From: Alan Clendenning, Associated Press
Published March 4, 2005 12:00 AM

Brazil Approves Law to Legalize Genetically Modified Crops

SAO PAULO — Brazilian agribusiness won a key victory after lawmakers cleared the way for rules to permit genetically modified crops and allow Monsanto Co. to sell its popular modified soy seed in Latin America's largest nation, the country's agriculture minister said Thursday.

Brazilian soy farmers, who have used cloned or smuggled versions of the biotechnology company's Roundup Ready variety for years, will no longer have to worry about breaking the law or facing legal action from Monsanto as long as regulators approve the seeds for planting, said the minister, Roberto Rodrigues.

"The important thing here is the legal framework," he said a day after Brazil's lower house of Congress overwhelmingly passed the bill hotly contested by environmentalists. "This is essential."

While the environmental group Greenpeace said the move is unconstitutional and warned that genetically modified crops will harm the environment, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is expected sign it into law later this month.

Monsanto said Thursday it will not comment on the bill until after it becomes law. The company's stock rose 67 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $59.15 in Thursday afternoon trading, at the high end of its 52-week range of $31.36 to $59.64.

Soy production has boomed in Brazil over the last decade, along with the use of the banned GM seeds, which help farmers cut production costs, despite Monsanto's long-standing complaints it was being robbed of profits by the widespread illicit use of its technology.

Greenpeace said it would lobby Silva to veto the bill, encouraging Brazilians to fight "against the corporate strategy of dominating food production."

But the bill, passed Wednesday in a 352-60 vote, has already been approved by Brazil's Senate. And Silva has already twice approved temporary decrees approving the harvesting of modified soy even though the crops were technically illegal.

Greenpeace claimed the commission that would approve GM seeds in Brazil is stacked with a small group of science and technology experts inclined to sanction the seeds and lacks representation from environmental authorities. Experts expect GM soy may be the first modified seeds to be approved, followed by other seeds for such crops as wheat or cotton.

Brazil is second only to the United States in soy production, but easily has the potential to become the world's largest soy producer because of cheap land, low labor costs and plentiful water.

International demand for soy has skyrocketed in recent years, driven by ever-increasing purchases by China for soy used in products ranging from animal feed to cooking oil.

Monsanto'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. Brazil's ban on such crops did little to stop farmers, because it was rarely enforced.

The company disputed claims that GM crops harm the environment, saying many Brazilian farmers have boosted their profits while significantly reducing the amount of herbicides used to kill weeds.

Experts estimate about 30 percent of Brazil's soy is grown with genetically engineered seeds, but the figure is near 90 percent in Brazil's southernmost state, where the seeds were first introduced in the 1990s after being smuggled in from neighboring countries with no bans on them.

In India on Thursday, Greenpeace activists mounted pressure on the government to scrap licenses it gave to Monsanto for selling its genetically modified cotton seeds. The company has faced stiff opposition from environmental groups in India since 2002, when it was granted licenses to sell three varieties of its seeds.

The licenses are due to expire this month. Monsanto has sought licenses for 10 new varieties of BT (bacillus thuringiensis) cotton and an extension for the existing three.

"Monsanto cotton has comprehensively failed and we demand that the government immediately revoke permission to it," Greenpeace campaigner Divya Raghunandan said Thursday, a day before the government's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee was to decide on extending the licenses. Raghunandan said her group didn't plan any immediate protest because the government committee had agreed to hear its views.

Monsanto's BT cotton is the only genetically modified crop allowed in India, a reluctant entrant into the world of biotechnology. Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacterium whose gene is injected into cotton seeds to give them resistance against boll worms, a major concern for farmers in India.

Associated Press writer S. Srinivasan in Bangalore, India, contributed to this report.

Source: Associated Press

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