[12/02/09] MST Informa #177: Science According To CTNBio

Since the creation of the National Technical Commission (CTNBio) in 2005, biotech multinationals have benefited with consecutive approvals without exception of all of the petitions to release transgenic varieties in Brazil. Between 2005 and the end of 2009, CTNBio will give full reign to the commercial planting of two different varieties of soybean, ten varieties of corn, and six varieties of cotton, and will release a variety of rice of the multinational Bayer, which will put into risk the food security of the country, according to Embrapa. In the next meeting of CTNBio, scheduled for next week, the advisors of the group want to now modify the only clause that protects against generalized contaminations of crops and conventional varieties by transgenics: it was proposed to alter Normative Resolution 05, which provides the monitoring of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) after their commercial release, so that this requirement may cease to exist. Serious irregularities in the proceedings of CTNBio were registered from a matter published in the Magazine Sem Terra – edition 53 (November/ December 2009) that follows this message for wide distribution. The report “The Science According to CTNBio”, by journalist Verena Glass, shows –with exclusivity – a graphic of the connection between various members of CTNBio with biotech multinationals. The behavior of CTNBio is practically illegal from the scientific point of view, considering that the basic prerequisites like the Principle of Precaution, contained in the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-safety, of which Brazil is a signatory, are summarily ignored. But it can be understood when fewer than nine of the twenty-seven advisors of the agency have or have had direct relations with giant biotech corporations and their representative bodies. In this way also the two instances with the largest number of representatives at CTNBio – USP and Embrapa – depend on accords and partnerships with various companies (Embrapa maintains a partnership with Monsanto since 1997, to last until 2012, for the development of technologies for transgenic soybeans). From 2006 to 2009, Monsanto has already given to the Research Fund for Embrapa approximately R$20 million. For this reason, we call upon society to be against the abuses committed in the name of the enrichment of large transgenic transnationals that harm our national agriculture and bio-security. It is necessary that the National Counsel of Bio-security, composed of various government ministries and whose role is to monitor the decisions of the CTNBio, assumes its responsibility and avoids irreversible damage to the environment before it is too late. All material and a diagramed version can found at http://www.mst.org.br/node/8721. Science According to CTNBio The agency responsible for the release of a series of transgenics in Brazil does not hide relations with biotech multinationals and a non-scientific position pro-GMOs. By Verena Glass Between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, it is possible that Brazil may win one more (sad) title in terms of innovation: it will be the first country in the world to release commercial plants of a variety of transgenic rice – LL62 of Bayer S/A. If it is approved by the National Technical Commission of Bio-security (CTNBio), Bayer’s rice would be the 19th Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) to be commercially grown in the country - between 2005 and the end of 2009, CTNBio will have given free reign to the commercial planting of two different kinds of soybean, ten varieties of corn, and six varieties of cotton – and will keep unaltered the flow of consecutive approvals from all of the GMOs presented to the commission by biotech multinationals. The already-manifested intention of CTNBio to allow the cultivation of transgenic rice doesn’t deserve special attention in this scenario if it were not for one peculiarity: a generalized opposition to the release drew, on the same platform for the first time, environmentalists, pro-transgenic researchers, and large producers. That is to say, in addition to the now-traditional critics of GMOs like environmental and consumer-rights Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), those unified against the approval included organizations like the Brazilian Company of Agricultural Research (Embrapa, principal public agency for research and support of transgenics in the country), Farsul (Agricultural Federation of Rio Grande do Sul), Institute Rio Grande for Rice (Irga), and the Federation of Associations of Rice Growers of Rio Grande do Sul (Federarroz). For Embrapa and the rich agricultural companies from the south, the largest threat to Bayer’s rice, whose transgenics consist in tolerance to the glufosinate herbicide of ammonium, is the transfer of the genetic mutation to yellow corn, considered a principal invading plant of irrigated rice. With the contamination, the variety that already degrades the productivity and quality of rice in highly-infected areas will become resistant to chemical control. In other words, according to Embrapa, the transgenic rice, if released, will be a threat to the food security of Brazil, being able to even contaminate the native varieties of rice in the county. So if researchers (based in scientific evaluations), producers (concerned with economic questions), and consumers (who care about what they eat- the NGO Greenpeace gathered more than twenty thousand signatures for a petition against the release) are opposed to the genetically-modified plant, the question is: whose interest is CTNBio attending to with its approval? (small observation: it would be frivolous to note that sales performance of large biotech multinationals are related to the release of GMOs in Brazil – mostly varieties resistant to products of these companies. The fact is, according to the magazine Exame, Monsanto, which had nine transgenic cultivations approved, garnered in sales US$783.9 million in 2006, US$ 899.2 million in 2007 and US$ 954.8 million in 2008.) In service of whom? According