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Daily News Blog

01
Aug

Brazil Approves 262 New Hazardous Pesticides, Makes Death Sole Criteria for Toxicity

(Beyond Pesticides, August 1, 2019) Last month, the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture approved the registration of 51 additional hazardous pesticides and brought the total to 262 newly approved pesticides this year. Moreover, Brazil’s health surveillance agency, Anvisa, approved new rules that establish risk of death as the singular criteria for determining toxicity of pesticides. Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit that conducts local investigations, reports that the government has simultaneously been unresponsive to incidents of pesticide poisoning. Brazil’s president, Jair Boslonoro, is known for his far-right politics, and has been accused of corruption, scandals, and disregard for the environment.

This rapid registration of novel pesticides is unprecedented in Brazil. Many of the products are generic versions of existing formulas, with government officials seeking to lower the price of pesticides. Products include insecticides with the active ingredient sulfoxaflor, a bee-toxic pesticide that has also recently gained traction in the U.S. despite pushback from beekeepers and environmentalists. While an American license for a pesticide, for example, lasts 15 years, Brazilian registration of pesticides never expires. Generic products lower the price barrier to amplified use of these interminable, toxic pesticides.

In 1989, Brazil established one of the toughest pesticide laws in the world that included utilizing the precautionary principle in evaluation and registration standards. However, the proliferation of large-scale, monocrop farming has directly increased use of pesticides, and enforcement has not kept up with the boom. According to advocates, laws in place to protect residents are often ignored, and pesticide poisoning is a growing concern. Last November, there was a record poisoning in which 96 people, including 50 children, were hit by a drifting cloud of paraquat—an herbicide that is extremely acutely toxic because it causes lung fibrosis and is also directly linked to Parkinson’s disease. Paraquat has been banned in the EU since 2007, but remains legal in countries such as Brazil and the U.S.

Repórter Brasil states, “The case is also part of a national phenomenon: the intoxication of children in rural areas. From 2008 to 2017 DataSUS recorded 130 confirmed poisonings of children under 14 by pesticides. This number only takes into account environmental poisoning, i.e., when poison is carried by wind, water or in contact with soil and plants. However […] it is estimated that for each reported case 50 will not be reported. That is, the number of children environmentally contaminated by pesticides in ten years may have reached 6.5 thousand—an average of more than one intoxicated child per day in Brazil.”

A powerful agribusiness lobby has been diligently working on influencing politicians to loosen pesticide restrictions in Brazil for many years. With new toxicity standards removing anything but death from the picture, this trend of rapid pesticide registration and rural poisonings is likely to continue under Bolsonaro’s administration.

Swedish supermarket owner Johannes Cullberg started an international boycott in response to Brazil’s approval and use of hazardous pesticides in food production. #BoycottBrazilianFood began in June of 2019 when the total of newly registered pesticides stood at 197. Mr. Cullburg stated, “We need to stop (the president) Bolsonaro, he’s a maniac.” The boycott prompted a response from the Brazilian embassy, stating, “[T]he Embassy wishes to inform you that Brazil, despite being an agricultural powerhouse, is not the biggest user of pesticides. It is ranked 5th or 7th in the world, according to applicable parameters in pesticide studies,” and so on.

Mr. Cullberg responded, “I salute you for that fifth-runner up position in 2017, but it seems you might actually win in 2019. With that said, let me yet again explain why I do think that a boycott of Brazilian products is still necessary. You argue that your tropical climate craves a massive use of pesticides. According to the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility, Brazil in 2016 alone registered 4,208 cases of intoxication by exposure to pesticides and 355 deaths by agricultural chemicals. I argue that these numbers are far from acceptable to me and should not be to anyone.”

Bolsonaro is unlikely to be moved by pleas regarding human or environmental rights. His campaign last year ran on a platform that touted protected lands as an obstacle to economic growth, and committed to removing barriers to commercial exploitation. This has led to more than 1,330 square miles of forest cover loss since Bolsonaro took office in January. Local mining groups are clashing with indigenous tribes for land, and because enforcement agencies have been crippled by budget cuts there is little capability to mitigate the problem. Ewerton Marubo, an indigenous activist, stated bluntly, “Just imagine if all this is destroyed, if the government opens this area up. In two years it will all be gone. The wood will be gone. The fish will be gone. The rivers will all be polluted. All they want is to destroy.”

There are distinct parallels between the Trump Administration and Bolsonaro’s reign in Brazil— namely, the gutting of environmental protection in favor of corporate gain. Now, more than ever, it is necessary for local groups to stand up and fight back at the local level. Use Beyond Pesticides’ Tools For Change to learn more. You can easily join the boycott against Bolsonaro by buying local, organic food.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Sources: Reuters, The Rio Times, Medium, Human Rights Watch

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  • Archives

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