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Who Could Refuse to Protect the Rainforest of Brazil and Feed 9 Billion People?

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Anyone looking at Brazil on the map sees a huge swath of green, which symbolizes a country that is blessed by natural resources and a true environmental power. It isn't without a price that the world can see Brazil in this way. We have ensured keeping 61% of the land untouched and preserved. Along with that, we have managed to export U.S. $88 billion annually in agribusiness products to over 140 countries under the stronghold of an outdated environmental law passed in 1965.

Forty-six years ago it was impossible to foresee the need to reduce current carbon emissions in food production. Likewise, it was unthinkable to fathom that the world would have to increase food production 70% by 2050 in order to feed 9 billion people. That is, we had to balance both a just and growing demand for environmental preservation of the planet along with the ethical and moral obligation to produce more in order to ensure that the population has the fundamental right to food.

The pursuit of this balance is what has guided the great debate being waged in the Brazilian Congress, in the process of updating the old Forestry Code. This is the central aim of Brazilian deputies and senators, who are working with great responsibility, despite the environmental lobby, led in large part, by international NGOs. It is these lobbies that misinform the public and claim that the Forest Code is being framed for the benefit of large producers to meet the interests of landowners.

They also claim that the changes will give amnesty for environmental crimes. Those who believe in this either have not read the proposed bill to update the law, or they are interested in creating difficulties for the development of our country.

The bill, which was already approved in the House, by an undisputed majority of 86% of the votes, is now being discussed in the Senate. Currently, there is no single article or line allowing the expansion of deforestation. Likewise, there is no amnesty for environmental crimes. The New Forest Code only suspends fines after perpetrators of environmental crimes sign a pledge for the regularization of their properties.

Producers have a deadline to join an educational environmental program (PRA), which must be inspected by local environmental agencies. Afterwards, the environmental agency will visit the farms to ensure that the terms of the commitment are being met. If the landowners are not in compliance with the Code, or if any possible environmental damage has not been mitigated, the fines will be converted into services for environmental protection. For that reason there is no "amnesty", since there is no pure and simple "forgiveness". Brazilian producers have to rescue their environmental liabilities before having their penalties converted into environmental services -- a true benefit for the environment.

What the environmental lobby calls "amnesty" was already established in the Federal Decree 7029, that dates December 2009. Hence, the New Forest Code is not exonerating those who break the law and nor is it benefiting large producers. It is only enforcing rules that prioritize the protection of the environment instead of raising money through fines. Moreover, those who cleared illegally after 7/22/2008, will not benefit from this.

Much is said about the deforestation of the Amazon forest, but few people know two fundamental points:

1) As of today, 85% of the Amazon forest is preserved, just as it was 500 years ago, when Brazil was discovered. These are the official numbers of the Ministry of Environment of Brazil.

2) Both new and current Forest Codes are only applied on private lands, that represent solely a quarter of the entire Amazon region.

Thus, considering that the New Forest Code maintains all the current protective rules -- such as the requirement that each property of the Amazon forest maintains 80% of the area with native vegetation (called Legal Reserve), we are assured of the preservation of the forest.

The last great misconception that has been conveyed, through sheer lack of information, or perhaps maliciously "planted," is that the Brazilian Congress would be unable to discuss the Forest Code adequately. Who, then, could discuss it? Who, if not the legitimate representatives of the Brazilian people could discuss a law designed to protect the largest rainforest in the world and help feed 9 billion people?

Of course we are capable of changing old codes that create legal uncertainty and prevent the development of our country... and we will.

Senator Katia Abreu is the President of the CNA, the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock.