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

By Gerardo Otero | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Brazilian Biotechnology Governance:
Consensus and Conflict over Genetically
Modified Crops

WENDY E. JEPSON, CHRISTIAN BRANNSTROM, AND RENATO STANCATO DE SOUZA

The Brazilian case of biotechnology governance represents a key test in understanding the future global distribution of genetically modified (GM) crops. In Brazil, a legal moratorium against commercial planting of GM crops was in force from 1998 to 2003; however, contraband or “Maradona” soybeans occupied significant areas of cropland, especially in southern Brazil. A policy consensus for biosecurity and regulation of GM crops developed under the center-right coalition of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995–2002). The “Cardoso consensus” allowed experimentation of GM crops, encouraged Brazilian researchers to develop biotechnology expertise, and permitted consumer and farmer groups time to respond to these new initiatives. Opposition to the Cardoso consensus grew from several sources, including Brazilian state governors and important civil society actors, such as environmental and consumer activists and farmers. Opposition has shifted the debate from a technical problem to political, judicial, and environmental terms. A new consensus is taking shape under the new administration of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva. Temporarily, farmers are allowed to grow GM soybeans from saved (and illegal) seed, coupled with tighter regulation and centralized decision making in the executive branch. Despite federal action, governors, farmers' groups, consumer-rights organizations, and environmental activists will shape the geography of GM production in Brazil, probably maintaining significant GM-free sectors and regions. From this analysis, a sweeping conquest by GM crops of Brazilian agriculture seems unlikely. Even though the federal government allows commercial planting of GM crops, it is not inevitable that GM technology will saturate all production systems in all areas of Brazil.

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