by Mario Osava
(IPS) RIO DE JANEIRO --
modified soya is running into new difficulties in Brazil, with hundreds of trucks blocked from transporting their soya shipments to port and farmers without authorization to use the herbicide indispensable for protecting this crop.
The trucks are stuck at the borders of Parana state, in southern Brazil. The state government banned soya that does not have certification proving it is not a genetically modified (GM) variety. The measure is based on national legislation that requires such certification for this year's harvest.
The decision to make Parana GM-free was made by the state legislature, which on Oct. 14 approved a law that bans the planting, marketing and industrialization of transgenic soy until 2006.
The measure is likely to have a sharp impact on Brazilian exports because a large portion of the soya grown in the central-western region of the country is exported via the Parana ports of Paranagua and Antonina.
Problems could also arise for Paraguay, which relies on those Atlantic ports to export its own farm commodities.
Parana's ban on non-certified soya is creating a legal conflict because the national government authorized the production of GM soya throughout the country, issuing a special decree exclusively for the growing season that has recently gotten underway, and in force through the end of 2004.
The government's permission, in effect since Sept. 25, formalized what was a fait accompli, but triggered protests by environmentalist and consumer groups and by the government's own Ministry of Environment.
The farmers in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul were preparing to cultivate GM soya seed that they had stored -- product of smuggling operations from Argentina or of illegal planting of the transgenic crop in Brazil since 1997.
Through the decree, the Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva administration sought to prevent a wave of "civil disobedience" by soya growers, admits Roberto Rodrigues, minister of agriculture.
But a lawsuit that the Brazilian Consumer Defense Institute (IDEC) filed against the government revealed a crack in the authorization for the otherwise illegal cultivation of transgenic soya. The herbicide glyphosate, essential for the GM soya variety, is not authorized for aerial application to soya leaves and stalks.
The advantage of the GM soya known as Roundup Ready, produced by the agribusiness transnational Monsanto and the variety at the crux of the controversy, is that it is resistant to Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup herbicide. Spraying the soya fields with this chemical eliminates weeds without hurting the crop.
The agro-toxins technical assessment committee, made up of experts from Brazil's ministries of agriculture, environment and health, confirmed that the glyphosate ban is still in effect due to lack of data about its effects on human health. Use of the herbicide can cost farmers a fine and even arrest.
But that threat does not worry the Agriculture Federation of Rio Grande do Sul (FARSUL), which reports that 80 percent of the soya grown in that state is genetically modified. The state's yield reached 9.6 million tons, 18.5 percent of Brazil's total soya production.
The ban on glyphosate "will be resolved by an amendment" to the decree authorizing the cultivation of GM soya for this growing season, Jorge Rodrigues, head of the FARSUL grain commission, told IPS.
Authorization for transgenic soya was granted through a "provisional measure," the new name in Brazil for presidential decree-law, and subject to parliamentary approval within 60 days to turn it into law, including the changes imposed by the lawmakers.
Glyphosate "has been used on a massive scale in Brazil for more than 20 years... It doesn't make sense to ban its use," because allowing cultivation of GM soya means "approving the technology, which includes the herbicide," argues Rodrigues.
In his opinion, "it is a waste of time to debate already resolved questions," suggesting that, one way or another, the soya farmers will use glyphosate, "which is not banned, but lacks the registration for its specific use" on the surface of the soya plant.
As for the decision by the Parana government to block shipments of uncertified soya, the FARSUL official believes it will pose "big problems for exports," not for Rio Grande do Sul because it has its own port, but for other states, particularly the land-locked Mato Grosso, Brazil's leading soya producer.
Parana banned the cultivation of transgenic soya within the state's borders, but clandestine fields do exist. The GM variety is limited to four or five percent of the total, according to estimates by the farmers' federation, FAEPR. But that portion could increase if seeds continue to be smuggled in from Argentina and Rio Grande do Sul.
FAEPR, which represents the large landowners in the state, opposes the transgenic ban, calling it "inopportune" and contrary to the broader objectives of the measure itself.
"If there is a ban, where is the transgenic soya hidden? Amidst the conventional soya, meaning it will end up mixed together," Carlos Augusto Albuquerque, an adviser to the federation, told IPS.
It would be better to allow regulated cultivation of GM soya, he said, because the two varieties could be kept separate.
This type of control over the crop "is the means for saving conventional soya," and for ensuring access to the markets that prefer non-GM products, like Europe and Japan, which absorb 70 percent of Brazil's soya exports, he said.
In addition to the advantage of being free of restrictions in any market, conventional soya is proving in Parana to have higher yields than the transgenic soya of Rio Grande do Sul, Albuquerque said.
Meanwhile, Santa Catarina state, located between Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, has also banned the cultivation of transgenic crops, but soya production there is very limited.
The hope of all parties involved in the debate is that a draft law, which the Lula administration is soon to propose in Congress, will put an end to this muddle of bans and authorizations of transgenic crops.
But it appears impossible to reconcile the position of the big farmers who defend the free planting of GM crops with that of environmentalists who want "a transgenic-free Brazil."
October 30, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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