Published: Friday 15 March 2002

Their harvest having tested positive for the presence of genetically modified (gm) soya, the farmers of nine fields in southern Brazil may face trial by the public prosecutor's office. They may be charged with illegal planting and sale of gmf soyabeans. This was revealed by Paulo Borges, the agriculture ministry's representative at Brazil's regulatory committee on biotechnology, the ctn Bio.

Although Monsanto Company has been permitted to conduct gm research on scientific test farms in Brazil, the sale of gm seeds, crops or food is forbidden.

However, illegal plantation of gm soya is rife, claims Brazil's Association of Seed Producers (Abrasem). Farmers are attracted by savings offered by gm crops, which need less application of herbicides and less fuel to power machinery for routine field work.

"It's unclear what the prosecutor's office intends to do with the evidence but, if convicted, the farmers could face fines of somewhere around us $6,600 according to article 12 of the Biosecurity Law," said Borges. The Brazilian government has threatened in the past to burn fields found to be cultivating gm crops but such threats were never carried out. Brazil's ban on gm crops should stand until 2003, despite government efforts to lift it sooner, say analysts in the farm industry.

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