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Brazil NGOs Campaign Against Genetically Altered Crops - 2002-07-16

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Brazil are going on a media offensive to prevent the legalization of genetically modified crops. Environmentalists and consumer groups for years have been able to thwart government and companies' attempts to legalize altered food.

In radio dramas that are being broadcast in remote regions, Brazilian NGOs are telling soy farmers the use of genetically modified seeds could endanger their health, their fields and their business.

"We are not saying that genetic engineering is, in principle, something bad; we say that we need more science to be sure that it will work in an appropriate way with no harm in the future," said campaign coordinator Jean-Marc von der Weid. "This is both for health and environmental reasons. The other question is on economics. What we think is that in Brazil, if we approve the GMOs, we will lose a spectacular advantage that we have now. We are selling more to the international market, mostly for Europe and Asia, than we have done in our history, because we are not GMO contaminated."

In Brazil, the debate over genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, affects mostly soybean production. Brazil is the world's second largest producer of soybeans behind the United States and ahead of Argentina. Most European and Asian retailers want to remain GM free.

Another opposition group, ActionAid, has been organizing grass-roots support in Brazilian farming regions to rouse consumer sentiment against legalization.

ActionAid public policy director Adriano Campolina says he is fighting for farmers to remain independent. "When the small-scale farmer or a big farmer starts using this kind of seed, this farmer will be completely dependent on the transnationals, which control intellectual property rights over these seeds," he said.

Brazilian scientist Crodowaldo Pavan said there should be checks on what multinationals can do, but that doesn't mean GM seeds should be banned. He says fears over their usage are unfounded.

Despite the official ban, Dr. Pavan says up to one third of Brazil's soy crop is genetically modified, because GM seed is being smuggled from Argentina. Brazil's government has invested heavily in a GM project by the U.S. biotech company, Monsanto, but the project was put on ice following a successful court challenge by consumers.

The anti-GMO groups are hoping the politicians' preoccupation with the October presidential election will give them time to gather enough support to defeat any future attempts to legalize genetically altered crops.