to the Bio-security Law, CTNBio, created in 2005, has as a function to “give advisory technical support to the federal government in the formulation, actualization, and implementation of the National Bio-security Policy relative to GMOs, as well as the establishment of technical norms of security and technical opinions for the protection of human health, of living organisms in the environment, for activities that involve the construction, experimentation, cultivation, manipulation, transport, commercialization, consumption, storage, release, and disposal of GMOs and their derivatives.” For the commercial approval of transgenics, 14 votes in favor are necessary (the Commission has 27 members, and one session has to have a minimum of 14 councilors). Responsible for the technical and scientific analysis of the requests for the release of GMOs, the advisors of CTNBio are required to have a doctorate in their respective areas, being that a large number of them are tied to universities like USP, UFPE, UFRJ, UFMG, Unicamp, UNB, UFV, UFRGS, UFES, PUC-RS, UFAL, Unifesp and UEL. Already Embrapa “contributed”, currently, five members. According to civil society entities that have accompanied the work of CTNBio, like the NGOs Accessory and Services for Projects in Alternative Agriculture (AS-PTA), Land of Rights, and Greenpeace, many of the technical analyses of the processes of release of GMOs lacked scientific rigor and the adoption of the Principle of Precaution, provided in the Cartagena Protocol about Bio-security, in addition to research in Brazilian soil that prove the security of commercially planting of approved varieties. On the other hand, as noted by the NGOs, a characteristic of the majority of the councilors of the Commission has been an openly favorable stance for transgenic technologies. In 2003, eight of the actual members of CTNBio (Alexandre Lima Nepomuceno, Edilson Paiva, Flavio Finardi Filho, Francisco José Lima Aragão, Kenny Bonfim, Luiz Antonio Barreto de Castro, Maria Lucia Carneiro Vieira, and Paulo Augusto Vianna Barroso) wrote the “Open Letter of Brazilian Scientists”, which says that “Brazil cannot give up the technology of transgenic organisms”, since it “is essential to sustainability and Brazilian agribusiness and common farmer competitiveness” and “leads to social and economic benefits for the country”. Among the actual advisors, many have or had, personally, some kind of relation with biotech companies (or with entities financed by multinationals, like the Council of Information about Biotechnology/CIB and the National Association of Biosecurity/Ambio, lobby groups that have among their associates Basf, Bayer, Cargill Agrícola, Dow Agrosciences, DuPont of Brazil, Monsanto of Brazil, Pioneer Sementes Ltda, and Syngenta Seeds, among others). Contamination With respect to the observation of adequate scientific criteria in the processes of GMOs release or in the establishment of security norms to prevent the contamination of non-transgenic crops by those genetically modified, CTNBio has been repeatedly questioned by many institutions. In 2007, the release of transgenic corns Liberty Link, of Bayer, and MON 810, of Monsanto (prohibited in France, Austria, Greece, Luxemburg, Hungry, Italy, Poland, and Germany), were questioned by the National Agency for Sanitary Vigilance (Anvisa) and by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), that noted errors in the technical opinions that founded the approvals. For Anvisa, among the irregularities of the process of Bayer appear the insufficient or inexistent toxicological and allergenic studies to prove the security of transgenic corn for human consumption. Already according to Ibama, CTNBio ignored the nonexistence of preliminary studies of the environmental impact in climatic situations of the country and the absence of evaluation of risk, case by case, among other problems. According to the Ministry of the Environment, there also does not appear the process of “studies or literature that proves the absence of environmental damages, rationale for which a technical decision could not be imitated”. The resources against the releases were presented to the National Council on Bio-security (CNBS) that opted to ignore the irregularities. Soon after these accusations, a civil class action by civil society groups led the court to require CTNBio to create rules of coexistence by means of a regulatory resolution that, in theory, would protect non-transgenic corn crops from the contamination of GMOs. In other words, minimum distances of isolation between transgenic and non-transgenic crops were established to guarantee total security against contamination, that would be “equal to or greater than 100 meters or, alternatively, 20 meters, since the increase of the boundary, in minimum, 10 rows of conventional corn plants of the same size and growth cycle similar to genetically modified corn”. Various cases of contamination of non-transgenic crops by GMOs were denounced throughout the last three years by NGOs and by the press, but in the middle of 2009, the conclusion of a monitoring of genetic flow of transgenic corn in Paraná, done by the department of Department of Surveillance and Agricultural Defense of the State to verify the effectiveness of the Normative Resolution of CTNBio, officially proved that the security rules are ineffective, once contamination was detected in all of the areas monitored. “The preliminary results indicate that maintaining the current standard, it is impossible to assure the secure coexistence among transgenic, traditional, and organic crops, since up till now, all of the monitored areas pointed to pollination by transgenic pollen at a distance much greater than the rules allow”, states the document of the State’s Secretary of Agriculture. With this data, at the end of October various organizations of civil society proposed a public civil action that asks for the suspension of commercial releases of transgenic corn until there is a consistent standard using the principle of precaution. The suit is moving through the Federal Environmental Court of Curitiba and is waiting a judge’s decision.