An ethics watchdog in Brazil has expressed alarm at the rise in the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in the country. The Alternative Agriculture Support Service (AS-PTA) has linked the rise in GM crop cultivation to the growing influence of multinational agribusiness.
The watchdog’s concerns have been highlighted in Britain by the charity War on Want.
AS-PTA has challenged the impartiality of Brazil’s National Technical Commission for Bio-safety, which monitors the effects of GM crops on human health, the environment and agriculture.
The Commission’s independence came under scrutiny recently when Dr Lia Giraldo resigned from the Commission in protest at its members’ links with multinational corporations.
“The majority of those who are involved are biotechnology specialists and have a direct interest in the development of genetic engineering,” said Giraldo, “Only a few are actually specialists in bio-safety."
AS-PTA also accused the Commission of lacking "scientific rigour" and ignoring government-approved procedures that seek to protect biological diversity from the risks posed by modern biotechnology.
War on Want says that the rise in GM crops in Brazil has led to an increase in the use of powerful chemical pesticides, many of which are banned in other parts of the world.
Multinational agricultural businesses are accused of wielding enormous political influence in the country. AS-PTA says that they continue to win approval for their products, despite an official survey in 2009 that revealed that 12 agrochemicals were in breach of health regulations. Industry lobbyists had initially sought to prevent the survey from going ahead.
An AS-PTA spokesperson said, "We only need examine the list of requests for authorisation filed with the National Technical Commission for Bio-safety to see how genetically modified seeds will play a big role”.
AS-PTA belongs to the GM-Free Brazil Campaign, a coalition of Brazilian NGOs, social movements and individuals who lobby the government to implement effective forms of control over GM crops and dangerous agro-chemicals.
The long-term goal of the coalition is to eliminate all GM crops from Brazil. War on Want supports AS-PTA's work promoting alternative and sustainable agriculture based on small-scale farming projects.