Brazilian biotechnology governance: Consensus and confict over genetically modifed crops Chapter uri icon


  • The Brazilian case of biotechnology governance represents a key test in understanding the future global distribution of genetically modified (GM) crops. In Brazil, a legal moratorium against commercial planting of GM crops was in force from 1998 to 2003; however, contraband or "Maradona" soybeans occupied significant areas of cropland, especially in southern Brazil. A policy consensus for biosecurity and regulation of GM crops developed under the center-right coalition of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002). The "Cardoso consensus" allowed experimentation of GM crops, encouraged Brazilian researchers to develop biotechnology expertise, and permitted consumer and farmer groups time to respond to these new initiatives. Opposition to the Cardoso consensus grew from several sources, including Brazilian state governors and important civil society actors, such as environmental and consumer activists and farmers. Opposition has shifted the debate from a technical problem to political, judicial, and environmental terms. A new consensus is taking shape under the new administration of President Luiz Incio "Lula" da Silva. Temporarily, farmers are allowed to grow GM soybeans from saved (and illegal) seed, coupled with tighter regulation and centralized decision making in the executive branch. Despite federal action, governors, farmers' groups, consumer-rights organizations, and environmental activists will shape the geography of GM production in Brazil, probably maintaining significant GM-free sectors and regions. From this analysis, a sweeping conquest by GM crops of Brazilian agriculture seems unlikely. Even though the federal government allows commercial planting of GM crops, it is not inevitable that GM technology will saturate all production systems in all areas of Brazil. We begin our discussion of biotechnology governance by focusing on Brazilian agriculture, because Brazil is a major world producer of soybeans, and soybeans are the most cultivated GM crop globally. The chapter then outlines the terms of the consensus on transgenics under the Cardoso administration and the legal moratorium that prevented commercial farming of GM crops. The next section analyzes sub-national politics in opposition to the Cardoso consensus, focusing on the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, a major soybean producer that developed a set of policies against GM crops. Next, we address opposition to the national consensus by activist and farmer groups. The I January 2003 inauguration of President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva, leader of the leftist Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores; PT), has contributed definitively to the GM debate. We review the period of ambiguity about GM policy and outline what may be called the "Lula consensus": circumventing the moratorium on GM soybean planting; requiring GMO labeling on consumer products; and reorganizing the national biosafety framework. 2008 by The University of Texas Press. All rights reserved.

author list (cited authors)

  • Jepson, W. E., Brannstrom, C., & De Souza, R. S.

complete list of authors

  • Jepson, WE||Brannstrom, C||De Souza, RS

Book Title

  • Food for the Few: Neoliberal Globalism and Biotechnology in Latin America

publication date

  • December 2008