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FISH OR CUT BAIT TIME FOR BRAZIL ON BIOTECH: John Baize
The one non-European major agricultural exporting country that thus
far has resisted producing biotech crops has been Brazil. Because of
lawsuits filed by environmental groups the Brazilian government has thus
far not allowed its farmers to plant Roundup Ready soybeans and other
biotech crops although it is well known that farmers in Parana, Rio
Grande do Sul, and Mato Grosso do Sul have smuggled in biotech seed from
neighboring Argentina. The Brazilian government and courts also
recently have blocked corn imports from Argentina because they included
biotech varieties. This angered local poultry producers that were
running short of corn.
One of the major reasons that Brazil has fought the adoption of biotech
crops was a belief that it would allow Brazilian farmers to play off of
the biotech fears in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere by selling their
soybeans and soy products to those countries at a premium. This view
particularly has been promoted by the leftist governors of Parana and
Rio Grande do Sul. However, it hasn' t worked out that way so far.
European importers may prefer non-biotech soybeans and soymeal, but so
far they have not been willing to pay any or a significant premium for
non-biotech imports. Why should they when they can buy Brazilian
non-biotech soybeans and soymeal at the same or a lower price as the
biotech soybeans offered by the US and Argentina? Therefore, Brazilian
farmers have not been able to see any financial benefits from not
growing biotech soybeans while missing out on the lower production costs
of planting biotech varieties. Brazilian swine and poultry sectors also
are asking why they must pay more for corn because the Brazilian
government is resisting a technology that is grown widely in the US,
Argentina and elsewhere with no problem.
In recent days there are signs that the Brazilian biotech logjam may be
about to break up. Six members of the Brazilian Cabinet, including the
agriculture and environment ministers, have signed a letter calling for
Brazil to allow biotech crop approvals, imports, and plantings.
Brazil's agriculture minister has recently been campaigning for an end
to the biotech planting ban. No doubt the agriculture minister can read
the political tea leaves as well as anyone and recognizes there is
strong support among farmers to allow the planting of biotech crops.
Next month a Brazilian court will rule whether or not to lift an
injunction against Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybean being released for
plantings in the country. Because of the letter signed by the Cabinet
ministers one suspects the court is more likely to clear the way for
biotech soybean plantings. The issue will then shift to the states
where the governors of Parana and Rio Grande do Sul have vowed to stop
biotech plantings in their states. It is ironic that the governments of
the states where bootleg biotech soybean plantings are the greatest are
the ones most opposed to allowing them legally to be planted.
Nothing can help to bring the biotech controversy in Europe to a
solution more quickly than Brazil moving ahead to allow biotech crop
plantings this year. As long as buyers in Europe are able to source
non-biotech soybeans and soymeal from Brazil at no premium there is no
cost for Europe's biotech phobia. However, once biotech soybeans are
widely produced in Brazil as they are in the US and Argentina it likely
will require a premium be paid to source non-biotech soybeans and
soymeal. If Europeans consistently have to pay a price premium to
avoid biotech foods and feeds one suspects that many will opt for the
lower priced biotech crops.
Biotechnology is a technology that will not be stopped because it offers
too many benefits to the world in terms of increased food production,
reduced pesticide usage, and improved quality. Thus far environmental
and consumer groups have been able to use unsupported fear tactics to
delay the technology's acceptance, but more and more people are
beginning to see through this fear mongering. It appears Brazil may be
the next country to see the light.