Brazil Remains Firm on Ban of GE Crops

Headline: Brazil ban on GM foods seen firm as divisions fester
Wire Service: RTf (Reuters Financial Report)
Date: Fri, Jul 7, 2000

By Phil Stewart
BRASILIA, July 7 (Reuters) - Brazil, the hemisphere's last bastion
against genetically-modified (GM) foods, is seen holding firm in its lonely
stance, amid a flurry of court battles opposing scientific meddling in
agriculture, government sources said on Friday.
While GM crops take over fields in neighboring Argentina and the United
States, raking in hefty savings for farmers, Latin America's biggest
agriculture producer has bucked the trend by maintaining a ban on so-called
"Frankenstein foods."
Brazil's isolation on the continent was reinforced by a federal court
ruling late Thursday, which agreed with environmental and consumer rights
groups who say not enough is known about gene-spliced crops to call them
The ruling dealt a severe blow against Brazil's government, which
issued a note signed by every member of the president's cabinet saying
Brazil "cannot be left out of this technology."
The unusually united stance in favor of GM crops was seen by top
government sources as an attempt to mask deep divisions within the
president's cabinet against transgenic crops, especially by GM-foe
Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho.
"Minister (Sarney) had no choice. He had to sign that note. But he is
not in favor of transgenics, and he won't approve them without much more
research," one government source said.
The government sources spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Sarney's approval is needed before Brazil's farmers, the world's
biggest growers of coffee, oranges and sugar, can follow the rest of the
hemisphere down the transgenic trail.

In its search for victims of the GM ban, Brazil's transgenic-friendly
Agriculture Minister has found unusual allies in poor chicken farmers in
Brazil's remote Northeast.
Although Brazil faces a shortage of cheap corn this year to feed
livestock, like chickens, it has turned away Argentine ships carrying corn
over worries GM nuggets got into the mix.
More than 20,000 chicken farmers in the port town of Recife protested
this week, passing out starving chickens to housewives, while Agriculture
Minister Marcus Vinicius Pratini de Moraes said up to 60,000 farmers would
lose their jobs.
"We are the only ones with this type of ban in the world. Why?" Pratini
asked, speaking to reporters earlier this week. "The people who suffer are
the poor farmers."
Brazil is the second-largest chicken producer and exporter on the
planet, ranking only behind the United States.
Pratini argues Brazil's army of chicken farmers are the unwitting
victims of a feud between multinationals in the United States, which hold
GM patents, and Europe, where most firms brushed off biotech research and
favor a GM ban.
"We should not pay the cost of this fight. It penalizes the poorest
people," he added.
In a surprise decision late Thursday, a lone judge in Recife allowed a
small shipment of Argentine GM corn to be brought onshore. Government
officials shrugged off the ruling, saying the amount represents less than 1
percent of the region's corn needs.
But GM-foes worry its sets a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize
Brazil's burgeoning niche "GM-free" market in transgenic wary Europe, where
consumers don't want to see Mad Cow disease revisited in the form of a
DNA-mangled chicken.
The leftist government in southern grains producing state of Rio Grande
do Sul plans to swat away GM corn just like it has kept U.S. biotechnology
giant Monsanto Co.'s <MTC.N> GM "Roundup Ready" soybeans at bay -- through
state laws and swift court action.


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