Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Biotechnology in Latin America

By Gerardo Otero | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Brazilian Farmers at a Crossroads:
Biotech Industrialization of Agriculture
or New Alternatives for Family Farmers?

SHUJI HISANO AND SIMONE ALTOé

As the world's second largest soybean producer and exporter, Brazil has emerged as an important battlefield in the global conflict over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since the late 1990s. Given the fact that the majority of soybean growers in the United States and Argentina have already adopted the associated package of new technologies, European and Asian consumers, looking for non-GMO sources, are curious as to whether or not Brazilian farmers will accept this new package. Its central components are transgenic seeds, genetically modified to resist greater infusions of herbicide, and herbicides that kill most plants, except the target crop. Until recently, growing GM crops in Brazil has been prohibited due to a judicial authority that ruled in favor of the claims made by environmental and consumers' organizations (see Jepson et al. in this volume). While the federal government has not effectively mapped out its policy either against or in favor of GMOs, the state of Rio Grande do Sul (RS), the southernmost state, implemented its “GM-free zone” policy for several years since 1998 (Pelaez and Schmidt 2004). Two other southern states, Paraná and Santa Catarina, have also rejected GMOs.

It is in Rio Grande do Sul, however, where the most contentious problem has occurred: namely the smuggling of GM soybean seeds across the border with Argentina. In spite of the states' policies banning GMO planting, many farmers, ranging from small to large scale, have grown and harvested illegal GM soybeans for years with mixed feelings: the expectation of financial benefits on the one hand; and anxiety about negative environmental and health impacts as well as about breaking the law on the other. This kind of farmers' dilemma is our starting point. But the objective of this chapter is not to discuss GMO politics itself, which is already dealt with in another chapter in this volume (Jepson et al., Chap. 9

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