[6/25/10] MST Informa #185: The Offensive by Agribusiness Against the People of Brazil

Brazil is the target of an offensive by big capital, joined by transnational corporations and banks, in an alliance with the capitalist landowners who created a model of organization of agriculture called agribusiness. From the second half of the 1990s - and even more after the crisis of international capitalism - large international corporations, underwritten by finance capital, began to advance on Brazilian agriculture: land, water, seeds, production and industrialization of food and the marketing of pesticides. In this process, agribusiness tries to prevent the development of agriculture by small farmers and agrarian reform and instead consolidate its production model, based on large estates, monoculture, expulsion of manpower in the field with the intensive use of machinery, environmental devastation and large scale use of pesticides. Purchase of land by foreign businesses INCRA data indicate that in recent years at least 4 million hectares have been sold to foreign individuals and companies. This harms the interests of the Brazilian people and undermines national sovereignty over our natural resources. The federal government expressed concern about this offensive, because companies use loopholes to circumvent the legislation. A director of the Finnish pulp and paper company Stora Enso admitted that he created a company in Brazil to evade the law, to illegally buy 46,000 hectares in the southern border and deploy the monoculture of eucalyptus. Just in the sugar-alcohol sector, for example, transnational companies have bought 30% of all sugar mills with their factories and land. However, this still does not appear in INCRA’s register, which shows figures that are under-estimated. We hope the government will fulfill its promise and approve as soon as possible the Constitutional Amendment Proposal (Proposta de Emenda Constitucional, PEC) to prevent the purchase of land by foreigners, including the cancellation of land titles that have already been sold. Bayer’s genetically modified rice In recent weeks, agribusiness attempted to proceed with its project for Brazilian agriculture in two areas: changes in the Brazilian Forest Code and the release of genetically modified rice. While the easing of environmental law enables deforestation for the expansion of agribusiness, the genetically modified organisms hand over farmers’ control of seeds to private ownership of five transnational companies. So Bayer, BASF, Monsanto, Cargill, and Syngenta create patents and impose royalties on the producers. Peasant movements, environmentalists, and human rights organizations had an important victory with the social and political pressure against the release of rice from Bayer, which withdrew the proposal on the agenda of the National Technical Commission on Biosafety (Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança, CTNBio), this Thursday. This variety of rice, because of popular consumption, is not released in any country in the world - neither the U.S. nor in Germany (home country of Bayer). Fortunately. However, it was a momentary retreat by the transnational corporation from its intentions and we must be careful to monitor their movements. Approval of the rice would turn Brazil into a guinea pig. The impacts of the release of GMO rice, which is on the Brazilian table at lunch and dinner, would be extremely negative. In the first place, there are no studies which show that there is no harm to human health of consuming GM crops. Secondly, traditional rice farmers may have their crops contaminated by the Liberty Link rice. In the United States, tests have infected at least 7000 rice producers, who are suing Bayer for damages. If Bayer succeeds, we would have to convert all the traditional crops of rice into GMO plants. Moreover, even without buying the seed, farmers would have to pay royalties to the German company. Third, to increase the use of insecticides on the crops of our country, which used 1 billion liters last year, ranking first in the world. There are studies showing that glufosinate used in spraying of the variety developed by Bayer is toxic to mammals and can hinder activity of the human brain. Wanderlei Antonio Pignati, Doctor of Health and Environment, Fiocruz researcher and professor at the Federal University of Mato Grosso, explains that large industries produce seeds that are dependent on pesticides and chemical fertilizers because the companies are also producing these poisons. The retreat by Bayer represents a small victory by Brazilian society, especially because it demonstrates that you can confront and impose defeats on transnational companies. Changes in the Forest Law Regarding the Forest Law, the vote on the report presented by Congressman Aldo Rebelo (PCdoB-SP) is scheduled for early July. The text of the bill benefits the agribusiness landowners, by doing away with the legal reserve for family farming, the possibility of compensation outside the region or river basin and the transfer of responsibility for defining environmental legislation to the states and municipalities. More worrying for Agrarian Reform is the amnesty for all producers who have committed environmental crimes before July 2008. Areas that do not serve a social function and, in accordance with the Constitution, should be expropriated and assigned to the landless rural workers, will remain in the hands of large estate owners. That is, with the approval of the new law, the National Congress will amend the Constitution to serve only the interests of those who monopolize the land in our country. While the agribusinesses celebrate discreetly, the rural right wing are excited about the possibility of legitimizing deforestation that was already carried out and opening up the agricultural frontier of our forests and conservation areas. What was not expected was that even the most conservative sectors found on that point a supporter “outside the nest”, who has earned praise even from Senator Kátia Abreu (DEM), who recently tried to put herself forward to be a candidate for vice president on the ticket with José Serra (PSDB). Since Kátia Abreu, president of the National Agriculture Confederation (Confederação Nacional da Agricultura, CNA) and spokesperson for the most reactionary sector of the landowners, is the leading advocate of these changes, it becomes clear who will benefit from the proposals by Mr Rebelo. Until now, many voices were raised against this proposal, such as churches, environmental groups, an important part of the union movement and popular movements, especially La Via Campesina Brazil, which expressed outrage at the project. A petition gathered thousands of signatures to educate the Congress; parliamentary progressives viewed the report and the Ministry of the Environment took a stand against the proposals. The government itself, whose parliamentary base is the political party of Congressman Rebelo, went before the public to criticize the project. Hopefully, public pressure can prevent the destruction of environmental legislation and the devastation of the concept of the social function of property, which determines the implementation of land reform. Instead of ending the Forest Law, we need to maintain its principles and improve it, preserving nature for the benefit of all people and future generations. MST National Secretariat