Approved Pesticides in Brazil Spike Under New Administration

Photo by John Reed on Unsplash

More than a hundred new pesticides were approved in Brazil since its new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, took office in January of this year. According to an investigation, about 1,200 pesticides, including 193 containing ingredients that are banned in Europe, have been approved just in the span of three years.

From January to May 21 of this year, 169 new pesticides were registered under Bolsonaro’s administration. A study published by Greenpeace UK’s news agency Unearthed stated that about 78 of these contain active ingredients that are labeled as highly hazardous by the Pesticide Action Network, signifying that they may cause harm to human health or the environment. Moreover, 24 of the pesticides contain chemicals banned in Europe, and an additional 28 pesticides were also approved last year but were not included in the report.

Data shows that, under the administration of former president Michel Temer and current president Jair Bolsonaro, there was a substantial increase in the number of registered environmentally hazardous pesticides and weedkiller. Under Temer’s administration, there were about 1,270 approved pesticides – doubling the number from the previous four years. Both leaders are known to have close links with the agribusiness sector.

“We have never had such a big release of pesticides. This is certainly a political decision,” said Marina Lacorte, an agriculture and food campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Brasil. “The industry puts profits ahead of the population’s health.”

Brazil is rich in biodiversity, probably one of the richest in the world. The news regarding the alarming increase in the use of pesticides and weedkillers raises concerns due to causing a significant impact on human health and the environment. Sônia Guajajara, the activist, and leader of a group representing 300 indigenous tribes told Unearthed that, “since Jair Bolsonaro took office, we have lived with constant attacks against our people, Mother Earth, and food sovereignty. Every week new pesticides are registered. Besides contaminating our soil, our groundwater and negatively impacting our collective health, it is preposterous that the Brazilian Government allows foreign companies to sell products which contain chemicals that are banned in their domestic markets.”

In terms of pesticides, Brazil is also known to be the biggest buyer in the world and allows the use of chemicals that are considered illegal to other countries. Further investigation showed that several companies from other countries have been selling pesticide products in Brazil that are banned in their home countries. This includes Chinese firm Adama and German companies Helm and BASF.

Acephate was banned in Europe for nearly two decades, and in 2017, the Chinese agricultural ministry introduced restrictions on the chemical. However, Chinese chemicals firm Adama has registered 25 products in Brazil, including two with acephate, since 2016. The pesticides also contained other potentially harmful chemicals such as atrazine, glufosinate — which, according to the European Chemicals Agency, could “damage fertility” — and paraquat.

Since September 2016, Hamburg-based company Helm has registered nine products in the country that are not allowed to be sold in Germany. One product contains Paraquat, a chemical linked to causing damage to the dopamine neuron that causes Parkinson’s disease — has been banned in Europe since 2007.

Aside from Paraquat, another chemical known as Diquat found in the pesticides is also prohibited from Europe last year. It was found that Diquat may have an effect on human hormones and may be a threat to other animals.

Syngenta, a former Swiss company but was recently acquired by ChemChina, sell products containing Atrazine in Brazil. Scientists say that the chemical “wreaks havoc with the sex lives of male frogs” and has been banned from Europe since 2003. Since Bolsonaro took power, three Brazilian products containing Atrazine have been approved.

Aside from Atrazine, the company also sells Paraquat that is manufactured in the UK. According to Syngenta, “we manufacture in a few countries to make sure that all our customers benefit from the same high standards, and of course to manage costs. Atrazine and paraquat are registered in many so-called developed countries.” According to PAN International, atrazine is banned in 37 countries, while paraquat is banned in 46.

In April this year, German company BASF also registered a product containing insecticide fipronil, a chemical banned in Germany and is known to “cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure” according to the European Chemicals Agency. Of the products registered in Brazil since Bolsonaro took office, approximately 14% are made of chemicals that are prohibited in Europe.

Brazil’s agriculture minister, Tereza Cristina Dias, said that an “ideological process” had hindered previous governments from approving pesticides. She was the architect of the legislation aimed at lifting restrictions on pesticides, dubbed the “poison package” by opponents. This would mean that pesticides would need the approval of only the agricultural ministry. The bill would also mean that the license of pesticides will not be limited by a definite period. The bill has yet to be voted on.

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