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Brazil to publish GM test crop rules soon

(Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002 -- CropChoice news) --

- Peter Blackburn, Reuters News Service, Brazil:

Rio De Janeiro - Brazil's federal environmental institute IBAMA is due to publish later this month rules for experimental planting of crops genetically modified to resist pests, government researchers said.

It marks a further step in the government's long-running battle with environmental groups to allow the production and commercial sale of GM crops which farmers believe is necessary to compete with U.S., Argentine soy and other food exporters.

Brazil, the world's second largest producer and exporter of soybeans after the United States, is one of the last major agricultural exporters where GM crops are banned. "The rules will allow field tests on GM corn, cotton, sugar cane and other crops being planted in the next six months," Maria Jose Sampaio, researcher at the agriculture ministry's research agency Embrapa, told Reuters.

Planting of experimental GM crops to resist pests stopped in Brazil in 2000, pending the publishing of government regulations authorizing such pilot projects. Speaking at a government symposium on food safety and transgenic crops, Sampaio said that there were also projects to test GM rice, bananas, potatoes, cocoa, coffee, wheat, citrus, eucalyptus, beans, papaya, melon and mahogany.

The government's regulatory body on biotechnology (CTNBio) approved in 1998 the sale of Monsanto's GM soybeans, but local consumer and environmental groups disputed its authority and obtained a court injunction against the sales.

Long Wait For Legal Ruling. Two of the court's three judges are still considering the case. The third judge in February recognized CTNBio's authority to allow Monsanto GM sales. "We have no idea when the two judges will give a ruling," Sampaio said.

However a ruling is considered unlikely until after October's presidential elections and formation of a new government. GM soybeans are already illegally grown on an estimated 25 percent of Brazil's soy area, several government researchers said Monday at the symposium. The GM seeds are smuggled across from neighboring Argentina where Monsanto seeds are produced and widely planted.

Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans are genetically modified to resist the company's potent glyphosate-based herbicide, which would kill a conventional soy plant. "If the technology is there, the farmers will go for it. You can't stop them," said Sampaio, noting that planting of the new soybean crop starts in September.

The GM soybeans achieve an estimated 30 percent cost saving because less applications of herbicide and pesticide are needed and higher yields can be obtained, according to researchers and farmers in Brazil. "Brazilian farmers want to produce more cheaply and be more competitive," added Sampaio.

Non-governmental groups complained that they weren't invited to the three-day symposium ending on Wednesday. "It's an attempt by the government to convince public opinion that GM crops present no food safety or environmental danger," Mariana Paoli, campaigner for Greenpeace Brazil, told Reuters.