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Brazil moves closer to legalising biotech soy

Brazil moves closer to legalising biotech soy
BRASILIA, Brazil - Brazil's Senate has passed a long-delayed biosafety bill that will regulate the planting and selling of genetically modified (GMO) crops like soy, corn and cotton, as well as human stem-cell research.

The basic text of the bill - and those amendments that senators approve Wednesday afternoon - will return to the lower house, which voted through an earlier draft in February, for clearance before being signed into law by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

A backlog in legislation in the lower house, however, is likely to delay the bill's approval until late October or after, well into the current soybean planting season that began in mid-September.

Many farmers in southern Brazil refuse to wait for GMO crops to be legalised.

"Ninety percent of the soy crop our state produces is genetically modified and the producers are going to plant it with or without the legislation," Rui Polidoro Pinto, president of Rio Grande do Sul's State Cooperative Federation (Fecoagro), told Reuters.

Rio Grande do Sul is Brazil's number three soybean producer and is home to most of Brazil's black market GMO soy planting.

Monsanto's Brazilian subsidiary told Reuters it was preparing a statement on the issue for later release.

Brazil is one of the last major agricultural exporters to prohibit the commercial use of GMO crops, although its soybean producers have ignored the ban for over half a decade and planted illegal black market GMO soy.

"If the lower house doesn't pass the bill soon, I believe President Lula will issue a temporary measure based on the bill that will grant amnesty to producers (of GMO) and put them more at ease," said Pinto.

Producers have been demanding that Lula grant temporary amnesty to producers for the coming season as the government had done during the past two seasons.

The bill has been slow to move through Congress as lawmakers battle over how much power a regulative body of scientists called the CTNBio would have in clearing new GMO food products for commercial use, and to what degree government ministries would be able to override the CTNBio.

The agriculture ministry and producers have been fighting attempts by the environment ministry and groups like Greenpeace to add amendments to the bill that would tighten controls and delay the approval of biotech crops in Brazil.

Producers say biotechnology is better for the environment and consumers because less chemicals are required to control weeds and pests and it also helps them compete against other GMO producers like the United States and Argentina by reducing costs.

But environmentalists fear that GMO technology could pose a threat to the environment or human health.

Christian groups have attacked the bill for allowing stem-cell research, while Brazil's scientific community has defended the research that could provide new cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's.

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