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[BRASILIA] Genetically modified (GM) corn is being illegally sold in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, according to an accusation by the state deputy Frei Sérgio Antônio Görgen.

Frei Sérgio, who presented his claim to the Federal Public Ministry on 11 November, received an anonymous tip-off last month that a company in Barão de Cotegipe (north of Rio Grande do Sul) was selling modified corn smuggled from Argentina.

In a sample bought from the company, the researchers found a GM corn (GA21) produced by the company Monsanto. Tests showed that more than one quarter (27.5 per cent) of the seeds were genetically modified.

The risk of contaminating local varieties of corn with GM strains is greater than with soya, says Frei Sérgio, because pollen can be carried up to nine kilometres away by insects, birds and wind.

Last month, Brazil enacted a law allowing GM crop commercialisation in the country (see Brazil enacts GM and stem cell law after 8-month wait). However, the companies must obtain permission to sell such crops from CTNBio, the national commission for biosafety.

"No permission was provided for growing GM corn in Brazil, because in the case of corn it is not excluded that it might contaminate native species," says Jairon Alcir Santos do Nascimento, executive-secretary of CTNBio.

"This is a very serious problem, since it shows that there is no suitable bio-vigilance in the border between Brazil and other countries," says Rubem Nodari, manager of genetic resources in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. He adds that this also raises concern over the possible emergence of plagues and agricultural diseases.

Rio Grande do Sul has been a stage for controversies since 2003 (see Brazil faces dilemma of 'illegal' GM soya), when it was found that about 90 per cent of the soya grown there was genetically modified due to seeds smuggled from Argentina.

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