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Brazil measure ignites congressional GM soy debate

(Monday, April 7, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Reuters: BRASILIA, Brazil - A draft measure proposed last week by the new government to rein in Brazil's rampant illegal transgenic soy trade unleashed a storm of 70 proposals to alter the measure in Congress.

Statesmen drew sides in debate on the lower house floor, some pushing for stricter enforcement of Brazil's ban on genetically modified crops, to which the former government had turned a blind eye for years.

By unofficial estimates, transgenic soy seeds, smuggled from Argentina where they are legal, are responsible for as much as 30 percent of Brazil's record 50-million-tonne crop - the world's second largest after the United States, according to the Association of Brazilian Seed Producers (Abrasem).

Others statesmen said the government proposal to clamp down on the huge black market in GM seeds and illicit plantings was a step backward and called for a permanent lifting of the ban.

Although Agriculture Minister Roberto Rodrigues has refrained from voicing support of biotechnology in agriculture since he took office this year, when he opened the floor debate last week he said: "Brazil cannot miss the train of history and deny new technologies."

"The society was stirred up by this measure, it is good to see that the legislature is too," Rodrigues said.

But the new government said officially last month that it would uphold Brazil's ban and proposed provisional measure 113 last week in an effort to gain control of illegal GM soy planting.

Measure 113 calls for the testing of nearly the entire soy crop for GM, the separation of conventional soy from GM and the temporary legalization of sales of new crop GM soy with labels until January 2004, after which time GM would again be banned.


Nearly half the new crop has been harvested without segregation of GM soy and, by the time the measure leaves committee, the whole crop would have been harvested. And GM soy has been running unsegregated through the food system here for years.

Only a fraction of the logistic, storage and processing chain is equipped to separate GM from conventional soy. Food processors in Brazil have never labeled for GM contents and there is no standard for testing the genetic integrity of a truck or silo of soy.

Federal representative Roberto Freire, an author of one of the amendments to 113 put forth last week, questioned the government's argument behind making GM soy sales illegal again in 2004 because they believe GM soy could be harmful.

"(The government) wants to say that only after January (2004) it's going to do harm?" Freire asked journalists. "This is backward. If it was harmful the government wouldn't have liberated the sale of the crop. It would be irresponsible."

Freire's amendment calls for easing restrictions on labeling of foods with GM, the legalization of GM seed trading and the suppression of any fines for planting GM soy, as is currently proposed by 113.

The lower house will install a special committee by next Wednesday to wade through the 70 proposed amendments and should put a measure before a plenary vote by May 10, about the time when the soy harvest traditionally ends here.