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5 febrero, 2010.

Simpósio: Formación de redes sociales y su relación con la actividad económica


Victor Pelaez

Wilson Schmidt

Rosa Luz Gonzalez Aguirre


In 1998, the decision of the National Technical Biosafety Commission
) in favor of commercial release of Monsanto’s genetically modified
soybean was declared invalid in court during the judgment of a class
lawsuit filed by the Brazilian Consumer Defense Institute and Greenpeace Brazil.
This action set up a large judi
cial dispute process which has delayed de diffusion
genetically modified (GM) seeds in Brazil for seven years. Along this process a
set of NGOs created a campaign of resistance against the federal government
policy which has prioritized the fast commercial

release of those seeds in the
country. This campaign, called
Free Brazil”
, has articulated urban and rural
NGOs through a discourse based on social and environmental risks related to the
diffusion of GM seeds by relating issues of intellectual propert
y, biodiversity and
food security. On the one hand, rural NGOs represent a movement from the
1970s, based on the ideal of family farming autonomy vis
vis the oligopolistic
power of agricultural input companies. On the other hand, urban NGOs represent
a m
ore contemporary movement of consumer organizations concerned about
quality and socio
environmental origins of products available in the market. On
acting in the three power rings (executive, legislative and judiciary) these NGOs
have looked to create a so
cial network aiming at avoiding the stabilization of
institutions related to the diffusion of GM seeds in Brazil. The main focus of
strategies carried out by the NGOs remains in the questioning of the set up


Departmento de Economia, Universidade Federal do Paraná



Centro de Ciências da Educação, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina



Departamento de Sociologia, Universidad Autônoma Metropolitana



CTNBio’s criteria and its proceedings of risk an
alysis, as this Commission
obtained extraordinary powers for the commercial release of GM organisms,
which are not foreseen by the Federal Constitution.

The aim of this communication is to retrace the origins of
NGOs, their
experience and strategies

of action in the rooms of power, which
create an
institutional image and
regulate the private capital concerning the development,
production and commercialization of GM seeds in Brazil.
These rooms of power
are analyzed here as a process of network creati
where the proponent(s) of a
new technology must deal
of heterogeneous elements (actors, facts and
aiming to ensure the convergence of interests and resources destined
to it
, which means, the stabilization of a social network (LATOUR, 1998)
In the
case here discussed we intend to show the

experience of a social network trying
to avoid
the stabilization of a
nother network
able to provide institutional
conditions for social and political commitment wit
h the diffusion of GM seeds in

data provided for this study came from primary sources (interviews of
NGO representatives, official documents of NGOs and the federal government)
and secondary source

(specialized reviews and newspapers).

Section 1 identifies the main controversies involv
ing NGOs opposed to
GMO release, by emphasizing the protagonist role of the Institute of Consumer
Defense (IDEC) and Greenpeace Brasil. Section 2, characterizes the main
features and strategies adopted by the GM
Free Brasil campaign. Section 3,
retraces th
e origins of the main NGOs involved in the campaign. And section 4
presents the main achievements and limits of the NGOs’ strategies.




The Brazilian Biosafety Law (8974) came into force in 1995

with the
purpose to regulate th
e use of genetic engineer
ing techniques and the release o
the nature of genetically modified organisms (GMO). This law created a new
ltative organism, the National Biosafety Technical Commission (
composed by
representatives of the academy, governmental institutions and civil
society. I
ts activities

started in May, 1996 through a set

of seminars, visits to
foreign institutions and preparatory courses on biosafety and biotechnology,
an preparatory


ts recently appointed members. According to Marilena
Lazzarini, consumer representative on the committee, the lectures and courses
were always given by specialists involved with biotechnology research and who
did not touch on the controversies involved in

the risks of the field (Lazzarini,
2004). Concomitantly, the first meetings were aimed at putting together some
normative instructions aimed at regulating the building, cultivating, manipulation,
commercialization consumption, liberation and disposal in
the environment of

One of the first tasks of the Committee, in this first phase, was to prepare
norms for the creation of Internal Commissions on Biosafety (CIBio) in teaching,
research, development and service institutions utilizing genetic engineer
techniques. With the CIBios, the institutions could request the Biosafety Quality
Certificate (CQB), which is a fundamental condition for obtaining authorization to
operate installations of any activity or project that involves GMOs.

With these norms
established, CTNBio began o assess the requests for the
certificate from institutions, making inspections at laboratories. Then they would
authorize experiments with GMOs. In the first two years of operation, CTNBio
authorized 631 experiments with soy, c
orn, cotton, sugarcane, rice, potatoes,
eucalyptus and tobacco (CTNBio, 1999).

