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Checkbiotech: War over transgenics returns to the courts
Posted by: DR. RAUPP ; madora (IP Logged)
Date: March 06, 2005 05:07PM ; ;

The battle over transgenics will continue, because the biosafety bill
recently passed by Brazil's lower house is unconstitutional, say
organisations opposed to the introduction of genetically modified organisms
(GMOs) without prior studies into their environmental and human health
impact, March 2005 by Mario Osava.

Sezifredo Paz, executive coordinator of the Brazilian Consumer Defence
Institute (IDEC), told IPS that legal channels will now be pursued in an
attempt to revert the congressional decision. ?We trust in the justice
system, because it is the only one that has acted independently on this
issue,? he said.

The new Biosafety Law will replace the one adopted in 1995. Approved by the
Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday night, it will make it easier to acquire
authorisation for planting genetically modified crops, as well as
authorising embryonic stem cell research for treatment purposes.

The combination of these two rather disparate issues in a single piece of
legislation reflects the tortuous road travelled by the bill passed by the
lower house of parliament in a vote of 366-59.

This overwhelming majority is especially remarkable, considering that the
version of the bill the deputies approved on Wednesday omitted a number of
fundamental points included in a bill passed by the same lawmakers a year

On that occasion, the majority supported a version that also satisfied
environmentalists and consumer protection groups, because it stipulated the
need for prior studies into the impact of transgenic crops on the
environment, human health and food security before cultivation could be

At the last minute, a group of vocally Christian deputies managed to tack on
a ban on the use of embryonic stem cells in scientific research.

But once that original bill was passed, it went before the Senate, where
modifications were introduced, leading to the new version and the need for
another vote in the Chamber of Deputies.

The bill that has now received definitive congressional approval, with the
changes made by the Senate, authorises research using human embryos that
have been frozen for at least three years. A movement of scientists, the
disabled and people suffering from illnesses that could potentially be
treated as a result of stem cell research pressured Brazilian lawmakers to
include this clause.

The issue of transgenics was overlooked in these lobbying efforts. The
biosafety bill, which now merely needs the president's signature to become
law, grants full power to authorise the use of GMOs to the National
Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio), a department of the Ministry of
Science and Technology.

The Commission can freely adopt decisions without needing to consult with
the Ministry of the Environment or even the health authorities responsible
for studying the potential threat posed to human health.

Embryonic stem cells (which can transform themselves into any kind of cell
in the human body) served as a ?Trojan horse? to distract attention and
allow the new rules on transgenics to pass unnoticed, said Paz.

But the new law is unconstitutional, because the Brazilian constitution
adopted in 1988 explicitly stipulates the need for prior studies on
environmental impact, he said.

This provision served as the grounds for a successful lawsuit filed by IDEC
six years ago, in which the final ruling prohibited the planting of
transgenic soy sold by the U.S.-based biotech transnational Monsanto.

The Brazilian chapter of the environmental group Greenpeace called for a
mobilisation of civil society to urge President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to
veto the bill.

The CTNBio, made up of 27 members, most of them scientists appointed by the
Ministry of Science and Technology, has already demonstrated that it is ?
totally committed to promoting biotechnology and the hasty release of
transgenics,? said Gabriela Couto of Greenpeace Brazil's genetic engineering

In the meantime, Paz said he was ?sceptical? about a presidential veto,
given the backtracking seen in the stance of the government and Lula in
particular with regard to this issue.

By way of example, he pointed to the three special decrees with which the
president granted after-the-fact authorisation for the sale of transgenic
soy during his first two years in office, thereby accepting as a ?fait
accompli? the fact that farmers in southern Brazil were using seeds smuggled
in from Argentina.

In addition, Lula ?failed to make the slightest effort to defend the bill
drafted by his own government?, which incorporated the environmental and
health considerations outlined in the constitution. What's more, the ruling
coalition leaders in Congress supported the modifications in favour of
transgenics, Paz noted.

The battle will continue in the legal arena and through the mobilisation of
environmentalists and consumer defence groups, he said. IDEC is in the
process of studying the bill and analysing potential channels for legal

?Releasing transgenics is sheer stupidity,? Lula declared when he was a
presidential candidate, a fact pointed out by the non-governmental
Alternative Agriculture Projects Advisory and Services Group (ASPTA).

The Zero Hunger Programme launched by the president also opposed the use of
GMOs, because it would ?exacerbate the dependency? of farmers on the
transnational monopolies, added ASPTA.

It is impossible for transgenic crops to be planted alongside conventional
crops without contaminating them, the organisation stressed.

As a result, the group predicted, there will be an onslaught of legal
proceedings launched by farmers whose crops are contaminated, as well as
lawsuits against farmers, as is the case in Canada and the United States,
where Monsanto has taken growers to court for illegally using its
genetically modified seeds, even when this is a result of contamination.


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