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                                                                                                     The refusal to perform research on GMO products creates great doubts about their safety. Besides, what would be the problem in labelling such products? Those who defend the release of GMO products do not have the courage to state that they are in fact defending the monopoly of ten transnational corporations that control all GMO seeds in the world. What is at stake is whether our country will be able to guarantee food security for its people.


* João Pedro Stedile

During the electoral campaign in 2002, the Workers Party drafted the document “Dignified Life in the Countryside”, a programme which stated the party’s historical commitments for the countryside. The chapter on GMOs puts forward the party’s commitment to the principle of “precaution”, by which genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would only be commercially released after extensive research proved that it would not cause any harm to the environment, to the health of consumers, or to small farmers. This document was signed by the co-ordinator of the programme at the time and the current Minister of Finance, Antonio Palloci.

 In these almost two years in power, President Lula has signed two temporary measures allowing the planting and trade of GMO soy, without any reliable research being performed to attest to the safety of such organisms. Monsanto, the main beneficiary in the trade of GMOs, which holds the patent for Round-up, has not presented any results of the research performed on Brazilian soil about the environmental impact and/or its influence on human health even though legal proceedings to stop the planting of GMO soy have been in motion in the Federal Justice Department for more than six years. They have had enough time to produce the necessary evidence, if they existed, for the release of the product.

Because of electoral and political alliances with PMDB (Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement) in Rio Grande do Sul, the Federal Government found itself being forced to revise the provisional measures, releasing the planting of GMO soy. As a consequence of those alliances, it has opted to release GMO soy for consumption in Brazil, without knowing its present and future consequences. The government could have passed on the problem and released them for export. But in the middle of the path, there’s a rock. Or rather, the ominous Kandir Bill, which assures an exemption from state tax as a subsidy and incentive for exports. Since the vast majority of soy in Rio Grande do Sul is GMO, if it was exported it would receive a tax exemption and of course the government in Rio Grande do Sul would not collect any tax. So between changing the Kandir Bill, which benefits the exporters, or pushing the PMDB Government into bankruptcy, the government preferred to revise the temporary measure and let the people pay the bill.

 Monsanto applauded the decision. And they had something to celebrate, since the temporary measure recognises the existence of GMO soy, which had been denied till then and that allowed Monsanto to charge royalties from farmers. In the last Brazilian harvest, Monsanto collected R$80 million reais [roughly US$28 million dollars] and its stock has gone up in the international market.

 Later on, faced with protests against the release of GMOs, the government tried to redeem itself by offering a bill determining that all traded goods containing GMOs should be labelled. This is a right guaranteed by the Consumer Code.

 All products containing more than 1% of GMOs should display a yellow triangle symbol on the label. This law has been in force for a year. According to the Minister of Agriculture more than 5 million tons of GMO soy have been traded in the country. However, none of the industries have obeyed the law.

 The controversy carried over into society. The temporary measures, as the term suggests, should be temporary. In order to conduct a more appropriate follow-up to this issue, the Civil House proposed a Biosecurity Bill, which was debated with environmental groups and rural social movements. The project aimed to preserve the safety and the rights of Brazilians. It went to the Deputy Chamber, and there, mysteriously, the very leader of the government, Deputy Aldo Rebelo, not only did not defend the government’s project but also distorted it by listening to the demands from large farmers and transnational corporations.

 The Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, reacted vigorously, but the personal pressures coming from the Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, who supports GMOs, were more successful. The senators Osmar Dias (PDT-Paraná) and Ney Suassuna (PSDB-Paraíba) buried the initial spirit of the bill. They removed the principle of social precaution, releasing GMO soy immediately. They also gave full power to a commission of 15 technicians and members of the government, the so-called CTN-Bio, to commercially release those products, without any previous environmental and health impact study. They removed the demand for the labelling and prevented state governments from passing laws that prohibited the planting of GMOs.

 The refusal to perform tests on GMOs creates great doubts about their safety. Besides, what would be the problem in labelling those products? Those who defend the release do not have the courage to say that they are defending the monopoly of ten companies that control all GMO seeds in the world.

What is at stake is the ability of this country to guarantee food security to its people, assuring that a vital sector of the economy—agriculture—remains  under the control of small farmers.  

 What is at stake is our future. What needs to be clarified in this process is, if Brazilians will have autonomy of food production, if the government will protect food sovereignty or will become dependent on multinationals. People, who do not produce and control their own food, are not free people! The minimum we expect from our government is to be conscious of its historic responsibilities.

* João Pedro Stedile is a member of the National Board of the MST (Landless Workers Movement) and a member of Via Campesina.