sold to other countries.
The debate was renewed this week, in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba, at the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol (MOP-3). If they reach a consensus, the 130 countries will initiate negotiations on which information to include on the labels of transgenics.
Lisboa points out the flow of unidentified transgenics poses risks to the environment and human health. A grain that is not authorized for consumption, for example, could easily end up entering the country, falling on the ground, germinating, and contaminating the environment.
The professor disputes the argument made by rural producers who claim that the added cost of identifying transgenics will make Brazil’s farm exports uncompetitive. She says that it will cost only 4 US cents per ton to comply with the controls.
"A large portion of our exports is already tested and identified for shipping, because the main import markets, which are the European Union, China, and Japan, don’t buy anything without knowing what they are buying. These countries have unambiguous laws, and exporters try to follow them," she reiterates.