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Brazil agency halts GM research at Monsanto unit
Updated 10:42 AM ET July 13, 2000

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's biotechnology regulator said Thursday it halted genetically-modified (GM) crop research at one of four local units of Monsanto Co., the U.S.-based leader in world production of GM farm products.
Leila Oda, president of the biotechnology regulatory agency CTNBio, said it withdrew Sementes Monsanto unit's license after it failed to report a break-in late last year.  According to CTNBio regulations, the company has only 5 days to report any burglary or act of vandalism, since it could result in the spread of GM organisms into the environment.  
Brazil is the world's No. 2 soybean grower and the hemisphere's last major grains producer to maintain a ban on GM crops. CTNBio's move is another setback for Monsanto -- a subsidiary of Peapack, N.J.-based Pharmacia Corp. -- to end the ban on GM agriculture here.  Monsanto officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
The company, which has been fighting for authorization to sell popular GM-altered Roundup Ready soybeans in Brazil, failed to inform CTNBio of a 1999 break-in at its experimental farm in the state of Rio Grande do Sul until more than six months after the incident, Oda said.  "This cancellation prohibits the institution from conducting any research in Brazil... We have to obey the law," Oda said.  She added Sementes Monsanto, acquired from Cargill Inc. in 1998, could reapply for certification -- a process that could take months. GM research at other Brazil units of Monsanto could proceed normally, Oda said.
Sementes Monsanto is a unit of Monsanto do Brasil SA. In a farming context, the Portuguese word sementes means "seeds" in English.  Environmental and consumer groups have successfully argued in court that not enough is known about the gene-altered crops to call them safe, shelving a previous CTNBio ruling that approved the safety of Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans.
Roundup Ready soybeans, widely used in Argentina and in the United States, are genetically engineered to tolerate Monsanto's potent Roundup herbicide, saving farmers money by lowering the quantity of chemicals needed to treat crops.