ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

22 january 2003


Excerpt from item 2: "The battle over GM crops is likely to be the first of many. Silva will have to fight if she is to succeed in making sustainable development more than just a slogan."

1.Crop argument - from Eco soundings
2.Silva lining: Minister outlines Brazil's green agenda


Crop argument
from Eco soundings

Paul Brown
Wednesday January 22, 2003
The Guardian,7843,879233,00.html

George Bush's trade representative, Robert Zoellick, said last week he favoured bringing a World Trade Organisation case against the European Union for restricting trade in GM products and crops. Among the complaints is that the EU has no right to inform consumers they are eating GM products. Just the sort of argument we need to kickstart the British government's debate about GMs. Come on, George, make our day.


2.Silva lining: Minister outlines Brazil's green agenda

Jan Rocha
The Guardian , Wednesday January 22, 2003,7843,879237,00.html

Among the beards and dark suits of the new leftwing government of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Marina Silva (no relation) stands out like a rare exotic bird. She is not only one of the few women to be appointed to the cabinet but the only minister from the Amazon region.

Only a woman of extraordinary inner toughness could have made the journey she has made: from being one of the 11 children of a dirt-poor rubber collector in the rainforest, only learning to read and write at 16, working as a domestic servant, to becoming Brazil's youngest ever senator at 36, and now minister of the environment in a country whose size, forests and biodiversity makes it a global player in environmental matters. Referring to her extraordinary life story, Silva merely says: "This shows that we all have the same capabilities. We just don't have the same opportunities."

When her appointment was announced, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) celebrated - not because Silva is a green militant but because in her eight years in the senate she has shown that she can dominate and legislate on the most complex subjects.

But Roberto Smeraldi, of Friends of the Earth, sounds a warning note: "It's no use choosing a star like Marina without doing something about the ministry, which is understaffed and underfunded. It's like sending Ronaldo to play for a football team in the interior."

Silva has laid out what would be the three main planks of her ministry. The first step is to move environmental policy from its traditional place on the fringe to the heart of government, making it an integral part of government strategy. The fact that she was the first minister to be chosen by President Lula indicates he agrees with her.

Second, Silva, who worked closely with Chico Mendes, the Amazon union leader murdered by cattle ranchers in 1988, wants "social control" of the environment, involving local communities, NGOs and universities, to make up for the inadequate resources of the ministry.

Her third aim is to put the 1992 Rio Earth summit's Agenda 21 into practice, and make sustainable development - to which governments have paid lip service while financing short-term development - a reality. Brazilian governments have traditionally used the Amazon region as a giant escape valve for the population pressures on the rest of the country, a conveniently expanding agricultural frontier for the planting of export crops and the advance of cattle ranches, a paradise for construction companies wanting to cover it in concrete, rather than as a region whose biodi versity holds the key to wealth.

Between 1975 and 1985 alone, [GBP]4bn was poured into the rainforest basically to destroy it. Now forest fires and logging destroy another 16,000 sq kms of it annually; 28m cubic metres of trees are logged, 80% illegally. In the northern Amazon state of Roraima, where 44% of the land theoretically belongs to indigenous groups such as the Yanomami and the Makuxi, they have just launched a movement called "We Exist" to protest at the spread of soybean and rice monoculture by large farmers encouraged by official subsidies.

Ranchers and big farmers still have a lot of political power and President Lula's appointment of agribusiness boss Roberto Rodrigues as minister of agriculture has given them a powerful ally in the government.

The controversial question of GM crops has already arisen. Brazil is the largest producer of non-GM soybeans and is Europe's main supplier. When she was still a senator, Silva introduced a bill establishing a five-year moratorium on GM crops,allowing only experimental planting for research purposes. The bill is yet to be voted on, but GM crops have been effectively banned while a battle is waged in the Brazilian courts.

On one side are NGOs, led by Greenpeace and the consumer defence group IDEC; on the other side are the former federal government and the Monsanto company, which appealed against a lower court decision to allow GM crops only after the environmental impacts had been evaluated.

Rodrigues argues that Brazil will get left behind technologically unless it allows GM crops, while Silva's position is one of caution. She says: "The ban should be maintained until Brazilian research on the public health and environmental risks has been carried out, because existing research was done in countries without Brazil's biodiversity."

The battle over GM crops is likely to be the first of many. Silva will have to fight if she is to succeed in making sustainable development more than just a slogan.

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