A movement advocating replacement of genetically modified (GM) soyabeans with conventional strains is growing in support in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, Reuters reported on 11 May.

More than 96% of the soyabean harvest in Mato Grosso – Brazil’s largest soya-producing state – originate from GM varieties which, according to Reuters, have helped transform Brazil into the world’s largest soya exporter.

Winton Mendes, coordinator of a conventional seed promotion programme run by Brazilian government agri research agency Embrapa, said that the push for non-GM seeds was fuelled partially by health concerns.

Some consumers and environmental groups claimed that GM crops boosted pesticide use and posed a threat to both human health and the environment, against biotech groups’ arguments that biotechnology lowered the cost of food and helped farmers manage pests and diseases, Reuters wrote.

Mendes told the news agency that Mato Grosso’s drive to plant more conventional soya was backed by three trading firms, which paid a 12 real (US$3.67) premium per 60kg of non-GM soya this season.

This premium might encourage farmers to plant more GM-free soya in the next cycle, said Daniel Ferreira, superintendent of agri research agency Imea.

Endrigo Dalcin, a farmer from Mato Grosso, told Reuters he, among others, had planted 1,500ha of non-GM soya this year and planned to nearly double that in 2017/18 due to the premium and international demand, but for some farmers the limited availability of conventional seeds was proving a problem.

According to Imea statistics, 13.6% of the 2016/17 harvest of soyabeans in Mato Grosso was non-GM, down from 15% the previous season due to low Brazilian demand.

The agency said the programme intended to give farmers a “choice” instead of outright banning GM soya.

The largest demand for Brazilian non-GM soya came from China, which did not grow modified soyabeans and had an annual undersupply of 11M tonnes of soyabeans, said Lin Tan, an executive at Hopefull Grain & Oil Group.