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Reuters / By Phil Stewart

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil's major soybean producing state of Rio Grande do Sul is threatening to destroy genetically-modified soybeans grown on a test plot by the local unit of U.S. biotechnology giant Monsanto Co.

"The soybean area will be destroyed by the end of the month if they continue in violation of state law," the state's Agriculture Secretary Jose Hermeto Hoffamann told Reuters.

Rio Grande do Sul, which aims to sell soybeans to European consumers opposed to transgenics, accused the multinational of breaking a new, March 3 state law by failing to provide an environmental risk analysis for the 435-hectare test plot.

Hoffamann said Monsanto was reproducing enough seeds on the land to cover all of Rio Grande do Sul sales in anticipation of the federal government's expected final approval for planting of Monsanto's herbicide-resistant Roundup Ready soybeans in the coming months.

Securing the environmental analysis before the end-March deadline may not be possible, he added.

"It will be very difficult for (Monsanto) to gather this information in time because it take some time to collect this kind of data," Hoffamann said.

Monsanto says it aims to complete the paperwork, but failing that, it will take legal measures to protect its seeds.

"We will attempt to present the documents," said Rodrigo Lopes Almeida, Monsanto do Brasil's corporate affairs director. "Monsanto will defend itself within the parameters of the law."

Rio Grande do Sul is expected to turn out 22 percent of the country's 30.92-million-tonne crop - the world's largest behind the United States.

Brazil broke its ban on transgenics last September by approving the safety of Monsanto's genetically-modifiedsoybeans, legally allowing them to be treated like any other crop in the registration process.

Hoffamann said in an earlier interview that the state was seeking legal means to ban all transgenic crops before their registration. He added that the German joint venture AgrEvo had also been warned about the new state law and its effect on the company's test plots of transgenic corn and rice.

"They have also been told they must provide these documents," Hoffamann said.

Andre Abreu, who head's AgrEvo's biotechnology programme in Brazil, said that it would be very difficult to provide an environmental risk analysis before the deadline. He also scoffed at the controversy over the test plots, which he said totalled less than two hectares and already had federal approval.

"All this fuss over nothing," Abreu said, adding the company had already waded through a four-month assessment with the federal government just to begin its research in Brazil.

"We think we have rights to keep (the plots) going and to conclude this research and to have fair time to comply with these demands," he told Reuters.

AgrEvo is an agrochemical joint venture between Germany's Hoechst AG and Schering AG.

(C) Reuters Limited 1999.