NEW YORK – Since the Environmental Commission of the Brazilian Senate approved proposed changes in the current legislation, the process of reforming the Brazilian Forest Code is nearing an end. During the next several days, the project will be submitted to the Senate's plenary session to be voted on by all senators.

Changing legislation governing the use of land in the country is seen as crucial if Brazil wants to preserve its position as one of the largest food exporters in the world and at the same time conserve 61 percent of its original forestland – 18 percent of which are in rural landholdings.

Brazil is the third-largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, behind only the US and the European Union, according the World Trade Organization. It is the leading exporter of beef, poultry, sugar, coffee and orange juice. The Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CAN), which is representing Brazilian farmers, estimates if the laws are not altered, Brazil could lose one-fifth of all the land it’s using for agriculture and livestock.

"This would result in more expensive food and higher inflation, as well as a fall in jobs, in exports and in Brazil's GDP,” said Senator Katia Abreu, CAN president. “These are dramatic consequences in a world of 7 billion people, which is suffering from an economic crisis and high food prices – a world that needs the good and cheap food produced in Brazil."

On Nov. 30, the Environmental Commission of the Brazilian Senate approved the new text for the Forest Code – the final step before it is submitted to the vote in the Senate's plenary session. CAN believes the final text is the best possible compromise after much debate. It is a step forward, as it takes into account the need to regularize food production without giving way to more deforestation.

The new proposal would substitute legislation created in 1965, which has been amended many times and has become very difficult to interpret and apply. Due to these amendments, almost 90 percent of Brazilian farmers find themselves in an illegal situation, as they have been penalized for acts carried out before any changes in the law, CAN charges. These farmers are currently unable to get financing to initiate, maintain or increase food production.

Once they have done this, their penalties will be annulled and they will have to carry out services to protect the environment.

The proposed bill, which will be voted on by the Senate, also intends to consolidate the land given up to agriculture and livestock, without increasing deforestation. The decree for a Legal Reserve remains unchanged. This decree states that a farmer must preserve the native forests in 80 percent of their land, if the land falls within the Amazon biome, or from 20 percent to 35 percent if the land is in other regions of Brazil.

At present, only 27.7 percent of Brazilian land is used for agriculture and livestock.