June 7, 2011
On May 17th a public hearing
was held in Brasilia to discuss an application for commercial
release of the first genetically modified bean variety.
part of Brazil’s staple diet, consumed daily by most of the
population. The new variety was developed by
Embrapa (the Brazilian
Agricultural Research Corporation) for resistance to the golden
mosaic virus and is already just waiting for commercial
CTNBio (National Biosafety Technical Commission,
the official body responsible for evaluating and authorizing GM
The hearing was held at the head offices of Embrapa itself, the
state company making the application.
This unprecedented event
raised the prospect of CTNBio adopting the procedure of ‘consulting
society’ at the premises of all applicant companies, with, who
knows, the next hearing being held at
Monsanto’s head office.
president of CTNBio, Edilson Paiva, claimed they had been unable to
find another auditorium available in Brasilia, hence the choice.
The representative for the NGO Terra de Direitos questioned the
confidentiality granted to various sections of Embrapa’s report.
CTNBio withheld more information than the areas requested by the
company, a fact likely to hinder monitoring of the product’s impacts
after its commercial release. In this case access to all the data
was denied even to the member of the Commission responsible for
reporting on the evaluation process.
Field studies were undertaken in just three localities over a
two-year period. Interpreted generously this mean that the
environmental impacts of the technology were tested in two biomes at
most. Brazil’s legislation requires studies to be undertaken in all
biomes where the modified plant might be grown.
Terra de Direitos representative pointed out, Embrapa is applying for
unrestricted release of the new GM bean variety throughout the
country, despite the lack of adequate data.
AS-PTA’s representative also questioned the absence of data on the
potential impacts of genetic modification on the common bean
varieties already consumed in Brazil. All the tests were carried out
on a single type of bean, rather than those consumed in the country
on a daily basis. At the same time, various parts of Embrapa’s
report themselves state that the test results vary according to the
type of bean receiving the transgene.
Despite these tests not being
conducted, the application is for release of the GM variety for
subsequent incorporation into other bean plants.
Even more revealingly, only two of the 22 transgenic events
generated for resistance to the mosaic virus actually worked. As the
evaluation report states, it remains unknown why these produced the
expected results while the other 20 events did not. Indeed the
report concludes that more studies are needed to understand the
transgene in question.
In other words, when in doubt, release it.
This abandonment of the Precautionary Principle was highlighted at
the hearing by AS-PTA.
The representative from
CONSEA (the National Nutritional and Food
Security Council) stressed that the human right to healthy and
adequate food will be achieved through agroecology, not through the
development of GM seeds.
He cited experiments run by Embrapa over
an eight-year period that showed considerable success in controlling
the bean plant mosaic virus through organic farming methods and
without any loss of productivity.
approves changes to rules to speed up commercial releases
The day after the public hearing on the GM bean application, the
monthly meeting of CTNBio also began in Brasilia.
plenary session, the Secretary of Research and Development Policies
and Programs of the Ministry of Science and Technology, Carlos Nobre,
emphasized the importance of the Commission’s work and the need for
risk evaluation to be based on the Precautionary Principle, much to
the incredulity of many of those listening to him.
As soon as the
Secretary left the plenary session, the president of CTNBio
announced that the vote would be taken on changing the body’s
statutes. But after hearing the first question, he immediately
announced that the process would be speed up to avoid the
The regulations were set to be altered at the meeting following a
court ruling that obliged CTNBio to introduce more transparent
procedures and allow access to the information received for
evaluation, except for data covered confidential business
The members of the Commission used the chance to alter the statutes
to approve changes to the ritual of the evaluation process.
shortened the evaluation periods, meaning that GMOs releases will be
even quicker in practice, reinforcing CTNBio’s image as a
rubber-stamping institution that has so far never refused a request
for commercial release.
The vote to approve the release of GM beans is set to take place
This above map shows global distribution of Genetically Modified (GM) crops.
Key findings of 2010:
Growth remains strong, with biotech hectarage increasing 14 million hectares - or 10 percent - between 2009 and 2010.
Farmers in Pakistan and Myanmar, planted insect-resistant Bt cotton for the first time.
Sweden (the first Scandinavian country to commercialize biotech crops) planted a new biotech high-quality starch potato approved for industrial and feed use.
Germany also planted the same biotech potatoes as Sweden in 2010, resuming its place among the eight EU nations now growing either biotech maize or potatoes.
The most popular crop is soya, while the most common modification is tolerance to herbicides.
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) expects an additional 12 countries to adopt biotech crops by 2015.
As recently as a decade ago, Genetically Modified (GM) agriculture was virtually non-existent, but has since expanded rapidly, both in terms of total area planted and the number of countries involved.
GM crops is the fastest adopted crop technology, 80-fold increase from 1996 to 2010, year-to-year growth of 9 million hectares or 7%.
What is Genetically Modified (GM) crops?
Genetically modified (GM) crops are crops derived from genetically modified organisms.
Genetically modified organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA by genetic engineering techniques. These techniques are much more precise than
mutagenesis (mutation breeding) where an organism is exposed to radiation or chemicals to create a non-specific but stable change.
These plants will have increased resistance to herbicides or improved nutritional content.
For example (Deborah B. Whitman 2000), plant geneticists can isolate a gene responsible for drought tolerance and insert that gene into a different plant. The new genetically-modified plant will gain drought tolerance as well. Not only can genes be transferred from one plant to another, but genes from non-plant organisms also can be used.
The best known example of this is the use of B.t. genes in corn and other crops. B.t., or
Bacillus thuringiensis, is a naturally occurring bacterium that produces crystal proteins that are lethal to insect larvae.
B.t. crystal protein genes have been transferred into corn, enabling the corn to produce its own pesticides against insects such as the European corn borer.
Last updated - March 2011