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Syngenta fined over GM tests in Brazil

Tests on plants at Syngenta's research centre in Stein, canton Aargau Keystone

Swiss agrochemicals giant Syngenta has been hit with a SFr600,000 ($461,000) fine in Brazil for planting transgenic seeds close to a protected nature reserve.

This content was published on March 22, 2006 - 21:49

The Basel-based company strongly denies any wrongdoing and says it will appeal against the penalty imposed by the country's environmental protection agency, Ibama.

The fine relates to the company's test site for genetically modified (GM) soya bean and corn in southern Brazil, which has been occupied by hundreds of peasant activists for over a week.

Ibama says Syngenta broke the law by planting 30 acres of transgenic soy six kilometres from Iguaçu National Park, inside a ten-kilometre exclusion zone.

Syngenta refutes this, saying the GM crop is outside the protected area. The company stresses that it has all the necessary legal permits from the National Technical Commission for Biosecurity (CTNBio) for its experiments.

"We are under the assumption that we did indeed apply the regulations, but Ibama is saying the law is wrong and the authority we got from CTNBio is wrong. We see this as a political battle between these two agencies," Syngenta spokesman Guy Wolff told swissinfo.

"We strongly defend our point of view that we did nothing illegal and there will be an appeal."

Farm occupation

Several hundred small farmers and peasants from the Via Campesina movement are still occupying the farm despite being given five days to leave the farm in Parana state last Thursday.

The international peasants' organisation, which is allied to Brazil's militant Landless Peasants' Movement, invaded the site over a week ago to protest at the "serious environmental crime" said to have been committed by Syngenta.

They are demanding an immediate halt to the Swiss firm's activities in the area and have pushed for charges to be brought against both the company and CTNBio.

The Swiss agricultural chemicals and seeds company said on Wednesday that even though the deadline for leaving the farm had expired, it did not intend to call in the police to evict the protesters. It said it was keen to avoid doing anything that would "worsen the situation".

Earlier this month about 2,000 Via Campesina members invaded a plantation owned by a pulp and paper firm in southern Brazil where they destroyed a million saplings and damaged a research laboratory.

"Usually we would call the police to have the order executed but we haven't done that yet," said Wolff.

"We don't want them to start smashing up the place. We don't want to provoke an action like this."

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

Key facts

Basel-based Syngenta is a world leader in crop protection and ranks third in the high-value commercial seeds market.
The company reported strong profit growth for 2005 – up 25% to $779 million (SFr1 billion).
Sales were approximately $8.1 billion.
Syngenta employs more than 19,000 people in over 90 countries.

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