GM crops take root in Brazil

Ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied foods are steadily ad­vanc­ing in Brazil, where trans­genic crop va­ri­eties pro­duced by multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions grow along­side oth­ers de­vel­oped na­tion­ally.

Outlook - - WORLD IN FOCUS - By Fabiola Or­tiz

Ten years ago, Brazil yielded to agribusi­ness pres­sure and le­galised the cul­ti­va­tion of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied (GM) soy. To­day it is the world's sec­ond lead­ing pro­ducer of GM crops, sur­passed only by the United States.

Trans­genic soy had been grown clan­des­tinely in Brazil since the sec­ond half of the 1990s.

In 2003, the adop­tion of De­cree 4680, which stip­u­lated the la­belling of foods with a ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­ism (GMO) con­tent of at least one per cent, was con­sid­ered a land­mark de­ci­sion.

But the most de­fin­i­tive step in this di­rec­tion was taken by the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva (2003-10) through its au­tho­ri­sa­tion of GM soy through suc­ces­sive "pro­vi­sional mea­sures", which tem­po­rar­ily al­lowed the le­gal sale of crops that were be­ing il­le­gally grown in the south of the coun­try with GM seeds smug­gled in from Ar­gentina.

Fi­nally, in 2005, the adop­tion of the Biosafety Law es­tab­lished the National Tech­ni­cal Com­mis­sion on Biosafety (CTNBio), which is re­spon­si­ble for as­sess­ing and ap­prov­ing or re­ject­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for the cul­ti­va­tion and sale of GMOs.

Two years later, an­other law cre­ated the National Biotech­nol­ogy Com­mis­sion to co-or­di­nate and im­ple­ment a gen­eral pol­icy on biotech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Plant dis­eases, pests and in­va­sive species are the main causes of fi­nan­cial losses in agri­cul­ture, es­pe­cially due to the dif­fi­culty of mon­i­tor­ing and con­trol­ling them, ac­cord­ing to agri­cul­tural en­gi­neer Joao Se­bas­tiao Araujo, from the Depart­ment of Agron­omy at the Fed­eral Ru­ral Univer­sity of Rio de Janeiro.

"In this con­text, in 1996 a new tech­nol­ogy was in­tro­duced, trans­ge­n­e­sis, with a va­ri­ety of maize that con­tained pro­teins de­rived from the bac­terium

(Bt)," pro­vid­ing the maize with the bac­terium's in­sec­ti­ci­dal properties, Araujo said.

"It be­came one of the most com­monly used tech­nolo­gies in agri­cul­ture in the United States, and quickly came to ac­count for the ma­jor­ity of maize crops grown in that coun­try," he added.

The emer­gence of this tech­nol­ogy was fol­lowed by a new es­ca­la­tion in the use of fer­tilis­ers, new crop va­ri­eties, agri­cul­tural ma­chin­ery and the in­tro­duc­tion of en­to­mo­toxic (in­sec­ti­ci­dal) molecules, "all aimed at achiev­ing big­ger crop yields", said Araujo.

This new tech­no­log­i­cal pack­age was then pro­moted by transna­tional cor­po­ra­tions in coun­tries like Brazil, which is viewed as "an ex­cep­tional mar­ket" due to its vast ar­eas of soy, maize and cot­ton plan­ta­tions, he ex­plained.

As a re­sult, con­sid­er­able pres­sure was ex­erted by th­ese cor­po­ra­tions to gain govern­ment au­tho­ri­sa­tion for the use of trans­gen­ics, with the prom­ise of greater ef­fi­ciency and lower costs.

Ac­cord­ing to Cel­eres, a con­sult­ing firm that spe­cialises in the agribusi­ness sec­tor, GM crops oc­cu­pied 37.1 mil­lion ha of land in Brazil dur­ing the 2012-13 agri­cul­tural year, which re­flects an in­crease of 14 per cent (4.6 mil­lion ha) over the pre­vi­ous year.

The lead­ing GM crop is soy, with 24.4 mil­lion ha planted in 2012, ac­count­ing for 88.8 per cent of to­tal soy pro­duc­tion.

GM va­ri­eties ac­counted for 87.9 per cent (6.9 mil­lion ha) of the win­ter maize har­vest. As for the sum­mer maize crop, trans­genic va­ri­eties cover 5.3 mil­lion ha, or 64.8 per cent of the to­tal area planted.

Mean­while, GM cot­ton makes up just over 50 per cent (547,000 ha) of the crops planned for the 2012-2013 agri­cul­tural year, ac­cord­ing to Cel­eres.

Araujo noted that Brazil is highly com­pe­tent in agri­cul­tural re­search and that its sci­en­tists have achieved "ex­cep­tional re­sults" and con­trib­uted to crop yields that were unimag­in­able in the past.

How­ever, de­spite the tech­nolog-

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