[RIO DE JANEIRO] The Brazilian presidency has proposed new legislation on the safety and surveillance of activities involving genetically modified (GM) organisms.
The proposal, which was sent last week to the National Congress, includes setting up a National Biosafety Council, made up of 12 ministers, which would advise on the formulation and implementation of governmental policy and draw up guidelines for other federal organisations.
"Once approved, the new bill will put an end to several years of judicial litigation on GM issues," says a statement by the minister of the Civil House of the Republic's Presidency, José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva. "It will harmonise national legislation and ensure the existence of technical-scientific analyses on political decisions on whether or not to permit GM organisms."
The cultivation of GM crops has been a divisive issue for the current government of President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva. In September the government took the controversial decision of allowing the country's farmers to grow illegally imported GM soya for at least another year (see Brazil agrees to cultivation of GM soya – for now).
But criticisms of the proposal are already beginning to emerge. "A key problem is that the National Biosafety Council [would] contain only ministers and would have no civil society representation," says Ennio Candotti, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science. He fears, for example, that decisions will not take society's views into account.
However, the proposals do include more civil society representation in the Technical Commission for Biosafety (CTNBio), which will make initial decisions on all demands related to research and commercialisation of GM organisms. Only requests considered suitable by CTNBio will be analysed by the National Biosafety Council.
The proposal, which stresses the need to label food that contains GM products, also includes the creation of an information system on biosafety to manage information on the authorisation, registration and monitoring of activities involving GM organisms.
Under the proposed legislation, individuals that damage the environment or humans through their use of GM organisms would be responsible for compensation. And those who cultivate, transport, commercialise, export, import or store GM organisms or their derivatives without permission would be prosecuted, and liable to a three-year prison sentence.