Brazil moving to give farmers more flexibility

Brazilian lawmakers have approved legislation that eases restrictions on the amount of forest land that farmers must preserve, a move critics say threatens the Amazon and other environmentally sensitive lands.

The bill, approved late Wednesday night by the lower house of Congress by a vote of 274-184, revises Brazil’s four-decade old forest code. The new rules allows farming and other activities alongside fragile river banks and on hilltops, while giving individual states the authority to determine how much land to preserve.

The changes were sought by the powerful agricultural lobby, which insisted the changes were needed to clarify what the farmers could do on their land and to ensure the emerging nation’s food security — a position echoed by Paulo Piau, the bill’s chief sponsor in the chamber of deputies.

“The new forestation code was approved and represents, first and foremost, the commitment of rural producers,” said Piau. “They will have more stability and more political support. The production and the environment will only benefit from that. With a confused law there is no benefit.”

But Deputy Sarney Filho, a former environment minister, says the changes will erase decades of efforts to combat the destruction of the Amazon rainforest through deforestation.

Brazil has reduced deforestation of the Amazon in recent years, as law enforcement utilized satellite imagery to track areas with the greatest amount of deforestation.

The Senate passed a similar version of the bill back in December. The measure now heads to President Dilma Rousseff, who could veto the entire package or reject parts of the bill she feels are unacceptable.

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