Yesterday evening, the Brazilian Senate voted 59 to 7 in support of reforming the Forest Code to reduce the amount of Brazil’s territory that requires environmental conservation. The code—agreed to over 45 years ago—mandates the protection of up to 80 percent of forests in Amazonian regions and 20 percent in other areas of the country. This loosening of restrictions has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who claim the measure gives license for accelerated deforestation. Just yesterday, Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research reported the lowest national deforestation rate in 23 years—a trend that many fear may reverse with yesterday’s changes.
However, the law has received wide praise from farmers and other agricultural stakeholders. Supporters of this bill argue that Brazil needs more land for food production. Brazil is the world’s second-largest agricultural producer behind the United States, and, if signed, the new legislation could vault Brazil to number-one status. Senator Kátia Abreu, also the president of Brazil’s National Agriculture and Livestock Federation, hailed last night’s passage as an end to “the environmental dictatorship.”
The bill now returns to Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, which voted to overhaul the Forest Code last May. The Senate’s updated version has nearly 70 amendments, but the Chamber is expected to pass all the new provisions. The bill will likely arrive on President Dilma Rousseff’s desk in early 2012. Greenpeace Amazon has launched an advocacy campaign calling on her to veto the legislation.