With the passing of his first months in office, we have already
realized that President Lula will be less sensitive to grassroots
demands than he had promised. If on the one hand, the nomination
of Senator Marina Silva for the Ministry of the Environment
appeared to be a gesture which reaffirmed the commitment to
the environmental movement, the nomination of Roberto Rodrigues
for the Ministry of Agriculture represented a clear signal
that agricultural policy was turning toward the right.
Campaign for a GMO-free Brazil
At the end of 2002, Lula had just won the presidential election.
We were living in a society full of hope for the implementation
of new, more advanced, and responsible policies for the country
in all areas: environment, economy, health, education, human
the case of transgenics (or genetically-modified organisms,
GMOs), the people were truly confident because Lula had promised
that, if elected, he would maintain the moratorium on these
products until all the necessary studies were done on their
impact. Lula also demonstrated his sensitivity to the economic
repercussions and was inclined to bring them to bear on his
policy-making. These "promises" appeared in at least
six guidelines for governmental policy - the Notebook on "Environment
and Quality of Life, pp. 12 and 28, the Notebook on "Dignified
Life in the Field", p. 22, and the Notebook "Zero
Hunger", pp. 50, 87, and 92.
had just overcome eight years of a neo-liberal policy which,
on these issues, resulted in an intense battle between the
federal government and civil society, the latter succeeding
at great cost to block the entrance of transgenic seeds into
Brazilian agriculture, despite the insensitivity of the government.
three basic weapons used by the government of Fernando Henrique
Cardoso were first of all, the attempt to introduce transgenic
products into the country quickly and discretely, through
authoritarian acts (considered illegal) of the CTNBio (National
Technical Commission of Biosecurity/Ministry of Science and
after the suspension by the Federal Court of the release of
transgenic soy conceded by the CTNBio in 1998, the Union,
together with Monsanto (multinational which dominates the
worldwide transgenic seed market and tries even today, to
release transgenics in Brasil), initiated a series of appeals.
(Note that the Court determined that impact studies should
be done before the release. The government and Monsanto would
prefer to try to dismiss the need for such studies.)
And the third action - that which left more disastrous consequences
- was the failure to execute any type of control over the
illegal market in transgenic seeds, to monitor the illegal
planting or sale of them, or to provide any type of educational
or informative activity for the population (either for farmers
began the year 2003 with a "cursed inheritance"
(as it ended up being called) represented, above all, by the
soy harvest in Rio Grande do Sul, to be gathered at the beginning
of March, which was in large part contaminated by transgenic
grains. But another part of the "cursed inheritance"
was an already existing judicial-legal struggle, a completely
corrupted CTN Bio, the majority of whose members had mandates
to follow, and agricultural organizations in the South seduced
by the propaganda of Monsanto and disposed to challenge the
government against any attempt at control which it attempted
the end of 2002, all the organizations involved with the issue
were already aware of the problem which came from the soy
harvest in Rio Grande do Sul and they began to try, by any
means, to meet with Lula and his ministers with the intention
of discussing this and proposing solutions. None of their
requests were responded to.
the passing of the first months of the new government, we
already understand that President Lula would be less sensitive
to grassroots appeals than what he had promised. If on the
one hand the nomination of Senator Marina Silva for Minister
of the Environment appeared to be a gesture of compromise
with the historic causes of the left and the environmental
movement, the nomination of Roberto Rodrigues for Minister
of Agriculture represented a clear signal that the agrarian
policy of Brazil was turning to the right. Besides being an
important opinion maker in the agro-business sector of the
country, turned to the neoliberal model of large-scale corporate
farming directed toward exports, Rodrigues was also a declared
defender of the introduction of genetically-modified seeds
into Brazil. At that moment it was already clear that Rodrigues
was influencing the government more than Marina Silva was.
