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[RIO DE JANEIRO] All human and animal food sold in Brazil that contains more than one per cent genetically modified (GM) ingredients must now be labelled under a law that came into force this month.

The law states that the packaging of GM products should be labelled with a 'T' — for 'transgenic' — no smaller than about 1 centimetre squared. It also imposes fines of between US$65 and US$1 million on producers that flout the new regulations.

Three organisations will be responsible for enforcing the law: the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Health Surveillance Agency will take care of agricultural and industry matters, respectively;

PROCONs, the state consumer-protection organisation will control commerce of GM products.

At present, it is illegal to grow GM crops for commercial purposes in Brazil. The only exception is GM soya illegally grown in 2003, which was granted special permission to be sold for both animal and human consumption (see Brazil to allow sale of illegally grown GM food and Brazil agrees to cultivation of GM soya — for now).

Paradoxically, however, the new law does not require products containing the 2003 GM soya be labelled. Rather, the law states that the labels of such products should include the information: "this may contain ingredients produced by GM soya" or "this may contain GM soya".

The law has received a mixed reaction in the scientific community. Silvio Valle, a biosafety expert at Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, questions why the legislation is stricter for products that are unlikely to be found on the Brazilian market, such as GM maize, than it is for illegally grown GM soya, "which is a reality in our country".

He says that the law does not make clear whether imported GM products must also be labelled. And he adds that it very unlikely that any labelled GM products will appear in Brazilian supermarkets this year.

This is not the first time that Brazil has legislated on labelling GM food. The government of ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso introduced a law that products with more than 4 per cent GM ingredients should be labelled, a limit that was reduced to one per cent in April 2003 by president Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva. However, neither of these laws was ever put into practice.

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