Brazil joins the growing number of countries rejecting GMO imports from the United States. In the last decade, bio-technology and gene modification in large-scale agriculture has become a controversy driving a wedge into the industry. In 2015, 19 European nations had declared a ban on GM crops, citing political, health and environmental concerns.
Brazil leads world production of sugar cane and is the second largest producer of soybeans; other major exports include coffee, beef and frozen chickens. The livestock industry is suffering due to feed shortages as regulations against GMO grains have stalled importation from the U.S., one of Brazil’s biggest trade partners. Brazil grows 29 types of GMO corn while the U.S. produces 43 varieties. “In recent years, some of the largest commodity trading companies have refused to take certain GMO crops from farmers because the seeds used hadn’t received a full array of global approvals, something that can lead to holdups at ports or even the rejection of entire cargoes,” reported Bloomberg.
Brazil has long disputed genetically engineered products, particularly those intended for human consumption. GM products were originally prohibited after a 1998 lawsuit, but subsequently amended in 2003 with measures to regulate their sale through the required use of warning labels. Last year, following an inspection by Brazil’s Consumer Protection Agency, the Ministry of Justice fined several companies including Nestle, Pepsico, and Bimbo for failing to label GMO products.
After the United States, Brazil is incidentally the second leading producer of GM crops, followed by Argentina, Canada, India, and China. In 2014, Brazil comprised 42.2 million hectares of agricultural area dedicated to the production of genetically modified crops. More than 93% of soybean, 90% of corn, and 60% of cotton produced by Brazil is genetically engineered. Brazil has failed to reject Monsanto, and “Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area”. In this context, Brazil may be motivated by pulling rank in the trade game and not entirely based on issues of health.
While the vast majority of research indicates genetically modified products are safe for consumption, many concerns can be attributed to politics rather than science. People are uncomfortable with the monopoly created by “large multinational corporations having enormous influence over the food supply” and the promotion of certain unethical farming practices. Also, a large homogenous crop is more vulnerable to decimation and engineered resilience has prompted the emergence of “super bugs” and “super weeds” that require heavier chemicals to combat.
The common argument is that genetic modification is crucial in addressing food insecurity (which affects an estimated 795 million people worldwide), however, the actual productivity of GM crops has been disproven. A comprehensive study in 2009 measured 13 years of progress in the industry, concluding that “genetically engineering herbicide-tolerant soybeans and herbicide-tolerant corn has not increased yields”.
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