Brazilian soybean growers soon will be planting Roundup Ready varieties, a development that could bolster U.S. exports to Europe.

In September, a 13 to 1 vote by members of Brazil's official bio-safety panel approved large-scale planting and production of genetically modified soybeans in that country.

As a result, Brazilian farmers could plant from 700,000 to a million acres of transgenic soybeans in the 1999-2000 growing season, according to a USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) report.

The panel, called CTN-Bio, is a technical commission established by the Brazilian government in 1995 to regulate the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture and foodstuffs.

At press time, only one hurdle remained for seed companies to begin propagating Roundup Ready seed for the Brazilian market in commercial quantities: The Consumer Defense Institute obtained a court injunction against commercial production of genetically modified soybean seed. But trade contacts, according to FAS, expect the injunction will not seriously delay introduction of GMO soybeans in Brazil.

"With this vote," says Rogerio Castro, Monsanto's Roundup Ready soybeans business manager for Brazil, "CTN-Bio recognized the safety of the Roundup Ready system, not only in agriculture, but in food production."

He says demand for transgenic soybean seed has been high.

"Brazilian farmers like the flexibility, the dependability and the efficacy of the Roundup Ready system," Castro says.

"CTN-Bio's approval of GMO soybeans in Brazil is good news for U.S. farmers," says David Green of GRi, a Kansas City-based international consultancy handling GMO issues in Europe.

"People in the U.S. don't realize just how important the GMO issue is among European customers," says Green. "The more soybean-producing countries that approve transgenic soybeans, the easier it will be for U.S. farmers to maintain and build their market share of both GMO and non-GMO soybeans."

According to Green, some European customers have bought more soybeans from Brazil because until now it was the only top soybean-producing country in which GMO soybeans were not allowed.

"For example," says Green, "a major European poultry producer - formerly buying 50,000 to 60,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans a year - was forced to buy more than 10% of its beans from Brazil when its main retail customer made a tough demand. The poultry producer had to certify its broilers were fed only rations from Brazilian meal as a way of ensuring the soybeans were non-GMO."

Monsanto's Castro says that, upon resolution of the court injunction, the company will be busy over this 1998-99 season.

"We'll be producing seed as rapidly as possible and implementing a Roundup Ready educational program to introduce the system to Brazilian producers," he says.

Monsanto will license its Roundup Ready seed technology to two seed companies and Embrapa, the Brazilian government's agricultural research department for variety development. The seed companies are Codetec and Monsoy, acquired by Monsanto.

In October, CTN-Bio followed its decision on transgenic soybeans with approval of research on transgenic cotton and corn seed, necessary before such products could eventually be approved. Twelve tests on transgenic corn, requested by Pioneer and Agroceres, a Brazilian company, were approved.