hot debate over genetically modified foods
November 13, 2000
from consumer organizations in 119 countries opened a conference
in Dhurban, South Africa, today. Near the top of their agenda is
the controversy over genetically modified food. Now, you may find
that rather surprising, considering the rather muted debate about
genetically altered foods in this country. But in much of the rest
of the world, it is a hot issue. From Rio de Janeiro, The World's
Paula Gobbi sends us part 2 of our series on GM foods.
Almir Rebello digs around in the dirt on his 247-acre farm. He holds
up a fistful of soil full of worms and tiny organisms. Rabello says
his soil is rich because his crop is genetically modified soybean,
which is banned in Brazil. If the authorities discover it, they'll
(in Portuguese with voice over translation): We defend planting
GM soybeans because we know they are better. They require 50%
less herbicides than conventional soybean. This reduces the production
cost and preserves the soil.
gets his high tech soybeans smuggled in from Argentina, where genetically
modified crops are legal.
Both Argentines and Americans are smart. They eat genetically
modified foods. And we will continue to plant them because we
know GM soybean is healthier. The proof can be seen right here
on our fields.
Rebello is also an environmentalist. He runs a local organization
that's trying to preserve older, more earth- friendly planting practices.
But his group now finds itself on the front line of the GM food
controversy because it supports genetically modified soybean. That
view is at odds with many environmentalists in Brazil.
of supermarket, with Greenpeace volunteer talking to passerby)
a supermarket in the coastal city of Porto Alegre, activists from
the environmental group Greenpeace warn shoppers about the risks
of eating GM foods. Brazil's ban only extends to growing GM soybean.
It doesn't affect selling food imports that contain GM ingredients.
store customer, speaking Portuguese)
It's outrageous, says this passerby, the products have no labeling.
We should have information about what we are eating. Soon there
will be so much garbage in our food and we won't even know it.
Like most countries, including
the United States, Brazil does not require food labels to say if the
ingredients are through genetic modification. This supermarket carries
Knorr soups, Nestle baby food, and Pringles potato chips products
Greenpeace says have GM ingredients.
Mariana Paoli is with Greenpeace.
They can cause more allergies to human beings and they can cause
harm if someone is treated for an illness and for the environment.
We know that we cannot fix the risks afterwards because they are
living organisms, so they reproduce inside of the nature.
standoff in Brazil over genetically modified foods started two years
ago when the government approved the planting of GM soybean produced
by the giant biotech company, Monsanto. But a consumer group challenged
it in federal court, and won. Since then a ban has been in place
on growing GM soybeans until further risks can be assessed. Lena
Mendonça is a member of the Brazilian Biosafety Commission that
initially approved the use of GM soybean.
(in Portuguese with voice over translation): We found no evidence
that Monsanto GM soybean provokes any harmful effect on human
or animal health or causes environmental problems in Brazil. But
one cannot generalize. Each genetically modified product has to
be analyzed separately, on a case by case basis.
the case of soybeans, the decision will have enormous implications
for Brazil. The country is one of the world's top three producers
of soybean. The other two, the United States and Argentina, have
already used GM soybean. Brazil has a ready market in Europe, which
is fiercely anti-GM, but Fernando Arauto, who represents Brazilian
agribusiness, says Brazilian farmers will still lose out.
(in Portuguese with voice over translation): We are against the
ban because we cannot compete with Argentina and the US, who produce
GM soybeans and sell it at the same price as ours. They have a
lower production cost with less need of herbicides, so we are
victims of unequal competition.
The decision about whether
to lift the ban on genetically modified soybean is not expected to
happen soon. But it may not matter. Despite the ban, agricultural
experts estimate that up to 30% of Brazil's soybean crop is genetically
modified. The country is simply too vast to enforce it.
For the World Paula Gobbi in Rio de Janeiro.