Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – While countries are banning GMOs around the world, Brazil is increasing its arsenal of genetically engineered crops including one of its staple square meal items: beans. CTNBio, the National Technical Commission of Biosecurity, responsible for approving GMOs in the national territory and determining where genetically engineered (GE) crops can be cultivated, approved the first GMO bean in 2011 with a resistance to the golden mosaic virus, and today they have yet to choose where and who will plant it.

Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio, Rio de Janeiro, Brail News
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

EMBRAPA, the state-run Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, a successful institution that has helped improve Brazilian agriculture since its foundation in the 1970s, for small and large-scale farmers alike, claims that this new “golden” Latino bean is of 100 percent Brazilian origin, although the conception of GE seeds by these Brazilian institutions are never short of multinational partnerships with giants like DuPont, Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, among others.

The rationale behind developing transgenic crops is that they require less chemicals, herbicides, water and space, and at the same time can produce more food per unit cultivated, in addition to having pest and virus resistant qualities. A panacea if you consider that in Brazil commodity crops like cotton and corn are presently being decimated by a Latin named moth called the helicoverpa armigera. The origin of this moth onto Brazilian soil is unknown, but has certainly raised some eyebrows among the nationalist conspiracy theorists.

Brazil legalized transgenic soybean ten years ago, and these crops now encompass close to 90 percent of the soybean produced. While the GMO seeds cost four times as much as the non-GMO conventional varieties, conventional soybeans sell for higher prices because countries like Japan and others in the European Union prefer non-GMO foods.

Biotechnology is a source of great imagination. Concepts of glowing trees that can light up the streets and mosses that can produce electricity are just the tip of the iceberg. The question is: do we want a few companies or institutions controlling what specific foods we eat? Are we talking about ensuring food security or sustaining corporations when we talk about genetically engineered crops?

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, family farming is responsible for producing the majority of food consumed by Brazilians. Although small farmer properties only account for a quarter of the total productive agricultural land, they managed to produce 86 percent of all the manioc and 70 percent of the beans consumed in the country in recent years. Small-scale family farmers produced more food per square meter than their large-scale counterparts, according to the Ministry of Agrarian Development.

Brazil is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet. If food security is what is at stake, perhaps developing a variety of crops for commercialization would be more effective than mono-cropping GMOs.

The risk of letting loose genetic information in the wild could bring unforetold risks, and it is no wonder why countries around the world are working hard on banning them from their own square meal options.

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Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.


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