Order Allows Brazilian Farmers to Produce Genetically Modified Soy Just as Planting Starts
SAÕ PAULO, Brazil Brazil's president issued a controversial executive order allowing farmers to plant genetically modified soybeans, just as the planting season in the world's second-largest soy producer goes into high gear.
The measure, published in an official government newspaper recently after being signed by President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, was contested by environmentalists, who want to keep Brazil's ban on genetically modified crops because of fears they harm the environment.
But it was a victory for agriculture biotechnology giant Monsanto Co., which needed the order to collect royalties from Brazilian farmers who use cloned or smuggled versions of the company's popular Roundup Ready seeds to cut production costs.
After losing profits for years from widespread illicit use of genetically modified soy seeds in Brazil, U.S.-based Monsanto started collecting the royalties last year when a similar executive order was passed.
Monsanto needed the new order because the previous measure applied only to the 2003-2004 harvest. It will also allow the company to renegotiate royalty payments with Brazilian soy farmers using the seeds.
Monsanto called the decision an important step toward permanent approval for genetically modified crops in Brazil, but Greenpeace criticized Silva's government for again finding a way to legalize a crop banned in 2000.
"It is a sign of disrespect to Brazilian society to allow a variety of GM to continue being cultivated that hasn't passed an adequate environmental review," Greenpeace said.
Brazilian farmers recently started planting their 2004-2005 soybean crop amid predictions that the harvest could generate 60 million metric tons, a 20 percent increase from the previous season's crop.
Latin America's largest country 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. Production has boomed over the last decade amid rising worldwide demand, especially from 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.
"Farmers have opted to use genetically modified soy because of the benefits the product offers," said Monsanto spokesman Lucio Mocsanyi.
Monsanto has complained bitterly for years about Brazilian farmers using the company's technology without paying for it and has also lobbied the government to legalize genetically engineered crops. Although the company can continue collecting the royalties, the order does not allow it to sell its seeds in Brazil.
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.
Source: Associated Press