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[RIO DE JANEIRO] After two years of negotiations, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies has approved the country's controversial 'Forest Code'. The legislationregulates land use and allows for the creation of boundaries within which native vegetation should be preserved.

Changes to the legislation were first proposed ten years ago, and a decision in March was delayed (see Delay for Brazil's Forest Code in Spanish).

This week (25 April) the text was approved 274 votes to 184, with two deputies choosing to abstain. It  has already attracted criticism from environmental advocates, including WWF, and comes in the run-up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June.

The updated code states that agricultural activities that were started in permanent areas of preservation (APP in Spanish) by 22 July 2008 can continue to be carried out.

Controversially, it also allows for reserve areas in the Amazon to be reduced from 80 per cent to 50 per cent, as long as the state where the reduction is planned maintains 65 per cent of protected areas and if local legislation permits a reduction in reserve area.

It also reduces protection for land–river interfaces in APP. According to the code, for rivers that are no wider than five metres, landowners need only to preserve a band of land 15 metres on either side — scaled back from 30 metres. No rules were set for larger rivers.

Agriculturalists have welcomed the new legislation. Carlos Sperotto, vice-president of the Agriculture and Livestock Confederation of Brazil (CNA), said on the organisation's website that the code's approval is "a big step, allowing producers [access] to an unprecedented framework of legal certainty and legitimate activity, because before we were all in a state of vulnerability".

The CNA's president, Ahasuerus Dock Veronez commented: "This new legislation ... recognises the importance of the agricultural sector to the Brazilian economy."

But José Antônio Aleixo da Silva, director of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science (SBPC) said he was disappointed with the code.

Da Silva coordinated a working group of the SBPC and the Brazilian Academy of Science that prepared a document to inform discussions on the code among parliamentarians and stakeholders.

"It was a battle among political parties and between the big farmers and the environmental sectors at the parliament; those with the strongest numbers won," he told SciDev.Net.

"In our view, the traditional communities and small farmers also should have a different treatment, instead of [being treated] in the same way as agricultural producers."

The code is now subject to approval by President Dilma Rousseff.

Link to documents prepared by the SBPC (in Portuguese)