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Corn+Soybean Digest

Paran Blocks Biotech Beans

On highways leading into the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, drivers slept under their trucks or found shade to play cards while awaiting permission to cross the state border and dump their loads at Brazil's port of Paranaguá.

Their trucks were laden with soybeans from other Brazilian states, and even from Argentina and Paraguay. Chicago prices climbed above $7.50/bu. while they waited, and temperatures climbed as well.

Up to a third of all soybeans exported from Brazil usually go through Paranaguá port. But this year may be an exception: The state's governor, Roberto Requião, has closed his state to biotech crops.

The truck drivers were waiting for results of tests for the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The state was presumably paying an estimated cost of $500 per test, but officials say now they will pass that on to the truck drivers.

Governor Requião has said he thinks Europe and China will buy more of his state's soybeans if he declares the state GMO-free. There is just one problem with this in the eyes of other governors whose states produce soybeans marketed through the Paranaguá port: Biotech soybeans are legal in Brazil this year.

A presidential decree, recently signed, allows for the planting and commercialization of biotech beans in Brazil, with a few conditions attached. Among them: Farmers can only plant biotech seeds they already have on hand. That is, a federal decree made biotech soybeans legal across the country.

Some constitutional attorneys argue in the press that no state can pass a law superceding federal law, and that Paraná's actions do just that. Paraná officials counter that they are only complementing federal law, which merely allows biotech production and commercialization but doesn't demand it.

Neighboring soybean-producing states haven't taken kindly to Governor Requião's law against biotech. Big soybean producer Mato Grosso do Sul, which has no port of its own, has even taken the state of Paraná to court.

But Governor Requião says, as a result of his actions, Paraná soybeans are accepted the world over, and customers pay more for them. Nothing has been said about how much that premium is, and whether any of it reaches Paraná producers. A representative of one farm group in the state estimated 14% of Paraná's own soybean production is biotech.

Which leaves truck drivers parked at the border.

“Truck drivers have had to deal with a real problem because they were uninformed (about the new Paraná law),” says Eroni Bertoglio, an agronomist in Paraná. “The governor believes he can't allow Brazilian agriculture to be beholden to one-to-five multinationals, based on ‘genetic dependence.’ He isn't against biotechnology, no. To the contrary, he is in favor of anything that is meant to improve things. But he is against being made hostages of biotechnology.”

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