The agronomist on the other end of the line laughed aloud. “Paid extra for non-GM soybeans?” he asked, incredulous. “Tell me who's paying, because we'll take it.”

Until Brazilian farmers have incentive to grow non-biotech soybeans, many continue to illegally plant Roundup Ready (RR) varieties, according to agronomists from that country.

In 1998, the Brazilian government approved the planting of RR soybeans. Two consumer groups, how-ever, filed for and won an injunction against that decision. As a result, commercial-scale planting of genetically modified crops in Brazil is still not legal, and a few farmers have had their crops confiscated or been fined.

That hasn't stopped farmers from planting anyway, especially in the South, where weed problems are a serious issue. Because RR beans aren't yet legal, it's impossible to get completely accurate numbers regarding how much of the soybean crop is transgenic.

That said, the best estimate available is probably that of the respected agriculture consultancy Mprado, based in Uberlândia, Brazil. It claims that the presence of biotech beans in Brazil is strongest in the southern part of the country, relatively weak in the north but tending to grow everywhere.

Even so, some Brazilian officials have wanted to keep Brazil biotech-free in order to sell more ag products to Europe, where it's understood consumers don't want GMOs. Brazilian farmers, therefore, would make more money selling more beans.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. We called the head agronomists at three large ag cooperatives in Brazil's South to ask them how many of their members are receiving premiums for planting non-GM beans.

Each of the agronomists we talked to asked us not to cite their names or the names of their cooperatives. Such is the touchy nature of biotech in Brazil at the moment.

None of them knew of any farmer getting paid anything extra for delivering non-GM soybeans. “Of course not,” said one. “It's illegal to do anything else but plant conventional soybeans.”

Another said, “A good number of farmers are growing transgenic soybeans, even if it is illegal.”

If Europe or Asia is paying more for conventional soybeans, Brazilian farmers aren't getting anything from it because it's not legal to plant anything else. This is why the head of the Brazilian soybean producers association, Ywao Miyamoto, has called on the courts to come to a final decision on whether to allow biotech beans in Brazil or not.

“Those against transgenic products are against science itself. Brazil must urgently adopt the benefits of biotechnology in order not to lag behind other countries,” Miyamoto recently told the newspaper Jornal Nippo-Brasil. A respected ag economist at the University of São Paulo has suggested that Brazil allow the planting of GMOs, if for no other reason than to allow big and small farmers who choose to forego biotech to at least make some money from that decision.

Acres Planted In GMOs

Region High Estimate Low Estimate
North 0% 1%
Northeast 1% 2%
Southeast 2% 3%
South 35% 47%
Center West 2% 4%
TOTAL 15% 21%