The growing demand for the CQB and authorization of experiments from
CTNBio meant that the members were under pressure to streamline the
authorization of requests from instituti
ons. According to Marilena Lazzarini,
consumer representative at CTNBio, this pressure was felt because of the tight
agenda established by the committee president and by the representative of the
biotechnology companies. In Lazzarini’s view, this adverse
ly affected the


capacity of the committee to analyze properly the risks associated with GMOs.
The time for evaluation of voluminous processes was always too short,
considering that the decisions are made at monthly meetings that last two or
three days and

that the members have other professional activities on their

The first crisis at CTNBio was the resignation of Lazzarini early in 1997. At
the time, she was president of the Consumer Defense Institute. According to
Lazzarini (2004), there was gr
eat difficulty in being a consumer representative
and keep up with the discussions of specialists in different fields of knowledge
(environmental, animal and vegetal). Furthermore, their work was divided into
different specialties. Lazzarini went so far
as to request the participation of aides
at meetings, which was denied for not being provided for in the CTNBio Decree.
However, the main reason for her resignation was the fact that the committee
began to authorize CQBs for institutions without the elabo
ration of the food
norms and the labeling of foodstuffs. The idea was to streamline the process of
authorizing experiments to meet the demands of the institutions that were
interested in the research and development of GMOs and had been pressuring
CTNBio to that end. Nevertheless, these norms were never written, which
strengthened the legal decision that forbade the production and
commercialization of genetically modified soy in the country, as will be seen later.
According to Lazzarini (2004), th
e authorization given to laboratories for
experiments in genetic engineering without a complete regulatory framework,
was a serious mistake on the part of a committee of specialists who had been
appointed to guarantee biosafety conditions in the country.

TNBio initiated its activi
ties in May, 1996, with a set

of seminars, visits to
foreign institutions and preparatory courses on biosafety and biotechnology, as
an initial stage for the preparation of its recently appointed members. Accor
to Marilena La
zzarini (2004),

the lectures and courses were always given by
specialists involved with biotechnology research and who did not touch on the
controversies involved in the
risks of the field
. Concomitantly, the first meetings
were aimed at putting together
some normative instructions aimed at regulating
the building, cultivating, manipulation, commercialization consumption, liberation
and disposal in the environment of GMOs.


One of the first tasks of the Committee, in this first phase, was to prepare
norms f
or the creation of Internal Commissions on Biosafety (CIBio) in teaching,
research, development and service institutions utilizing genetic engineering
techniques. With the CIBios, the institutions could request the Biosafety Quality
Certificate (CQB), whi
ch is a fundamental condition for obtaining authorization to
operate installations of any activity or project that involves GMOs.

The growing demand for the CQB and authorization of experiments from
CTNBio meant that the members were under pressure to stre
amline the
authorization of requests from institutions. According Lazzarini


pressure was felt because of the tight agenda established by the committee
president and by the representative of the biotechnology companies. In
Lazzarini’s view, t
his adversely affected the capacity of the committee to analyze
properly the risks associated with GMOs. The time for evaluation of voluminous
processes was always too short, considering that the decisions are made at
monthly meetings that last two or thr
ee days and that the members have other
professional activities on their plates.

The controversies around biosafety decision making

intensified on 15 June,
1998 when Monsanto asked CTNBio for authorization to sell Roundup Ready
(RR) soybeans in Brazil. In
he documentation sent to CTNBio

requested deregulation of the biosafety aspects of the product, justifying this
request most notably in the following ways: by the approval of the product in all
the countries where the company had requested it; th
e rapid diffusion of the crop
in Argentina and the USA; the intention of a considerable number of farmers to
cultivate RR soy, based on a survey of six hundred farmers in the main producing
states of Brazil; the environmental advantages based on the statem
ent that
glyphosate is biodegradable and not accumulative in the soil the increased
flexibility and efficiency in the control of weeds; the harmlessness of the
resistant gene included in the plant; and the precedent decision of
CTNBio to liberat
e the import of RR soy by issuing a report stating that it is
equivalent to non
transgenic soy (
, 1998).

In a public consultation carried out by CTNBio in July, 1998, on the request
for the commercial liberation of Roundup Ready soy, the Institute fo
r Consumer
Defence (IDEC), Greenpeace; AS
PTA and six other organizations expressed


their opposition to the liberation of RR soybeans through a document forwarded
to CTNBio (administrative plea) containing the following main points (IDEC
et al

The request for the

of RR soy by Monsanto cannot be
recognized as legitimate seeing that CTNBio has no power to deregulate. On the
contrary, it has the power and obligation to regulate by establishing norms and
regulations for genetic enginee

CTNBio has yet to establish norms for the commercialization of
GMOs, which would impede their liberation for commercial purposes.

Although Decree 1572/95 gives CTNBio the freedom to demand
studies into the environmental impact, it would be more fitti
ng to apply this
demand as a rule rather than an exception.

In several passages of the Monsanto report, there is a lack of
references to the information contained and the methodologies utilized in the
studies into, for instance: the estimated area of four
million hectares of cultivation
of RR soy in Argentina; the opinion poll of Brazilian farmers; the toxicological
tests carried out with guinea pigs.

The report also neglects to present studies that question the
harmlessness of glyphosate herbicide in anima
ls and human beings. The
references and the commentaries of these studies have been presented in this

There was never a reply to this document from CTNBio
, resulting in two of
the NGOs

(IDEC and Greenpeace) filing a provisional remedy questioni
ng the
safety procedures proposed by CTNBio. On September 16

1998, a decision
by the High Court (Federal Justice), based on the precautionary principle,
accepted the provisional remedy and prohibited the federal government from
allowing the commerci
al production of transgenic soybeans until trade was
submitted to regulation and the environmental impacts were properly investigated
, 2004).




