Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies ended the controversy over the cultivation of genetically modified seeds and research using embryonic stem cells in Brazil.
By a vote of 352 to 60, the legislators approved the Biosecurity Law bill, which now goes to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for ratification and can only be modified if the Executive decides to veto some point.
The vote took more than five hours, and, after the basic text was approved, the Deputies rejected three amendments that proposed eliminating the authorization for research using embryonic stem cells and introducing changes in the way transgenics cultivation is supervised in the country.
The project retains the text approved last year by the Federal Senate. And it permits research use of embryos that have been frozen for more than three years in fertility clinics, while banning human cloning and cloning embryonic stem cells for therapeutic applications.
In the first vote taken in the Chamber, the Deputies opposed authorizing the use of embryonic stem cells for research. March 2, they decided to reject the amendment that proposed removing this authorization from the text.
For the Minister of Science and Technology, Eduardo Campos, Brazilian universities have the competence to conduct research using embryonic stem cells.
“The universities need to be backed by a regulatory standard such as this one, and with resources so that research can move ahead and provide solutions for the five million Brazilians who are observing the Congress today and awaiting this vote.”
The Biosecurity Law also regulates cultivation, commercialization, and research involving genetically modified seeds – one of the principal banners of the rural bloc in the National Congress.
The text assigns the National Technical Commission on Biosecurity (CTNBio), responsible for permitting the sale of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), jurisdiction to decide what transgenic seeds can be produced in the country.
The bill determines that the Commission must submit its decisions to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) and the National Health Agency (Anvisa), which can appeal the CTNBio’s decisions.
The bill also establishes that transgenic products be identified on their labels so that consumers can have accurate knowledge of what they are buying. According to the text, crops from transgenic and natural seeds will have to be kept separate.
The Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, who was in the Chamber to discuss the question of transgenics, said that the essential point of the bill is to institute definitive legislation on the issue.
“The advantage is not economic or social but, rather, that Brazil will have a clear rule on this matter, putting an end to the discussions, debates, and an enormous fuss that is of no interest to anybody. What is important is the legal benchmark. That is what is fundamental.”
Intense negotiations preceded the vote on the Biosecurity Law. During the course of the week, the president of the Chamber, Severino Cavalcanti, received clerics, Ministers, legislators, scientists, physicians, and victims of degenerative diseases, all with different positions regarding the bill.
Cavalcanti had pledged to put the question to a vote, even though he himself opposes research using embryonic cells. After the bill was submitted for voting, he preferred withdrawing from the plenary session.
Translation: David Silberstein