Restructuring of the Campaign
then, the majority of what had been done in the name of the
Campaign for a Brazil Free From Transgenics came from a small,
very active group of NGOs at the national level, but with
little ingress into other organizations. Various initiatives
had been taken in the sense of expanding the Campaign to involve
the large popular movements of the country, in addition to
a number of union organizations, NGOs, consumers, professors,
etc. but all with little effect. Other organizations also
performed important activities of the Campaign against the
releasing of transgenics, but without a broad-reaching coalition.
the goal of joining forces, increasing representation, and
consequently taking their voices together to the new government,
a broad-based, multi-voiced, large national coalition was
proposed. It would be critical about the precipitated introduction
of transgenics into the country and disposed to dialogue,
propose solutions and participate in governmental decisions
on the theme. From this perspective, The International Seminar
"The Threat of Transgenics - Proposals of Civil Society"
was organized in Brasilia in the middle of March.
that time, we still did not have the opportunity to be received
by those already evidently representing the "hard core"
of federal government (who effectively decide the course of
policy) and we already knew that a Provisionary Measure authorizing
the commercialization of transgenic soy for 2002/2003 was
in the works. We used all our resources and possibilities
for influence to show the government the risks that were implicated
in this measure, also without success.
Seminar of Brasilia brought together 85 groups and ended up
with a "Notebook" of detailed proposals on five
issues - the fate of the soy harvest; legislation on transgenics
in agriculture; the composition and attributes of CTNBio;
action proposals for ANVISA (National Agency of Sanitary Protection/Ministry
of Health); and Biotechnological Research. The only State
Ministry which we succeeded in attracting for the meeting
in order to receive the proposals of organized civil society
was Marina Silva, of the Ministry of the Environment.
few days after the seminar, Provisional Measure 113 was published,
authorizing the commercial use of transgenic soy in the internal
and external markets.
the point of view of civil society, if on the one hand we
did not succeed in blocking the publication of the Provisional
Measure in an authoritative way, nor participate to the same
degree, (violating judicial decisions in force), the strength
of the Campaign was that the movement grew vigorously. The
name of Campaign for a Transgenic-Free Brazil came to be a
large umbrella, sheltering an enormous number of groups, NGOs
and social movements, joined in a network and ready to assume
the struggle against transgenics as a top priority.
were facing the legislative process for Provisional Measure
113 in Congress with much more strength than we had during
the Cardoso years. We held large meetings to define the strategy
of action and programming of activities (at the national as
well as regional level). We lobbied in a more organized and
representative way and did a better job in occupying the diverse
spaces available for influencing the government and providing
information and consciousness-raising for the general public.
during the following months we saw the consolidation of the
way in which the government of Lula would carry on politics
- only slightly transparent and authoritarian, reducing the
site of decision-making to the famous "hard core"
- worse, highly sensitive to the demands of the right-wing
Measure 113 passing Congress represented a great risk of creating
a federal law that would open the country to transgenics in
a broad and deregulated way. And in order to pass it in the
Chamber of Deputies without major modifications, the government
made an agreement with the congressional bloc from the rural
areas of the country (which maintains an enormous power in
Congress), committing itself to send to Congress, in the shortest
possible time, a bill that would definitively regulate the
question of transgenics in Brazil.
is obvious that the country already had "definitive"
legislation on transgenics, based upon Law 8.974, a Biosecurity
Law, sanctioned in 1995. And if the case of releasing transgenics
was stopped in the courts, it was not for the lack of a law
but for a lack of compliance with the existing law.
groups in the Campaign joined together more than ever in order
to try to participate in the legislative process. Above all,
everything was done so that the process might be open to participation
by the people. Up to the time at which this article was written,
the bill has not been presented and its contents are unknown.
But at least, though largely symbolic, the government opened
a space for society to give its opinion.
the same time as the new legislation was being proposed, the
federal government, notably the Ministry of Agriculture, failed
to take any type of control over the sale of the soy crop
from Rio Grande do Sul. It had the right to control the segregation
of the transgenic crop, to supervise the labeling of the parcel
of land where the crop was planted, to inform the workers
and create conditions so that nearby plantings might remain
free of transgenic seeds, and thus guarantee the supply of
conventional seed in sufficient quantity.
federal government, which at the beginning of the year justified
its provisional measure through the "cursed inheritance"
of the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso that did not
supervise agriculture in previous years, assumed the shameful
and inexplicable attitude of repeating the same behavior -
to solemnly fail to do anything.