Following the first favorable legal decisions for IDEC and Greenpeace,

a group of

met in June, 1999 in Brasilia to begin a movement protesting against the liberation
of GMOs in the country. This meeting resulted in a document that became the manifest o
the Campaign for a “GMO
Free Brazil

. In this document, the NGOs

highlighted the fact
that, so far, 636 field test for 176 varieties of soy, bran, corn, potatoes, cotton, sugarcane,
eucalyptus and tobacco had been authorized by CTNBio. In a context of intense activity
of experiments with transgenic food and a legal i
mpasse on the commercial liberation of
RR soy, the NGOs expressed their concern over the risks to the environment and human
health that could result from the rapid spreading of these products. The NGOs pointed out
that there was no scientific consensus on

the safety of these products, while their
harmlessness and advantages in terms of environmental impact had figured largely in the
companies’ advertising campaigns, along with how they would make agriculture more
competitive and increase the amount of food

available. The NGOs also pointed out that
the multinationals which dominate

the production of GMOs are traditionally big producers
of agrochemicals and therefore their goal is to increase sales of chemical products, not
reduce them, as they had claimed i
n their advertising. The document also presented
nineteen items of risk from a socio
economic, environmental viewpoint and also the risks
to human health

1. GMOs represent higher health risks for consumers.

2. Multinationals wish to deprive consumers of

the right to information.

3. There are no technical safety rules for the use of transgenics.

4. GMOs tend to lead to a loss of genetic diversity in agriculture.

5. Genetic erosion threatens the future of agriculture.

6. GMOs make agriculture more risky.

. GMOs can cause genetic pollution.

8. GMOs may lead to superplagues.

9. Transgenics may kill insects that are good for agriculture.



Food Safety and Citizenship; AS

Alternative Agricultural Projects
and Services Consultants; CENTRO ECOLÓGICO DO IPÊ; ESPLAR

Research and Consultancy; FASE

Social and Educational Services; FÓRUM BRASILEIRO DE SEGURANÇA A

Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analysis; IDEC; INESC

Institute of
economic Studies; SINPAF

National Institution of Farming Research and Development Workers.


Explanations of every one of t
hese items is available at


10. Transgenics can affect microbes in the soil.

11. The impacts of GMOs on nature are irreversible.

12. GMOs may lead to a

fall in production and/or an increase in costs.

13. No one is willing to be held responsible for the risks of GMOs.

14. A few multinationals can monopolize production of seeds for agriculture, making
Brazilian farmers dependent on their interests.

15. GMO
s are no more productive than any conventional or most traditional methods.

16. GMOs may lead to unemployment and social exclusion in Brazil.

17. GMOs are a risk to food safety in Brazil.

18. There is no scientific knowledge on the impact of GMOs

on the environment and
human health.

19. There are other, more efficient alternatives to transgenics without the risks that GMOs

The document was supported

by 23 social organizations which

make up the PTA
(Alternative Agricultural Projects Network)

in eleven Brazilian states.

Following this meeting, there was another

in Rio de Janeiro

composed by

which were partners of NOVIB,

a Dutch NGO which finances socia
l projects in several
. NOVIB was seeking campaigns able to provide greater social impact and
involving a larger number of NGOs. One of the subjects suggested was the movement
against the liberation of GMOs, which from then on had a source of financing for their
campaign at a

national level, along with the resources of ActionAid, IDEC and
Greenpeace. The campaign

Free Brazil) was organized around the

following goals:
divulge the risks that GMOs could bring to human health; explain the possible damage to
the environment;
highlight the importance of biodiversity; provide information on the risk of
monopolizing seeds; and preserve family


agriculture (Van der Weid, 2004).

Despite the formal participation of the twelve NGOs in the coordination of the
Campaign, as a mat
ter of fact, only four operated directly the activities defined by the
members, by dividing up the work according to the specific experience and capacity of
each of them. Thus, IDEC was responsible for working with consumers, especially when
labeling was
involved, and in the lawsuits. Greenpeace continued to operate on
publicizing the possible environmental impacts of GMOs. The AS
PTA (Consultancy and
Services for Alternative Agricultural Projects) developed project for publicizing and
mobilizing by way
of seminars and participation in events with the three most important


rural workers organizations at the national and international level. And INESC (Institute for
Social and Economic Studies) which did the lobbying for the NGOs at parliament and the
onal Congress. In 2004, ActionAid joined the campaign by hiring Flávia Londres, who
was responsible for the program for publicizing the campaign at the AS
PTA. This
program involves the preparation of weekly bulletins on the internet
through which is
fused information over

government decisions related to GMO regulation at national and
international level and strategies of biotech companies as well.

According to Van der Weid (2004), Director of the AS
PTA and one of the campaign
organizers, other NGOs
ended up being involved in a more or less intensive way, as was
the case of Via Campesina and the Instituto Biodinâmico (Biodynamic Institute), which
operates in the field of agroecology and the certification of organic products. Van der
Weid also highlig
hts the participation of two people who operate more independently in the
Campaign: an agronomist, Sebastião Pinheiro, who was one of the protagonists at the
beginning of the resistance movement in Rio Grande do Sul; and an economist, David
Hathaway who, b
esides participating in debates and events at the National Congress,
send out e
mails every day with the latest news about GMOs from the main national and
international newspapers.



