Brazil dedicates 2,400 scientists for GM food research, wants ‘active cooperation’ with Gulf: Minister

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By Binsal Abdulkader

ABU DHABI, 24th September, 2019 (WAM) -- Brazil has dedicated 2,400 scientists for research and development of genetically modified crops, a top Brazilian official told the Emirates News Agency, WAM, in an exclusive interview.

The research of the scientists at Embrapa, Brazil's agricultural research institute under the Ministry of Agriculture, will help further expand the genetically modified, GM, food cultivation in the country, said Tereza Cristina Corrêa Da Costa Dias, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply.

"Brazil has expanded the area cultivated with GM crops by 1.1 million hectares in 2018. The total area planted with GM crops was increased to 51.3 million hectares in 2018, from 50.2 million hectares in 2017, [a two percent rise]," said the minister who was on an official visit to the UAE.

The South American nation, the largest soybean and second-largest corn exporter in the world behind the US, made up 27 percent of the world’s entire GM cultivated area in 2018, the minister said.

GM crops in cotton, soybean, and corn represented 93 percent of such crops in Brazil in 2018, which were mostly used as cattle feed. A huge amount of GM sugarcane is also produced, she said.

The GM cultivation can be expanded to many other crops such as tomato, carrot and other vegetables, the minister said while mentioning the ongoing research in her country.

GM crops minimises use of land, water and chemical pesticide, Da Costa Dias went on to say.

"GM foods are safe and there is no scientific proof for the alleged risks associated with them. This is my conviction from my professional experience," said the Brazilian official who is an agricultural engineer by profession and had worked at multinational agricultural companies before becoming a minister.

Her remarks have come in the midst of heated debate on the international stage about the safety of GM crops. Many green activists and green organisations, including Greenpeace, are arguing that there is no conclusive evidence to establish that GM foods are not harmful to people.

In the UAE, the Cabinet introduced a Federal Law in June on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms, GMOs. The law aims to safeguard public health from risks linked to GMOs or their products.

The new law in the UAE came a year after Dubai Central Laboratory started carrying out screening of foods to ensure that GMOs were labelled correctly.

The Brazilian minister said her country would be ready to cooperate with the Gulf States on research and development in GM foods and other areas of agriculture.

Prior to her visit to the UAE, the minister visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as part of her Middle East tour.

"I am looking forward to an active cooperation in agriculture sector with the Gulf states that are Brazil’s important partners. We also have a special relationship with the UAE," she said.

She said she was impressed by the UAE’s success in converting desert lands into green oases, adding that it "gives inspiration to take up tough tasks and succeed in agriculture."

Talking about organic farming in Brazil, Da Costa Dias said, the hot environment was not conducive for this method and therefore organic products were 15 to 20 percent costlier. "Still they are consumed by upper class people only," she explained.

About the ongoing fire in Brazil’s forest areas in Amazon, she said Brazil’s environment ministry had already registered several cases against individuals who illegally set fire. Fires are broken out naturally also due to hot weather and the government deployed 8,000 army personnel to control it, the minister said.

She alleged that news reports exaggerated the magnitude of the fire, which occurred on the borders of Amazon forests, not inside the humid forests.

WAM/Ibrahim Shukralla/Binsal AbdulKader