Recently, 300 people occupied the meeting of the Brazil National Biosafety Technical Commission (CTNBio) in Brasilia, which was convening to discuss the release of three new varieties of transgenic plants in Brazil including a request by FuturaGene to legalize their genetically engineered eucalyptus trees. The CTNBio conference was interrupted and then eventually cancelled.
One thousand women of the Brazil Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) from the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais occupied FuturaGene Technology Brazil Ltda, a subsidiary of Suzano timber corporation, in the municipality of Itapetininga, in São Paulo. This is where transgenic eucalyptus, known as H421, is being developed and tested. During the protest, the MST activists destroyed the seedlings of transgenic eucalyptus trees there and denounced the potential impacts that would be caused by the release of transgenic eucalyptus if approved.
“If approved by the committee these GE faster growing eucalyptus will mature in only 4 years, as opposed to six to seven years presently in non-GMO eucalyptus,” said Catiane Cinelli, a member of the Rural Women’s Movement. “The water consumption will increase 25 to 30 liters / day per GE eucalyptus over what is currently used. We are again calling attention to the danger of green deserts.”
The claims about water consumption may be true, although it seems unlikely that a single GE eucalyptus would need an increase of 25 to 30 liters a day: it would drown in that scenario even without the word increase. If these people had facts and legitimate concerns about these plants, why didn’t they take this issue to the public? Why have I not seen a single study, or even a demand for more independent testing of these plants?
It is saddening that 300 people destroyed an entire generation of plants designed to use less land to produce more wood. Certainly, we need to consider the ecological impacts on the land, but that should be done via factual support, and transparent discussion. This destruction is not a victory for anyone.
Can it be that the real issue is water, which is currently a serious issue in Sao Paulo? So maybe the discussion should be about non-essential agriculture? Why is public anger being turned into violence against GMOs that may actually be environmentally positive? Maybe the discussion should be about growing eucalyptus trees at all in Brazil, and not about GMOs?
Real and serious discussions about land use, especially in regions with little available water, have to happen. It is unacceptable that areas with famine or drought are growing and exporting non-food crops. This is actually a lot more common than any of us think, and governments routinely sanction private use of common lands for profit-oriented crops.