The early success of the law
suits filed by IDEC and Greenpeace are demonstrative
of the action of urban social organizations representing the interests and opinions of
consumers and environmentalists. The repercussion of this movement nationwide was due
in part to the important contr
ibution made by the NGOs involved in the socio
development of rural areas. The

organization of the “GM
Free Brazil” campaign and the
alternative networks that arose from this experience originated from movements that
began in the seventies and ei
ghties, both urban and rural.
This section


part of
the previous experiences of these organizations in mobilizing those against the interests of
big corporations in power struggles for the regulation of their productive and commercial


Urban NGOs

Institute of Consumer Defense (IDEC)

IDEC is an association of consumers founded in 1987. It is non
profit and has no ties
to companies, governments or political parties. IDEC is part of the National Forum of
Consumer Defense Agencies and
the Brazilian Association of Non
Organizations, made up of twenty
four associations in thirteen Brazilian states. IDEC is
also linked to Consumers International, a federation that is made up of 250 consumer
associations from a number of count

IDEC was founded by a group of professionals, most o whom had worked in public
institutions directly in favor of consumer interests, of which two stand out: the Department
of Sanitary Inspection of the State of São Paulo; and PROCON (Consumer Defense

Organization) in São Paulo state. PROCON in São Paulo was founded in 1976 and was
the first state
run organization for the defense of consumer rights. Despite having been
set up during the military dictatorship, the creation of PROCON was influenced by
consumer rights movements in the USA, in which Ralph Nader was involved in the
seventies. PROCON helped this group of professionals make contact with the activities of
other consumer groups in a number of countries through Consumers International, of

PROCON is a member. The current executive coordinator, Marilena Lazzarini, was
director of PROCON from 1983 to 1986, before getting involved with setting up IDEC,
becoming a well
known figure nationwide in consumer defense. In 2003, she became the
ent of the Council of Consumers International (
, 2004).


The early activities of IDEC were connected with representing consumers in matters
dealing with the quality of food, by carrying out many laboratory tests on foodstuffs. This
activity gave I
DEC technical competence to join governmental technical committees on the
quality of food, such as the Brazilian Commission of Codex Alimentarius and
CONMETRO. IDEC also began to file collective lawsuits for the quality of public services
on behalf of low

income consumers. Public campaigns were a complementary strategy
adopted when formal negotiations came to a halt, as was the case of the campaign, on
which IDEC worked with housewives, to stop the commercial liberation of bovine growth
hormones (Idem).

DEC was also involved in drafting the Consumer Defense Code that was approved
in 1990. IDEC also grew in the public eye with the process of privatizing public services
(telephone, energy, sanitation) from the mid
nineties, most notably the matter of the
orking of Regulatory Bodies. To this end, their participation, made possible by
Consumers International was of great importance for IDEC to have access to experiences
from similar organizations in other countries. When CTNBio was created in 1996, the
C representative at the national level was so expressive that he was included as the
consumer representative of the committee without previous consultation by the President
of CTNBio (Dr. Barreto de Castro) (Idem).


The Greenpeace International
campaign against the liberation of the
commercialization of GMOs was begun in Switzerland in the early nineties, by the group
that was combating toxic waste. The first protests were motivated by the introduction of
genetically modified tomatoes into the m
arket of the USA. At that time, there was no
group at Greenpeace that was specifically prepared to question the risks associated with
genetic engineering. The criticisms that were made initially were based on the risks of
controlling the transnational se
ed market and the possible impacts on biodiversity. In the
nineties, the campaign against the liberation of GMOs had already been established in
Europe, in which Greenpeace adopted the provocative slogan of “Frankenfood”
, 2004).

In Brazil, the activities Greenpeace were begun in 1990, alerting people of the risks
of nuclear energy, later diversifying into other matters like the preservation of the rain
forest, marine ecology, industrial pollution and renewable energies. In 1997,
International requested that Greenpeace do Brasil should set up a specific campaign


against GMOs, the coordination of which was initially the responsibility of Marijane Lisboa.
The first contacts of Greenpeace and IDEC date from this time, in a

first attempt to
establish coordination of the resistance to the commercial liberation of GMOs. Given its
experience with the media, Greenpeace played a key role form the start in giving visibility
to the practices of the regulation of GMOs adopted by th
e federal government and
especially CTNBio (Lisboa, 2004). The financial and logistic support, from the information
network of Greenpeace, was fundamental for the rapid mobilization of Greenpeace do
Brasil in the constant participation in forums, debates
and interviews that followed during
the late nineties and early 2000, on the risks of GMOs.


Rural NGOs

The origins of rural NGOs are fundamentally linked to a movement created at the end
of the 1970’s in Brazil, a movement designed to challenge the te
chnical options resulting
from the agricultural model founded on the Green Revolution. It was based on certain
political positions that had been taken related to the evil effect of the process of agricultural
modernization commanded by multinational compa
nies in the agro
industrial supply

What is initially shown is the creation of an alternative narrative based on culture
farmer autonomy. After that, the practices of resistance adopted by the NGOs in relation to
the appropriation strategy adopted

by the large petrochemical and seed industries, were
also manifested in the implementation of production programs for ‘creole’ varieties, better
adapted to local conditions and requiring the use of very little input of industrial origin.
Lastly, that the
NGOs became aware of the importance of political pressure to prevent
country from adopting regulations that were favorable to the expansion strategies of the
large agro
industrial companies.

Farmers’ Autonomy as ‘Central Issue’

In the middle of the 1970’s,

in the south of Brazil, the idea of preserving the social and
productive category of family farming took root, supported by various associations, groups
and non
governmental farmers’ support organizations. This idea led to reorienting the
productive syste
ms and technologies employed towards a strengthening of the economic
capacity and the practice of an ‘alternative agriculture’. (

Ehlers (1996), highlighting the origins of the movement for alternative agriculture,
reminds us

of the importance of the anti
establishment action of the group which was


conceived in 1977, within the Association of Agronomists in the state of São Paulo. This
group succeeded in provoking a debate that was taken up on the national level by the

of Agronomists. It influenced an entire generation of students and agronomists.

