News & Current Affairs
21 December 2013
BRAZIL'S TERMINATOR SEED BILL THREATENS TO UPEND GLOBAL AGRICULTURE SAFETY
In a move that could threaten the 13-year global moratorium on terminator seeds, Brazilian lawmakers are now attempting to push through legislation that defies a United Nations agreement dating back to the 2000 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This new threat would legalize those seeds in Brazil, possibly triggering a global ripple effect.
The bill, PL 268/2007, was to be voted by the Judiciary Committee in October. But due to pressure from NGOs and grassroots groups, which culminated in a petition delivered October 16 on World Food Day, the Committee Chairman Decio Lima pledged to keep the bill filed during his mandate. On that same day, the president of Brazil's food security council (Consea), Maria Emilia Pacheco, publicly expressed her opposition to the bill.
However, due to pressure from lobbyists, on December 11 Lima went back on his word and scheduled the bill for vote again, raising fresh concerns over the legalization of terminator seeds. Once more, he faced pressure from civil society and the Committee did not vote on the bill. At least not yet.
Despite the two victories that have held back the bill, Brazilian lawmakers could at any point present it again for a vote. In addition to this bill, two others currently circulating in the House also pave the way for the use of terminator seeds. If one of those bills passes, experts believe Brazil's government will take a series of incremental steps that could lead to the collapse of the 193-country consensus moratorium, when the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meets for its biennial conference in Korea in October 2014.
Terminator seeds cannot reproduce themselves because they are genetically modified to be sterile. This way, farmers cannot use their produce from one season to grow during the next as they have historically done. The legalization of such seeds makes farmers totally dependent on companies that sell them. Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta all have a stable of Terminator patents.
Ironically, the Brazil move to allow terminator seeds comes after Mexico earlier this winter voted to ban the use of GMO corn in the country, a move praised by international activists and food justice advocates.
The decision -- which came nearly two years after the Mexican government put Monsanto's GE corn on hold, citing the need for more tests -- makes Mexico a leading player in the global battle against genetically modified organisms. According to Environmental Food and Justice, Judge Jaime Eduardo Verdugo J. of the Twelfth Federal District Court for Civil Matters of Mexico City ruled that the genetically engineered corn posed ”the risk of imminent harm to the environment.
He also ordered Mexico's Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), which is equivalent to the U.S. EPA, to immediately suspend all activities involving the planting of transgenic corn in the country and end the granting of permission for experimental and pilot commercial plantings.
The problems related to the seeds are numerous. The suicidal aspect of the seeds could contaminate neighboring seeds. The cross-contamination risk would have great economic impact on farmers, especially small-scale ones, as well as on local biodiversity, said Marcelo Montenegro of ActionAid, which is part of a coalition trying to block the terminator seed parliamentary bills in Brazil.
These are some of the reasons the seeds were never legalized anywhere in the world. The passing of the bill would violate a UN international agreement and open a loophole for other countries to be pressured into legalizing this type of technology.
A petition has been created to urge Congress to dismiss the bill. There's a lot of pressure for the bill to be voted this year through the Judiciary Committee and we cannot allow it to happen, added Montenegro.
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