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October 13, 2011

GMO Crop Varieties Find Path to Approval in Brazil

It has only been five years since Brazil set up an agency to officially evaluate and authorize the use of GMO crop varieties and already the country is the second largest user of the technology after the United States. In 2005 Brazil created a system for evaluating and approving new GMO crop varieties under the direction of the National Technical Commission on Biosecurity (CTNBio). Prior to the creation of CTNBio, approvals of new GMO varieties was promoted by Biotechnology Information Council (CIB) which is composed of companies promoting the use of the technology. The approval process under CIB was very slow and cumbersome and the process has been greatly streamlined under CTNBio.

Thus far, Brazil has approved the use of 33 GMO crop varieties since 1998 with 23 of those approvals in the last three years. The 33 approved varieties account for nearly 50% of the crop acreage in Brazil including two thirds of the soybeans and the safrinha acreage and nearly half of the full-season corn acreage. The approved technology aids in weed and insect control. The 27 members of the CTNBio commission generally take less than a year to evaluate and approve new GMO crop varieties. Many in the agriculture sector feel this is a very good system which could be replicated in Asia, Africa, and Europe where the current approval process can be very slow and cumbersome.

There are critics of the system especially in the environmental community who point out that the CTNBio has approved every GMO crop variety that it has evaluated.

The largest GMO crop in Brazil is Roundup Ready soybeans. Approximately 67% of the soybeans grown in Brazil are Roundup Ready, but the percentage of GMO soybeans in Brazil will probably not reach the level that it has in the U.S. or Argentina where nearly all the soybeans are GMO. There are a group of farmers, especially in the state of Mato Grosso, who feel there will continue to be a niche market for conventional soybeans (non GMO).

GMO crop varieties, namely Roundup Ready soybeans, were being grown in Brazil prior to the implementation of the current approval process. The soybeans were brought across the border from Argentina where seed laws are very weak and they were being planted in southern Brazil. There still may be some clandestine GMO soybeans planted in southern Brazil by farmers would resist paying royalties of the use of the technology.