The critical discussions concerning the agricultural model imposed by international
capital took place in the 1980s at the Brazilian Encounters for an Alternative Agriculture

the EBAA (I

1981, II

1984, III
1987, IV
1988), organized by the Federation of
Agronomists of Brazil (FAEAB) and by certain NGOs, notably the Alternative Technologies
Project (PTA)
. One of the central points in the debates concerned the dependency
farmers as regards input produced by industry, and among others with regard to the
strategic role played by the dependency created by the purchase of seeds. John Wilkinson
underlines this in the following terms:

‘If we think about the input industry, w
e must not limit the analysis to questions of the
use of plant protection products and herbicides. Why do we see an increase in needs?
Because the industry is progressively appropriating the raw agricultural material, i.e.
seeds. The great challenge that w
e must meet is the appropriation of the whole circuit of
agricultural production through the control of the seed industry by the multinationals’
II, 1984: 75

For this reason, as well as for the danger weighing on genetic diversity, Wilkinson
siders that the elaboration of an alternative policy for agriculture must take into account
specific legislation, capable of prevention the monopolization of seed production and the
research related to it. He insists, in fact, on the technical and scientif
ic capacity of the
multinationals in the genetic manipulation of agricultural production.

Three years later, in the EBAA
III, the Pat Roy Mooney conference was one of the
most well
attended. He had just published the Brazilian edition

of his book
Seeds o
f the

a Private or Public resource?
, written in 1979, and declared at the beginning of his

If the seeds which are improved need agrochemical treatments, that means that they
are susceptible to suffering from diseases. And if these seed
s have been patented
and the market is monopolized, the farmers will not have any choice. The


This NGO, created in the 1960s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was initially related to the Federation of

Organizations for
Social and Educational Assistance (FASE). Subsequently, the PTA became a network of autonomous organizations
managed by the AS


The Scandal of the Seeds; the domain in the production of food

edited in Brazil by Nobel and published



development of biotechnology and genetic engineering contribute to an increase in
the seed industry, as the main interest of the company related to this activit
y is the
development of plants resistant to herbicides, varieties which wil
l resist agrochemical


1987: 202).

A considerable number of students of agronomy technicians and Brazilian

have been strongly influenced by these analysis and by Mooney’s books.
Later on, some of them would compose or reinforce the board of association and agro
environmental NGO in the south of Brazil (Rede TA/Sul, 1997). Qualified by Dias and
Diesel (2000) o
f Rural Development NGOs, they have had an important position and some
influence in debates about agriculture and its course in the three states in the south of
. In view of that, the ambience created in the 1980s around the discussions and
ms of the growing power of the major agro
supply industries over Brazilian
agriculture strengthened the non
governmental organizations committed to the movement
for family farming in Brazil (Byé & Schmidt, 2001).

Once the role of the associations and NGOs
has been redefined in relation to this
movement against ‘modern’ practices, these associations and NGOs are now concerned
with the elaboration of alternative propositions to the technological package no
w offered by
the considerable power of the agribusines
. The idea is that the movement of alternative
agriculture should not be limited to the mere reporting of the Brazilian agricultural model of
modernization, based on social exclusion of small workers, but pass through a phase of

or the insert
ion of small agriculture and agro
ecology in the economy through
the implementation of locally developed projects (
, 1999;
, 1994).

The practices of resistance

At the beginning of the 1990’s, the NGOs were active on two fronts: the
establishment of a network of non
governmental organizations with the objective of
recovering the farmers autonomy in the production of seeds and the struggle against
industrial property laws, which permitted the patenting of life forms.

Since 1990, the N
GOs in the PTA network that were active in the South and the
east of the country

regions where the process of agricultural modernization has
been the most intense

have defined a common work strategy. The principles of this
strategy were the deve
lopment of endogenous plant varieties and the participation of small


farmers in the preservation and development of knowledge related to plant improvement.
The objective was to find solutions that would limit the dependency of farmers o
n this
supply circui
t for seeds

, 1994: 90).

The first to benefit from this work was corn cultivation, which is one of the main
Brazilian crops, and is practiced on the majority of small farms. Thus, important
preservation work was carried out for local varieties, seed improvement, by creating a
ork of knowledge exchange among the family farms and NGOs’ research centers.
This ‘corn network’ was extended to other species including autonomous plants such as
beans and soybeans. The NGOs of Rio Grande do Sul has become well known for their
ss, notably their support Centers for Small Farmers (CAPA) and the Center for
Popular Alternative Technologies (CETAP).

Patent Law and Plant Variety Protection Bill

The Industrial Property Code approved by Congress in 1971 (Law 5.772/71)
contained exce
ptions that made chemicals and metal alloys not eligible to patenting, as
well as food and pharmaceutical products and processes. Such exceptions were allowed
by the Paris Convention

the only international agreement for patents operating at the

and were inspired by industrial development policies adopted by Brazil and many
other developing countries during the same period, aimed at promoting national
technological development in these sectors. The 1971 Law made clear no provision was
made regardi
ng biotechnology or living organisms. However, with the advent of this
industry in the 1980s, inventions in this field were in fact a legal limbo, although the federal
government patent office

the National Industry Property Institute (INPI)

in practic
e did
not approve of any of the patent requests filed in this area.

