New Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu, nicknamed the "chainsaw queen" by Brazilian environmentalists for what they call her promotion of deforestation, strongly rejected the criticism Thursday, calling it sexist since she's the first woman to hold her post.
Abreu told a small group of foreign reporters that she and her predecessors over the past 12 years had the same thinking on agricultural policies, "so I think that there is an element of machismo, a bias against women," in the strong reactions to her being named minister.
Before being picked by President Dilma Rousseff to lead one of Brazil's most powerful ministries, Abreu was a senator and the main figure in the powerful congressional lobby representing farmers and cattle ranchers that succeeded in weakening Brazil's forest code, the environmental law protecting the rainforest and other biomes.
Deforestation in the Amazon is mostly the result of ranchers and farmers clearing away trees to make way for cattle pastures and land to grow soy, along with the illegal felling of trees for prized woods.
The environmental group Greenpeace presented Abreu with its symbolic "Golden Chainsaw" award a few years ago as criticism for her role in weakening the forest code.
The Landless Rural Workers Movement, which encourages the occupation of land it considers unproductive to pressure the government to speed up land reforms to lessen Brazil steep inequality in land ownership, is also a staunch opponent of Abreu.
"The solutions for the problems of those who want a piece of land must come from the Agrarian Development Ministry and the Ministry of Social Development and Hunger Alleviation, not the Agriculture Ministry," Abreu said when asked about reforms. "My responsibility is with those who already have land."
Abreu said she wants to strengthen Brazil's status as a superpower food producer, and specifically mentioned Japan as a market for Brazilian citrus fruit, South Korea for pork and Nigeria for beef.
She is scheduled to visit China in March to negotiate a fast track agreement for Brazilian meat packing industries and discuss import tariffs for Brazilian coffee