Brazil Lula says legalizing GM soy was best option
Thursday October 2

SAO PAULO, Brazil, Oct 2 (Reuters) - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Thursday the government's decision last week to legalize the planting and sale of genetically modified soybeans was the best option.

Brazil has been one of the world's last major agricultural exporters to prohibit GM crops, although soy farmers have ignored the ban and smuggled illegal transgenic soy seeds from neighboring Argentina for several years.

Rough estimates say a third of the massive 19-million-hectare soy belt is transgenic and Lula, in his first live interview since taking office on Jan. 1, said on national radio the problem could no longer be ignored.

"There were two options: either we prohibited GM soy and ordered the police to set fire to it -- which would have been a horrible picture in a country suffering from hunger -- or we could ... create a situation that would allow its sale."

During the previous eight-year administration, former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso had attempted to legalize GM soy in Brazil but was unsuccessful and had turned a blind eye to illegal planting.

Brazil accounts for a quarter of the world's soy supply and is the No. 2 producer after the United States.

Contrary to fears that he would implement radical leftist policies espoused during his earlier career, Lula has opted for orthodox, market-friendly reforms and relatively pragmatic solutions to domestic problems since becoming president.

He said he realized the policy to legalize GM soy could hurt producers of conventional soybeans but stressed that the government "would regulate GM labeling with serious effort."

Last week's decree to legalize GM soy has prodded environmental and consumer groups long opposed to transgenics into action and Congress' Green Party has challenged the constitutionality of the decree in the Supreme Court.

"Look, you're not dealing with a problem by saying you are against or in favor of it," said Lula. "You deal with it -- when facing a reality such as the presidency did -- by doing something about the problem."