In April 1991, the presiden
t of the republic at the time
, Fernando Collor
, sent to the
National Congress a project for a new Industrial Property Law (IPL) proposing new
regulations for patents and trademarks. Brazil was
subjected to great pressure from
the government of the United States, which was trying to incite it to r
ecognize and
disseminate patented products in the pharmaceutical, chemical and food fields. In 1989
the United States announced economic retaliations against Brazil under the ‘Super


Except for the passages where there is a quotation of different sources, this item is based on Hathaway
(2001) ‘Paper on IP rules in Brazil’. It is an excellent work of historical recuperation of the creation process of
the Industrial Property L
aw and Plant Variety Protection (Crops) Law in Brazil, released as discussion paper
among technicians and researchers who study the theme in February, 2001.


provisions of the US Trade Act because of the absence of patent prote
ction for
pharmaceuticals. In January 1990, the recent elected government of President Fernando
Collor had the US retaliations suspended after promising to draft a new patent bill that
would meet the demands of US pharmaceutical companies.

The process of e
laboration and approval of the new Crops Law had an intensified
lobby of big local and foreign seed companies among party leaders in the National
Congress and the Executive Power (Hathaway, 1997). During negotiations in the National
Congress in Brazil
, t
he interests articulated against the formulation of the law, or against
its main aspects, were focused on members of the civil society and on

A remarkable aspect in

these negotiations was the Advisory to Project on Alternative
culture (AS

a NGO concerned with small producers advice and that has always
been against the law, for considering it harmful to national interests and specifically to
family agriculture. Suggestions of emends that eventually turned into improvement
of the
law emerged from the AS


, 1998).

The bill
approved on April 25, 1997
The major advance in Brazil’s PVP
Law compare to other countries’ laws is that in Article 2 it explicitly incorporates the UPOV

78 prohibiti
on of double protection of plants by both PVP and patents, when it states that
this law’s protection is the only legal manner by which the free use of plants and seeds can
be restricted. In addition, the ‘farmer’s privilege’ of being able to save seeds fro
m its own
crop (which is an individual right in UPOV

78) is extended to small farmers’ associations,
which may also reproduce and share (but not sell) seeds from protected varieties. The law
also provides conditions for the exceptional ‘Compulsory Licens
ing’ and ‘Restricted Public
Use’ of protected varieties, which at least exploit the possibilities allowed by UPOV


This experience of the NGOs adjoining the political areas of decision in th
e National
Congress, provided important experiences

for the

post mobilization towards the approval
of the transgenic seeds in Brazil.


This NGO was founded in December, 1989, and its priority was the diffusion of
agroecology, especially for low income farmers with a family business. Its strategy has
concentrated on the creation n
etworks of organizations devoted to



Full text available in English at http//


agricultural development
. According to Jean Marc Van der Weid (2004), the action of the
PTA in the spreading of ag
roecology has a two
pronged aim: operating at the micro


allowing the socio
viability of family agriculture;

and reasoning

at the
macro level to make viable agroecology as a national agricultural policy.

The propositions for rural development created by the AS
PTA have been based on
small family

as a model of c
ultural and social organization

ociated to
techniques of minimal

use of agro
industrial implements. The effort put on increasing the
independence of the small farmer, in relation to the big agro
business companies is also
aimed at t
he cr
eation of market niches compatible with the

productivity of those farmers.
This happens through the variety of products, which value the image of pesticide
regional, and family production. Thus, the commercialization of G
M seeds, controlled by

companies, is c
onsidered a threat to the opportunity

spreading an alternative agricultural model based on agroecology.

In the fight against the rapid liberation of GMOs in Brazil, the AS
PTA became the
of the “GMO
Free Brazil
” Campaign. In this activity, the AS
PTA is
responsible for the publishing and distribution of a weekly bulletin to spread the news
about the process of regulating GMOs in Brazil and overseas.





The judiciary dispute became the main focus of the campaign as the NGOs
could stop the legalization of commercial GM seeds during seven years, through
the presidential mandates of Fernan
do Henrique Cardoso


in 1995

and of his successor Luis Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula)

beginning in 2003.
However, d
uring both governments,
judicial proceedings that had succeeded in
holding up the commercial release of GM soybeans until labeling rules were
complied with (as
required by consumer
defense legislation), and until
environmental impact studies were carried out and approved (as required by the
Constitution), ended up being dismantled by a series of Provisional Measures
and Presidential Decrees.

One major official s
tep in that direction came on December 28, 2000, during
the year
end Congressional and court recess, when the President of Brazil
issued a Provisional Measure (or “MP,” published by the President with the
immediate force of a law, unless it is later reject
ed by Congress) to alter Brazil’s
1995 Biosafety Law. The main element of MP 2137 was to re
found the CTNBio
and to reformulate its powers, in order to circumvent the legal requirements
imposed by federal courts. The new CTNBio gained explicit powers to wa
environmental impact studies whenever it deemed them unnecessary. The
Federal Government believed that this new provision in the law would provide
clear legal grounds for the Commission to exempt GMOs from existing
requirements for such studies, which
were the main objection raised by Federal
courts in their refusal to allow GMO crops into the country (


2001). The move in fact did have an impact on subsequent court
rulings on the appeal filed by Monsanto and the federal government. I
n July
2004, a federal appeals court (TRF
1) voted two to one in favor of Monsanto and
the government, arguing that the CTNBio was in fact empowered to decide
whether or not environmental impact studies could be required in applications for
the commercial
release of GMOs.

