Brazil postpones GM regulation

By Andrew Apel, AgBiotech Reporter

June 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news, via AgBioView: Brazil has postponed the application of new rules requiring that labels identify GM goods, after neighboring Argentina expressed alarm over the requirements. Brazil is Argentina s main trading partner and some 13 percent of the $11.4 billion of food Argentina exported last year went to Brazil, according to the Organization of American States' agricultural institute.

Argentine producers say the rules were stricter than those in Europe. "They've gone too far in including animal products... Argentine dairy products would have to carry a label saying this product comes from animals fed on GMOs", said Roberto Domenech, undersecretary of food at the agriculture department. "This hasn't been seen anywhere in the world. "

First we have to see how Brazil deals with this domestically and then how it deals with Argentina, because in Brazil there is also a high percentage of GM soy, said Victor Castro of the Argentine Association of Seed Producers.

In Brazil, there was no reaction to the rules. Over one month after the government decreed that all GM soy must carry consumer warning labels, Brazil's producers, cooperatives and traders were buying and selling without any GM labels or any increase in GM-free certificates. For now, the measure has not altered anything in the commercial process of the cooperatives, said Rui Polidoro, president of the Rio Grande do Sul Federation of Agricultural Cooperatives (Fecoagro), which has seen no labeling or increase in segregation of soybeans in the No. 3 soy producer state.

Cooperatives said there was no apparent increase in interest in certifying soy as GM-free, either. Antonio Sartori, owner of the Rio Grande do Sul brokerage Brasoja, said nobody was certifying crops as non-transgenic because there was no financial compensation. The buyer doesn t want to know, so the producer prefers to deliver the soy as transgenic and ready, said Sartori.

Brazil's agriculture ministry and grower associations were quick to point out deficiencies in the regulations. Agriculture minister Roberto Rodrigues said, It is difficult to discriminate between GM and non-GM beans. We don't have enough laboratories to inspect all of the lots and are even less prepared to certify producers. Federation of Cooperatives of Grande do Sul President Rui Polidoro said, "We have only three or four [test] kits, and with that number we have no hope of segregating the state's soybeans. "

The regulations do not specify who is responsible to shoulder the cost of inspection and certification. The price of tests for detecting transgenic content ranges from $127 for the simplest to $330 for sophisticated test kits. Brazil's National Agriculture Federation estimated the cost of testing this year s soybean crop at $276.8 million. According to one estimate, passing that cost on to consumers would make it impossible for Brazil to remain competitive in the global soybean market.

Grower associations estimate that the majority of soybeans harvested in Brazil this year would have been labeled as having transgenic content in order to eliminate the risk of fines. This might have eventually ended in requiring that all those soybeans be exported, as a measure pending in the legislature would ban selling any biotech soybeans within Brazil.

Legalizing commercialization of GM crops may be the only viable way out of Brazil's biotech soybean dilemma, because grower associations in Rio Grande do Sul have already stated their intent to plant Roundup Ready soybeans again this fall, with or without government approval.

Compiled from reports by Reuters and Food Chemical News.