Title: Brazil non-GM soy seen threatening rain forests Source: Copyright 2002 Reuters Date: November 4, 2002
LONDON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Green groups have praised Brazil's rejection of gene-modified (GM) soybean production but fear the policy will take a heavy toll on the Amazon rain forests.
"Soya farming really is emerging as the critical driver of Amazonian deforestation," William Laurance of the Panama-based Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute told Reuters.
Andy Tait of the Greenpeace environment group added: "Ironically, Brazil's choice to produce non-GM soya is resulting in huge tracks of land being cleared."
Brazil, the world's second largest producer and exporter of soybeans with over 24 percent of global output, has resisted the trend that has seen the United States and other producers shift to gene-modified varieties over the past decade.
But its stand is fraught with dangers, Tait said.
"Contamination is coming in from Argentina, one of the main GM soya producers. A lot of the soya in the south of Brazil is already contaminated."
Brazilian farmers seeking to grow non-GM soybeans had been forced to move continuously north and into the rain forests, where industrial farming methods meant trees had to go.
"Historically, the Amazon has been nibbled away at the edges, but now what's been happening is like somebody going right in and chopping it right up," Laurance said.
The government was spending heavily to improve infrastructure under its Advance Brazil programme.
"Much of the infrastructure that this programme is going to involve is for instance peeling about seven and a half thousand kilometres of highways...transportation projects, channelling and damming three large river systems and so on," Laurance added.
He estimated that by 2020 as much as 42 percent of the Amazon forest might have disappeared or suffered severe damage.
"We have to realise that the Amazon as the world's largest remaining area of intact forest is going to be dramatically transformed by these avalanches of projects trying to accommodate industrial soya farming," Laurance said.
Amazonia covers some 7 million square kilometres of land, with about 5 million square kilometres in Brazil.
It accounts for much more of the world's rainfall than previously supposed, recent research shows, and ecologists fear that deforestation will threaten the world's water
Studies have also suggested that the Amazon may be soaking up as much as eight percent of man's annual carbon dioxide emissions.
M.S., Ph.D. (abd)