The institutional instability caused by such legal provisions led to the
publication of a new biosafety

law in November 2005, in the hope it would close
the book on polemics and irregularities caused by one presidential amendment


after another. The drafting and approval of the new law was also fraught with
intense conflict, focused mainly on the CTNBio’s po
wers. The advisory capacity
of the CTNBio under the 1995 biosafety law was upgraded by the new law to
making powers, which override the supervisory and control powers of
the Ministries of the Environment, Agriculture and Health regarding the
ssion’s decisions on risk analysis, management and communication.
Since the composition of the CTNBio’s members had always been favorable to
the quick commercial release of these products, the law sought to further
enhance the Commission’s powers by subord
inating those agencies to its
decisions on the biosafety of GMOs and products thereof.

he new biosafety law (11.105/05)
out in place
a new biosafety commission
forcing NGOs to

adapt their strategies of resistance to a new regulatory and
political context

where the actors pro
GMOs have successfully done a step
forward the institutional stabilization of the GM seed in Brazil. In such a context
CTNBio restarted its activities with an intensive work for commercial approval of
several GM seed petitions which r
emained suspended during almost a decade.

The next focus of NGOs’ resistance were set to the CTNBio’s procedures for
biosafety assessment of GM corn seeds, by denouncing
irregularities and the lack of accountability in decision
making. One s
example of this lack of accountability was the process through which the CTNBio
evaluated Bayer CropScience’s application for the commercial release of GM
“Liberty Link” corn, resistant to one of the company’s own herbicides.

In October
2006, th
e CTNBio voted down a requ
est by NGOs in the “GMO
Free Brazil”
campaign for a public hearing to debate the biosafety of Bayer’s corn. The NGOs
then went to a federal court and obtained an injunction forbidding the CTNBio to
decide on the release of Liberty
Link corn until a public hearing was held to fulfill
the constitutional right of access to information on decisions affecting the
citizenry (

2006). The hearing was actually held in March 2007, but
was totally ineffective

the objective of making the CTNBio’s decision
making process more accountable. The President of the CTNBio issued a public
call for speakers (CTNBio

2007) which in practice reversed the burden of proof
and required the various civil
society representativ
es to speak to the biosafety of
GMOs and to be questioned by members of the CTNBio, rather than the other


way around. The president of the CTNBio also handpicked the speakers at the
hearing, such that none of the scientists who were given the floor had a c
position on the CTNBio’s procedures. The CTNBio thus officially muzzled
divergent opinions from within the academic community, while preserving its own
public image as the legitimate vehicle of what tries to come across as neutral,
homogeneous and
progressive scientific knowledge.

The media’
s struggle

Besides having the main protagonist in the legal process against CTNBio’s
decision for the commercial liberation of RR soy and participating actively in
debates and public consultations arranged by

government bodies, one of the
important actions of IDEC was to stop the diffusion in the media (television,
movies, radio, newspapers, magazines and the internet) of a publicity campaign
on the part of Monsanto concerning GMOs, which began in December, 20
This campaign involved a commercial with the following words:

“Imagine a world that preserves nature, the air and rivers. A world where
people produce more with fewer agrotoxics and without cutting down forests.
Imagine a world with more nutritional

food and healthier people. Have you
thought about it. But you never imagined that transgenics can help us in this.
Have you ever thought of a better world. Then you think like us. This has been
an initiative of Monsanto, backed by the Brazilian Assoc
iation for Nutrition.”
, 2003)

IDEC filed a lawsuit against Monsanto at the Advertising Regulation Board

and, by way of the Consumer Defense Code, claimed that this was
misleading advertising, as there was no consensus in the scientific community
concerning the statements made in the commercial. In February, 2004,
CONAR’s Ethics Committee partially confirme
d the claims of IDEC. Monsanto
repealed the decision, but permanently lost the right to run a publicity campaign
in the media by the definitive decision of CONAR in October, 2004 (IDEC, 2004).


CONAR is an
NGO that comprises advertising and publicity professionals and people from the media to
curb the abusive practice of misleading advertising.


Labeling rules

Concerning the labeling rules, the first tria
l of the federal government to
overcome the legal demands imposed by the Federal Court was to
issue a
Decree (3781) on 18 July, 2001 to regulate the labeling of foods containing
GMOs. According to the new rules, only those foods with residual content of ov
4% were required to have this information on the label. IDEC criticized publically
the decree, as 4% of genetically modified content without labeling had no
scientific support. IDEC claimed that, for some reason, the Government seemed
to be in favor of

transgenics, as certain additives, such as chemicals and artificial
sweeteners used in infinitely small amounts must be mentioned on the labels for
the benefit of consumers. IDEC warned against the weakness of the rule
because if there is more than one tr
genic ingredient, each of them can have a
maximum of 4% without having to be labeled. Furthermore, IDEC insisted that
the decree was illegal because it was in contradiction of the Consumer Defense
Code, which states, in Clause 31, that the information o
n the products has to be
‘...correct, clear, precise...’ (IDEC, 2001;
, 2001).

