From: Raymond Colitt, Reuters
Published December 21, 2007 02:53 PM

Brazil cracks down on illegal Amazon farm products

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil has banned the sale of farm products from illegally deforested areas in the Amazon in an attempt to reverse months of increasing destruction in the world's largest rain forest, officials said on Friday.

A decree signed by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday imposes fines for buying or trading goods such as beef or soy produced on illegally deforested properties.

"This applies to international traders as much as local butchers in the Amazon," Environment Minister Marina Silva told a news conference in the capital Brasilia.

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Seven hundred federal police were sent to the Amazon region on Friday with orders to help combat environmental destruction. They join roughly 1,650 government inspectors there, including Army troops and intelligence officers.

The new decree follows a 10 percent increase in the rate of Amazon deforestation between August and November, Silva said.

An unusually long dry season allowed loggers to cut trees while rising commodity prices encouraged farmers and cattle ranchers to move ever deeper into the forest, she said.

The measure responds to growing international pressure for Brazil to step up Amazon conservation. Rain forests help absorb greenhouse emissions while burning or cutting down trees releases carbon into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming, scientists say.

In August, Brazil celebrated a 50 percent reduction in deforestation over the past two years to the lowest rate in at least seven years. It said an estimated 9,600 square km (3,707 sq miles) were cleared in the year ended July 31.

Environmentalists say the rapid expansion of Brazil's agricultural frontier has caused the destruction of huge tracts of jungle.

The government plans to name in coming months 35 municipalities identified as hot spots of destruction. Land holders who do not legalize their properties will be denied government credit and blacklisted. Anybody buying or trading products from them will face fines.

But Silva said Amazon development would continue on millions of acres (hectares) of unused and cleared land.

"We are not saying nothing will be produced anymore in the Amazon," she said.

(Editing by Alan Elsner)

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