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Brazil to lift ban on crops with genetic modification

(Thursday, Sept. 25, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Tony Smith, NYTimes: PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Sept. 24 - Brazilian farmers, the world's No. 2 producers of soybeans, got the go-ahead today to plant genetically modified seeds this season after the country's vice president said he would lift a ban on transgenic crops.

Vice President José Alencar, standing in for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who is visiting the United States, Cuba and Mexico, said that he would sign a decree ending the ban, despite resistance from environmental advocates and their supporters in the government.

The decree effectively extends a temporary decree legalizing the sale of genetically modified soy from this year's harvest, but officials said they expected it to pave the way for legislation that would be sent to Congress this year. The extension comes just in time for the October planting.

Until last year, Brazil was one of the world's last main exporters of farm goods to ban the planting or sale of genetically altered crops or foods, although an increasing number of farmers, especially in the southern farming states Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná, have flouted the ban in recent years by planting transgenic seeds smuggled in from neighboring Argentina.

"This decree essentially legalizes what was already happening, but it is important," said Amaryllis Romano, agribusiness analyst at Tendencias, a consultant in São Paulo.

Analysts estimate that 30 percent of Brazil's soy is grown from smuggled genetically modified seeds, and in Rio Grande do Sul, which borders Argentina and where most of Brazil's transgenic soy has been planted, the figure is closer to 70 percent.

Even under the ban, Brazil produces more than a quarter of the world's soy and has been closing the gap with the United States, the top producer and exporter.

Brazil's oilseeds association says soy exports should top $8 billion this year, 34 percent more than in 2002. This year's harvest produced 52 million tons, nearly 60 percent more than five years ago and only 20 million tons behind estimates for this year's American harvest.

"Sooner or later, Brazil will overtake the United States, with or without transgenics," Ms. Romano said.

While the agriculture minister, Roberto Rodrigues, and other members of Mr. da Silva's pro-business economic team have advocated lifting the ban, it was opposed by the environment minister, Marina Silva, and by environmental advocates. Court rulings have overturned, then upheld the ban in recent months. On Tuesday, a group of landless rural workers stormed the agriculture ministry to protest the expected lifting of the ban.

"The technicians tell me there are no risks, the environmentalists tell me there are," Mr. Alencar said at a function in Brasília. "But really I must sign this decree."

The lifting of the ban is good news for the Monsanto Company, which last week ran notices in several newspapers here, asking soybean farmers to pay royalties on future use of its Roundup Ready soybeans.

But smaller farmers were also happy.

"We did all our sums and we found that we had lost 28 percent of our income by not planting transgenic seeds last year," said Amauri Miotto, treasurer of Rio Grandes family farmers federation who farms 120 acres near the Argentine border. "That's about $1,500 - a lot of money for a farmer like me."

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/25/business/worldbusiness/25soyb.html