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Soybean leaders skeptical of Brazilian motives

The American Soybean Association (ASA) says it's not particularly impressed with the news that the government of Brazil is temporarily allowing soybean producers in that country to “legally” plant Roundup Ready Soybean varieties.

“I am very skeptical,” says Ron Heck, president of the American Soybean Association. “Just because it's a law in Brazil doesn't mean that there will be any enforcement. Growers have been illegally planting pirated Roundup Ready soybean seed right under the government's nose for more than six years.”

While the Brazilian government appears to be acknowledging that there has been almost exponential growth in the illegal planting of Roundup Ready soybean varieties over the last six planting seasons, and that glyphosate tolerant seed will again be planted over an increasing area of Brazil, the government's measure is only temporary and puts many decisions off until next year, the commodity group says.

Speaking on behalf of the American Soybean Association's 25,000 members, Heck, a producer from Perry, Iowa, says, “At best, this is only a small step in the right direction if it ultimately leads to a long-term strategy for biotechnology, and adequate enforcement of intellectual property rights for seed technologies in Brazil.”

According to Heck, Brazil's acting President Jose Alencar has signed a presidential decree authorizing the planting of genetically modified soybeans in all of Brazil for the 2003-04 growing season. “It is our understanding,” he says, “that the decree also allows for sales of the crop coming from the biotech-enhanced seeds until Dec. 31, 2004. Farmers planting and commercializing biotech seed between now and Dec. 31, 2004, will have to sign a document pledging to not buy seeds of untraced origin in the future.”

The American Soybean Association argues that because Brazilian growers are obtaining their glyphosate tolerant seed illegally, they are gaining an ill-gotten $9.30 to $15.50 per acre competitive advantage over U.S. growers by failing to pay the royalties for patented seed technology as U.S. growers must.

The Brazilian decree reportedly does not allow for the sale of new biotech seed, but rather allows farmers to plant the illegal seed they now have on hand, and would allow the Brazilian agriculture minister to extend the cutoff date for commercializing biotech seeds in Brazil, under condition that the farmer can demonstrate the origin of those soybeans.

“I'd like to know how the farmers are going to prove the origin of the soybeans when the seed they are planting was obtained illegally,” Heck says. “On the other hand, one potentially positive result of this action is that Brazilian farmers and traders will no longer be able to give international customers the illusion that all Brazilian soybeans are ‘non-GMO.’

“We strongly support a farmer's access to legally obtained biotech-enhanced seed,” Heck says. “It seems obvious that Brazilian growers appreciate the benefits of biotechnology just like producers in the United States, as witnessed by the widespread use of the technology in Brazil. The big difference right now is that Brazilian growers aren't paying for it.”

About 80 percent of the soybeans in the United States were grown from transgenic seed this year. Nearly 99 percent of the soybeans soon to be planted in Argentina, 70 to 90 percent of the soybeans to be planted in Southern Brazil and 30 to 40 percent nationwide will be transgenic varieties, the American Soybean Association reports. Collectively, these three countries produce more than 90 percent of the world's soybean exports.

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