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Brazil's president to decide whether to legalize genetically modified crops

(Monday, Sept. 22, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Alan Clendenning, Associated Press, 09/19/03: Brazil's president will decide within days whether to legalize genetically modified soybeans planted in a key southern agricultural state where 70 percent of the crop is now cultivated illegally.

A decision by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva giving the government's blessing to the planting would be a victory for U.S.-based Monsanto Co., which wants to sell its Roundup Ready soybean seeds in South America's largest country and recoup lost profits from widespread illicit use.

It would also be a defeat for environmental groups like Greenpeace lobbying to keep in place a Brazilian ban on use of genetically modified seeds because of suspicions they could harm the environment.

Rio Grande do Sul Governor Germano Rigotto met with Silva Friday to discuss the issue, and issued a statement later saying he believed Silva would approve an emergency measure allowing use of the seeds in planting scheduled to begin in several weeks.

"The solution must be immediate because the producers are saying there are not enough conventional soybeans for this harvest," Rigotto said.

Silva spokesman Andre Singer said Silva would issue a decision soon, but declined comment on whether the planting will be legalized.

Brazilian growers use seeds smuggled from neighboring countries, then grow more on their own land. The Brazilian government rarely enforces the law, and experts estimate 17 percent of the country's soybean crop are grown from the seeds.

Brazil harvested about 52 million metric tons of soybeans during the 2002-2003 season, making it the second largest producer after the United States. It is expected to surpass the United States soon.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Doreen Stabinsky said a Silva decision in favor legalizing the Rio de Grande do Sul planting would be "misguided" but doesn't mean Silva will seek to have the seeds legalized throughout the country.

Monsanto has complained bitterly for years about Brazilian farmers using the company's technology without paying for it. Monsanto has also been lobbying the Brazilian government to legalize genetically engineered crops.

The company's soy seed is engineered to withstand the spraying of herbicides, which saves farmers money by cutting down on the number of workers and weed killers needed.

Monsanto shares dropped 33 cents Friday to close at $25.25 on the New York Stock Exchange.