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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK

World: Americas

Brazil allows GM soya

Particularly in Europe, there have been protests against GM soya

By Stephen Cviic in Sao Paulo

In a controversial decision, the Brazilian Agriculture Ministry has authorised the cultivation and sale of five varieties of genetically-modified (GM) soya.

The move is certain to attract fierce criticism from environmentalists and some Brazilian state governments.

The new varieties have been developed by the multinational company, Monsanto, which plans to plant them in time for next year's harvest.

Brazil is the world's second largest producer of soya - and the last major soya producer to authorise GM versions of the crop.

The decision to allow the cultivation of GM varieties is therefore highly significant.

Divisions resolved

Until recently, the Brazilian Government appeared to be divided on the issue, with some ministers arguing for further studies to be carried out.

That disunity now appears to have come to an end. The federal authorities say GM soya is cheaper and more resistant to disease - and that, if Brazil fails to follow the example of other leading producers, it runs the risk of losing valuable export revenue.

But environmentalists and some Brazilian state governors disagree.

The southern state of Rio Grande do Sul has been particularly outspoken, threatening to take legal action to prevent the wholesale cultivation of GM soya on its territory.

The authorities there say that, in addition to the possible health risks, the new varieties will benefit only big multinational companies, threatening the survival of smaller, family-run farms.

They also argue that a market remains for traditional varieties of soya, since European consumers appear reluctant to buy genetically modified food.

It is unlikely that Brazil has heard the last of this issue.

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