UPDATE - Brazilian farmers about to plant legal GM soy
Wednesday September 24
By Reese Ewing
(Adds new quotes, details in paragraphs 6-9)
SAO PAULO, Brazil, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Farmers in Brazil will soon plant genetically modified soybeans legally, Vice President Jose Alencar said on Wednesday, adding that he would sign a decree authorizing GM soy while temporarily acting as president.
Until recently, Brazil has been one of the world's last major agricultural exporters to ban GM crops, although soy farmers have ignored the ban and smuggled in illegal transgenic soy seeds from Argentina for years.
"I will have to sign that decree," said Alencar, who is Brazil's acting president while President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva travels to the United States, Mexico and Cuba over the next few days.
Soy producers have already begun to plant in Brazil's soy-rich center-west savanna after favorable rains, and the rest of the soy belt begins planting in October.
"We need to issue the decree because it is urgent and the rains are starting. That naturally means that it's time to plant and things have to move forward," Alencar said at a seminar in the Foreign Ministry.
DEVIL IN THE DETAILS
Environmental group Greenpeace in Brazil said it would go to the courts to try to suspend the decree, which is due to be published soon by the government.
"The provisional decree is an affront to the decision of the courts which demanded environmental impact and health risk studies before liberating commercial transgenic soy planting," Greenpeace spokeswoman Tatiana Carvalho told Reuters.
A Greenpeace motion in the courts is largely responsible for the current ban on transgenic soy sales in Brazil.
"We are waiting to see the details of the decree -- because nobody knows the exact content of it -- before we decide exactly what legal measures we will take. But Greenpeace is certainly going to go to the courts," she said.
Members of Congress consulted on the drafting of the decree said it would include details on the regulation of GM labeling and the collection of royalties by St. Louis, Missouri-based GM seed producer Monsanto Co. (NYSE:MON - News).
A spokeswoman for Monsanto in Brazil said the company would not comment on the decree until after it was signed.
Brazil accounts for a quarter of world's soy supply and is the No. 2 producer after the United States. Analysts say the South American farming giant could top U.S. soy output in five years under current growth rates in soy planting.
U.S. producers complain that Brazil has an unfair advantage because it doesn't pay royalties for black market GM soy.
"Perhaps under this (new decree) they will have to pay for the benefits they receive from GM technology, but Brazil wasn't enforcing the previous law (when GM was banned)," the president of the American Soybean Association, Ron Heck, told Reuters while on a break from harvesting on his soy farm in Perry, Iowa.
"Until we see enforcement of the new law (decree) it would be too soon to celebrate," he added. "We want to applaud the progress, but we want to see the results."
The decree is seen as a temporary measure until the government submits its draft bill on transgenics to Congress. The bill has been the source of heated debates between the Agriculture and Environmental Ministries.