Brazilian Court Annuls Approval to Commercialize Transgenic Corn

Transgenic Corn in BrazilA federal appellate court in Porto Alegre, Brazil nullified a government commission’s approval for commercial release of the transgenic corn (maize) product known as LibertyLink. See Processo 5000629-66.2012.404.7000 (Tribunal Regional Federal da 4ª Região 13 Mar. 2014).

Transgenic CornAPPROVAL OF RELEASE LEADS TO LITIGATION. In 2007, the South American country’s National Technical Committee on Biosafety (CTNBio) approved the importation and use of LibertyLink, a herbicide-resistant, genetically modified variety developed by Bayer Cropscience. See Technical Opinion No.987/2007 – Commercial Release of Genetically Modified Corn, LibertyLink (Corn T25). However, a group of environmental, consumer, and small farmer organizations filed a judicial action to set aside CTNBio’s decision on the grounds of alleged environmental and health concerns and the purported failure of CTNBio adequately to evaluate the risks associated with transgenic corn.

Transgenic Corn in BrazilTHE APPELLATE COURT’S RULING. After inconclusive litigation in the lower court, on March 13, 2014, the Fourth Regional Federal Court invalidated CTNBio’s approval of LibertyLink due to its failure to conduct studies in the north and northeastern regions of Brazil. The court’s written summary of its decision began by urging policy makers to exercise “caution and humility” when dealing with matters that change the natural order. The court further opined that,

As human beings, we have limits, yet often our science and technology make us believe that we can always overcome them. The truth is that sometimes we make mistakes, and our mistakes can be very costly to the environment, to [other] species living on the planet, and to us in the present and our children in the future.

Transgenic Corn in Brazil, GMOs
General Biome Map of Brazil by Oak Ridge National Laboratory

COMMITTEE MUST CONSIDER ALL RELEVANT BIOMES IN PERFORMING RISK ASSESSMENT. The court observed that Article 14(4) of the national Biosafety Law (Lei nº 11.105, de 24 de Março de 2005), CTNBio’s decisions should take into account the particularities of different regions of the country. According to the court, when CTNBio performed its risk assessment for LibertyLink, it should have considered potential effects in all relevant regions (biomes) of the country. Such a broad consideration was necessary, the court stated, because of the vast territory of Brazil, the fact that pollen from corn plants can travel great distances, and the multiplicity of environments that could be affected. This does not mean that CTNBio should have conducted studies in all of Brazil’s states, but the court declared that the committee should at least have considered all biomes where the transgenic corn could be marketed if commercially released.

CALL FOR GREATER TRANSPARENCY IN DECISION MAKING. The court also quoted Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development–which encourages public participation and widespread consultation by public bodies making decisions affecting the environment–as a reason for CTNBio to become more transparent in its decisions on applications for release of transgenic crops.

 by Shawn N. Sullivan, March 27, 2014.

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