Published: Monday 31 January 2000

Government inspectors in Brazil are burning fields and seizing sacks of bio-engineered soybean seeds. Brazil is yet to approve the cultivation of these beans and has thus emerged as the world's premier source of the regular variety. So food companies, which use soybean oil or soybean meal in everything from chocolate to tofu have been turning to Brazil's beans for their non-genetically modified (gm) product lines.

European supermarkets cite their use of Brazilian soybeans as evidence of their product lines are non- gm . A British chain, Iceland Group, has claimed it imports its frozen chickens all the way from Brazil because they can peck at feed made of conventional soybean meal. But, according to reports, many farmers here openly plant gm soybeans, with or without federal sanction.

Braulio Dias, a specialist on the issue at Brazil's federal environmental-protection agency, says national officials are confident that "the great bulk of the harvest is not transgenic. Some experts say gm soyabeans have made few inroads in the farm lands of western brazil. But agricultural secretary of Rio Grande do Sul, Jose Hermeto Hoffmann, says his state may have less transgenic soybean than others, which are not enforcing the law. However, farmers in Brazil shrug when asked about the controversy over gm food. They do not seem to believe that consumer demand for non- gm food is rising as a result of warnings issued by environmentalists.

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