the bill proposed by the government took a long time to be
concluded and brought to Congress - certainly thanks to the
pressure applied by the members of the Campaign and committed
representatives of the Workers Party - the farmers in Rio
Grande do Sul, determined to continue planning transgenic
seeds (deluded by excellent results in the harvest of 2002/2003,
owing to favorable climate which benefited all plantings,
transgenic or not, and in this way lessened the difficulty
of the work), began a movement for a new edition of the provisionary
law, authorizing the planting of transgenic seeds in the harvest
which at the beginning seemed highly improbable, because it
would throw cold water on all the hopes of the anti-transgenic
movement regarding the creation of a new serious and responsive
legislation, ended up being decided in the most shocking way
the end of September, Lula called the governor of Rio Grande
do Sul, Germano Rigotto (the current leader of the pro-release
groups in the state) without previous notice, thus bypassing
the processes and authority consolidated by his own government.
He also contacted the executive secretary of the Ministry
of Agriculture, three congressmen from the Workers Party and
one from the PMDB (Partido do Movimento Democrático
Brasileiro, or Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) , all
of whom favored the release of transgenic seeds, so that in
the afternoon they could define and sign a bill authorizing
the release of the 2003/04 harvest. This only failed to come
to pass thanks to the determined intervention of Minister
Marina Silva, who knowing of the meeting through the press,
hurried to intervene.
went to the US the next day, leaving his vice president, José
Alencar, with the responsibility for signing the infamous
measure. Never had the country seen such popular mobilization
around the issue than we saw during that week.
Surprised, Alencar wavered in assuming responsibility for
signing the measure. As soon as that fact became public knowledge,
he was alerted by various judicial groups as to the illegal
and almost unconstitutional aspects of the provisionary measure.
At the same time, we were gaining prominence in the press
(we made headlines in the major newspapers of the country
and were prominently featured in television reports during
this time) and began, finally, bring to light the motives
of those who are against the freeing of transgenics.
after a period of several days, Provisional Measure 131 was
signed by José Alencar, but at the political cost of
the government looking irresponsible in that it does not know
how to run its administration.
have a formidable task with the releasing of the planting
of the 2003/04 harvest but our actions have gained a greater
dimension than we had foreseen. We gained political strength,
challenged the government and succeeded in communicating to
the general public the motives behind our actions.
Today, the government is sending mixed messages as to the
near future. On one hand, rather apprehensively, Lula promised
Marina Silva that the bill, to be announced shortly, would
be in agreement with the environmental, social and health
concerns that she raised. On the other hand, with an almost
provocative attitude, he ended up naming the Deputy from the
Workers Party, Paulo Pimenta, who is one of the main spokesmen
for the pro-transgenic movement, as the person who would carry
Provisional Measure 131 in Congress.
bill actually represents the only clearly defined hope for
responsible legislation guaranteeing that the risks of transgenics
will be evaluated, and that their economic and social relevance
will be examined before any commercial release. Our challenge
in the short run will be to stop Provisional Measure131 from
becoming worse while it is moving through Congress or before
it is transformed into a federal law allowing the freeing
of these products. Also, we need to guarantee that the bill
that the government will present corresponds to our expectations
and that it can be legislated without making it worse. If
we can accomplish this, Measure 131 would have been a temporary
defeat followed by a permanent victory.
what will happen next is difficult to predict. We have today
a movement that is much stronger and organized than it was
a year ago and a government, that although it has frustrated
all of the hopes for seriousness and caution among the organizations
that are involved with the issue, is beginning to give signs
that it perceives that the liberation of transgenics in a
deregulated manner could cost much more than they are prepared
to pay. The political price would be high. We now need to
broaden and strengthen our efforts and strengthen the movement
beyond what we have already done and fight for the government
to agree, before it's too late.
Flavia Londres is an agronomist and works with the Assistance
and Service for Alternative Agricultural Projects (AS-PTA
- Assessoria e Serviços a Projetos em Agricultura Alternativa)
and with the Campaign for a Brazil free from Transgenics.