Brazil making condoms to stem Amazon losses, AIDS

Mon Apr 7, 2008 10:19pm BST

BRASILIA, April 7 (Reuters) - The Brazilian government began producing condoms on Monday using rubber from trees in the Amazon, a move it said would help preserve the world's largest rainforest and cut dependence on imported contraceptives given away to fight AIDS.

Brazil's first government-run condom factory, located in northwestern Acre state, will produce 100 million condoms a year, the health ministry said in a statement.

The latex comes from the Chico Mendes reserve, named after a conservationist and rubber tapper killed in 1988 by ranchers. The government says the condoms would be the only ones made of latex harvested from a tropical forest.

Environmentalists say tapping native rubber trees helps generate income for Amazon residents and reduces pressure to fell trees. More than 550 families will earn a total of 2.2 million reais ($1.3 million) annually producing condoms, the ministry said.

The intention is also to reduce Brazil's dependence on imported condoms, which are distributed free as part of a national program to combat AIDS.

The government says it is the world's largest single buyer of condoms. It purchased 1 billion this year to be distributed over the next two years, a health ministry spokesman said.

The Roman Catholic Church has frequently criticized the government's distribution of condoms. (Reporting by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Eric Walsh)