In April, Brazil’s congress voted to ease up on rules dictating the amount of forest farmers must keep on their land in an effort to overhaul the country’s 47-year-old legislation providing forest protection. While the so-called Forest Code will require millions of hectares of cleared land to be replanted, it provides amnesty to landowners who illegally deforested areas before 2008. Environmentalists and the scientific community, including the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science are strongly against the Forest Code.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rouseff, has been under serious pressure to veto the bill, and it is expected that she will veto all or parts of the bill, irritating powerful agricultural groups known as “ruralistas.” These groups of farmers and ranchers contend that by opening large new areas to deforestation, they can expand their interests in agricultural products such as beef, soybeans, sugar and poultry. The country’s lawmakers say the bill is necessary to prevent food prices from rising in Brazil. But economic and agricultural experts agree that agriculture can be expanded simply by incorporating existing lands used for pasture rather than razing new areas.
The timing of the bill is especially sensitive, as the Rio+ 20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will be held in Brazil in June. The Brazilian government had planned to promote a new Forest Code at the conference as an example of how modern legislation could balance environmental protection with agricultural development. If the law is passed it could allow landowners to reduce obligatory forest cover from 80 percent to 50 percent. As reported in the New York Times, according to the Institute for Applied Economic Research in Brazil, this could lead to a loss of as much of 190 million acres of forest.
Brazil is home to close to 40 percent of the world’s rain forests. A key tenet in the Forest Code would allow landowners to count the trees that grow on riverbanks, hilltops and steep includes towards a total proportion of forest that can be preserved on their land. Currently this land is not part of the calculation.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has used a line-item veto to send back parts of a congressional bill that loosened the nation's benchmark law protecting the Amazon rainforest - a veto the government said would prevent increased deforestation.
Environmentalists were not satisfied because they had called for a veto of the entire bill, known as the Forest Code, saying any weakening of the law would put the world's largest rainforest at risk. Government officials said the partial veto went far enough to keep Brazil on track in its efforts to quell the destruction of the Amazon and other biomes.