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Syngenta seeks to overturn GM farm seizure

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

(Keystone)

The Swiss agrochemicals giant Syngenta is trying to prevent the expropriation of a farm used for testing transgenic seeds in Brazil.

The state government of Parana confiscated the 143-hectare property near the famous Iguaçu waterfalls last November after the governor decided the property would become an educational centre for environment-friendly agriculture.

Syngenta has asked a state court in Parana for an injunction to stop the expropriation, saying it wants to continue research at the site and claiming that there are better locations for the educational centre.

"We found legal grounds to challenge the governor's decision," said Syngenta spokesman Medard Schoenmaeckers. The company warns it is prepared to take its case all the way through the Brazilian justice system.

The facility has been at the heart of a legal battle over its testing of genetically modified (GM) soya bean and corn.

Last year, Syngenta was hit with a SFr600,000 ($461,000) fine imposed by Brazil's environmental agency, Ibama, for planting transgenic seeds close to a protected nature reserve.

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

No wrongdoing

Basel-based Syngenta strongly denied any wrongdoing, claiming the GM crop was outside the protected area.

The company stressed that it had all the necessary legal permits from the National Technical Commission for Biosecurity for its experiments. Syngenta believes that it was the victim of a power struggle between the commission and Ibama.

The Parana state prosecutor has since ruled that the Swiss firm did indeed have all the authorisations required to carry out its research and dismissed an inquiry.

The company has been left to wonder if the expropriation is politically motivated and was caused by the prosecutor's decision. "The governor has certainly expressed an anti-GM stance in the past," Schoenmaeckers told swissinfo.

Syngenta is confident though that the governor's position is not representative of the entire local community. "We have been present since 1988 and we haven't found much hostility among local farmers to our work," added Schoenmaeckers.

There has been no work carried out at the facility since last March.

Several hundred small farmers and peasants from the Via Campesina movement opposed to biotech crops developed by Syngenta invaded the farm in March last year and camped there to publicize their claims that the firm was conducting illegal research into genetically modified soy and corn crops.

The expropriation decree has also ensured that none of the company's researchers can return to the site. Syngenta is hoping that its appeal will be accepted within the next eight months.

swissinfo with agencies

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 for 2005 were approximately $8.1 billion.
For the first nine months of 2006 sales were 1% lower at $6.61 billion.
Syngenta employs more than 19,000 people in over 90 countries.

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