The threshold of 4% was reduced
in 2003
to 1%, in a specific political
context when the federal government issued another decree aiming at legalizing

of tones of illegal GM soybean crops harvested in the southern region of
the country
. The stricter rule of labeling foods containing G
MOs revealed a

of the federal

government trying to attenuate

the political commitment
with stakeholders pro

However, labeling requirements have never been enf
orced by the federal
. The labeling of foodstuffs containing GMOs was only regulated a
year later, in a decree issued i
n March 2004 by the Ministry of

Justice, who
decided on a symbol with the
letter “T” inside a triangle. The first inspections
were not carried out until October, 2004. Th
ey were done by the Ministry of

Justice through tests on samples from 294 products collected from different
states. None of these tests identified products with

GM content above 1%. Other
tests carried out later, with positive results, were kept under wraps by the


In early 2003, President Lula’s new Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues, estimated that
around six million

tons of soybeans (over 10% of the national harvest, expected to reach 49
million tons that year), were transgenic (SALVADOR



This lack of political will in the government to enforce labeling requirements
was mirrored in the food industry’s lack of in having the tran
sgenic symbol on
their products, a symbol that had associations with risks. According to the legal
director of the Brazilian Association of Food Industries, Paulo Nicolellis, “[the
labeling requirement] may be in force, but it is not being applied because
industries do not wish to align their brands with warnings, as if the product were
dangerous.” (
, 2005).

The control of GM content in the food became one of the main activities of
Greenpeace Brasil trying to replicate the strategies used in Europe
where the
preservation of trademarks of big food companies and supermarket chains, by
avoiding any risk of relation with GMO, be
came a business concern. S
ince 2000
Greenpeace Brasil has publicized analysis of GM content in food products of the
main Brazili
an food companies as well as their commitment to not use GMOs in
their formulas (GREENPEACE, 2009).

However, this campaign has a very limited
access to the media which impedes the creation of a public concern in the
Brazilian society as well as a space in
the public policy agenda.



The creation of a campaign to avoid the release of GMOs

in Brazil reveals the
constitution of a social network formed by NGOs of different spatial origins (urban and
rural) whose common purposes around social and environmental issues allowed
a political
alliance of expertise. The experiences acquired in legisl
ative and legal disputes provided
to these NGOs the identification of rooms of action for questioning the regulatory body put
in place by the federal government.

The legal disputes taken by the NGOs against Monsanto and the federal government
became an un
expected achievement which avoided by seven years the diffusion of GMOs
in Brazil. Although, this achievement was limited by the power of federal government to
change the impediments
of law and rebuild the regulatory body, following

the interest of


On the other hand, the trial of adapting the European successful strategy
to mobilize the public opinion through the labeling of GMO content seems more limited
considering the relative low level of interest by the th
eme in the Brazilian society. T
his is
revealed by the political conditions which provided the creation of a new biosafety law
more compatible with biotech companies’ interests.

The rooms of action taken by the NGOs remain stricter along the time where it must
taken into account the capa
bilities of pro
GMO actors, notably the biotech companies
which had long been building up experience in an ongoing process of learning
and learning
, related to the regulation of technology
The stabilization of the
institutional net
work (social and political) seems thus a matter of time
when the social
resistance becomes just a delaying effect. The
emptiness of the GMO controversy
in the
public policy agenda
poses a challenge to the NGOs in how to remain
active by p
roposing feasible socio
economic alternatives to the agribusiness model of
production and consumption.



, J.

A construção social de uma nova agricultura: tecnologia agrícola e
movimentos sociais no sul do Brasil
. Porto Alegre: Ed.UF


Soja Roundup Ready: Avaliação da Segurança Ambiental e Alimentar.
Request for deregulation of Roundup Ready soybean of Monsanto do Brasil sent to the
CTNBio on June 15, 1998.


Agricultura familiar, ONGs e desenvolvimento sus
Curitiba: Ed.UFPR
, 1999


Monsanto veicula propaganda enganosa sobre transgênicos
Campanha Por um Brasil Livre de

Available at

Access on March 23,

Justiça Federal suspende decisões sobre milho transgênico da Bayer.

Boletim da Campanha por um Brasil Livre de Transgênicos, Rio de Janeiro, December 5,

(1994) La experiencia de la Rede Milho.
, 1(1).

. Edital de Audiência Pública 001/2007.
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Encontro Brasileiro de Agricultura Alternativa (1987)



Procon: rotulagem de transgênicos é retrocesso.
O Est
de São Paulo
, July 26, 2001.


Director of Greenpeace Campaigns
. Interview given in São Paulo on
November 04, 2004.

GREENPEACE. Cronologia da Campanha Por um Brasil Livre de Transgênicos. Available
. Access on
July 18, 2009.

IDEC, 2001.

‘Governo decide não rotular os transgênicos’. Available

. Access on July 21, 2004.

DEC, 2004.

Conar proíbe propaganda da Monsanto
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Access on April
23, 2005.

Diretora Executiva do Instituto de Defesa do Consumidor

Entrevista concedida em São Paulo em 17/11/04, 2004.


Lawyer Advisor of the

Institute of Consumers Defence. Interview given in
São Paulo on November 17, 2004.



Indústria resiste à rotulagem de transgênico.
Folha de São Paulo
March 10, 2005. Available at

Access on March 10, 2005.


Grupo de estudos define hoje situação da soja transgênica
. O Estado
de São Paulo
, March 06, 2003.


PTA Director
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given in Rio de Janeiro on November
10, 2004.


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Rio de Janeiro
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