Reuters
Brazil police sampling crops for illicit GM soy
Thursday February 13, 2:35 pm ET
By Sinara Sandri

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Federal police in Brazil's No. 3 soy state are collecting crop samples in an inquiry into the illegal cultivation and sale of genetically modified soybeans, while the government and courts try to define Brazil's policy on transgenics.

Samples taken on Wednesday at the Triticola de Getulio Vargas and Triticola de Erechim cooperatives would be submitted to a laboratory for testing, said a spokesman for the police in the soy town of Passo Fundo, in the north of Rio Grande do Sul state.

The testing was requested by a federal public prosecutor in northern Rio Grande do Sul and police said they already have eight producers in line for indictment.

"We called for the testing because they estimate 80 percent of the farming here is transgenic," Juarez Merchant of the prosecutor's office told Reuters. "If there is all that soy planted, we need to control it."

To plant or sell GM crops without authorization from the government's commission of biotechnology, the CTNBio, is considered a crime according to Brazil's 1995 Biosecurity Law.

The crime can carry a penalty of up to three years in prison, but when there is no prior record the sentence is often lessened to fines and community service time. Merchant is working on 20 cases involving GM crops in Rio Grande do Sul.

The investigation of individual producers, cooperatives and other links in the state's chain of soy production should be finished in 30 days.

HARVEST APPROACHES

Rio Grande do Sul should be ready for harvest in 30-40 days, and until now the government has largely ignored the problem -- slapping the wrists of a handful of producers with fines and seizing their seeds and some of their crops to set an example.

A pivotal decision of the legality of GM crops currently rests with the Regional Federal Tribunal, one of the three members of which has ruled in favor of recognizing the authority of CTNBio to approve the sale and planting of GM varieties of soy, corn and other organisms.

The CTNBio has approved Monsanto Co.'s (NYSE:MON - News) Roundup Ready soy and various types of transgenic corn currently sold on the world market; but local consumer groups have challenged the CTNBio's authority in the courts.

The Environmental Ministry recently requested a delay in the decision by the other two judges until the government had more time to study the issue.

The government of Rio Grande do Sul feels otherwise and plans to press for a decision from the courts.

"We need to know what the judiciary understands as legal," the state agriculture secretary, Odacyr Klein, told Reuters.

The tribunal announced on Thursday that it could not honor the ministry's request for a suspension of its ruling and that it would decide on the issue in the coming days.

"There is no legal provision ... to suspend the (court) in the middle of its judgment," said the tribunal in a statement.

If it ruled to recognize the CTNBio, environmentalist Greenpeace and local consumer watchdog IDEC have said they would press the case to the next level, the Supreme Court.