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Brazil Pulls Unlabelled Genetically Modified Food From Shelves
Updated 5:56 PM ET August 14, 2000
By Matthew Harris

SAO PAOLO (Reuters Health) - The Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defence (ICD) this week called for an official investigation to be launched after tests carried out on a range of over 30 food products showed the presence of genetically modified DNA in 11 of them. Several companies have been ordered by the Centre for Sanitary Vigilance of the State of Sao Paulo to withdraw their brands from supermarket shelves in response to the tests.

The ICD, in partnership with Greenpeace and the Swiss laboratory Interlabor Belp AG, found transgenic soya or corn, in quantities of up to 10% of the contents of the food products. The transgenic ingredient was not indicated on the labels of any of the products, contravening state and federal law.

The tests used by the ICD included a polymerase chain reaction test to detect, identify and then quantify transgenic DNA, such as that of Monsanto's Roundup Ready and Novartis' Bt-11. The transgenic DNA that was found in the food products was identified as that of Roundup Ready in all cases.

The products that were found to be positive for the DNA included Knorr's Sweetcorn soup, Bristol-Meyer Squibs' non-lactose formula and Nestle's soya formula. The companies have been given until the 16th of August to remove the products and provide reports on the findings.

Meanwhile, the ICD has advised consumers to not buy products from Argentina, Canada or the USA that are likely to contain soya or corn.

Despite a ruling by federal judge Dr. Antonio Prudente that the use of transgenic products needs a full environmental impact assessment before its introduction into the country, the Ministry of Agriculture had earlier this year authorised the liberation of transgenic corn.

The National Technical Commission on Biosecurity, which advises the Ministries of Science and Technology, Health, Agriculture, and Environment, had reported that the environmental impact studies performed in the US had proven to be sufficient and that no harmful effect has been indicated with their use in animal feed. The Commission has not, however carried out an independent assessment of the products. The dispute may be taken to the higher courts, particularly the Supreme Justice Tribunal and the Supreme Federal Tribunal.

Marilena Lazzarini, executive coordinator of the ICD, commented in a press release Monday that "despite pressure from the Government and Monsanto, reverting the decision of the courts will not be possible. We hope that (the government and Monsanto) will give up the irresponsible proposal of liberating transgenic products into Brazil without the necessary evaluation of the risks to humans and the environment."

Andrea Salazar, attorney to the ICD, declared that "these decisions are founded in the law, which is very clear on this matter (the necessity of an environmental impact assessment), leaving little margin for interpretation."

A decision on the action to be taken against the companies whose products contained the transgenic DNA is expected within the next few weeks.