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Approved Pesticides in Brazil Spike Under New Administration

List of approved pesticides containing potentially harmful chemicals spike in Brazil Click To Tweet

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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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It’s Time To Raise The ‘Federal Minimum Wage’

The US federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for the past decade, it's time for a salary hike with a growing US economy and a tight labor market. Click To Tweet

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Source: Fight For $15

The United States has set a record for maintaining its federal minimum wage without increases for the longest time in the nation’s history. The news calls for immediate action aligned with the economic expansion in the US and increasing inflation rates.

The last increase to the US federal minimum wage was July 2009 — which is almost a decade ago. The federal minimum wage was raised from $6.55 an hour to the current $7.25 an hour.

According to CNN calculations, the current $7.25 an hour minimum wage can barely cover basic expenses with prices for healthcare, oil, and commodities gone up within the past decade. CBS reported that $7.25 in 2009 is valued at only about $6 in 2019. The cost of living has soared 18% since the last increase.

In an estimate, minimum-wage employees working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, equates to just $15,080 annually. Researchers estimate with the current market that two working parents in a family of four would need to earn $67,146 to cover expenses. That equates to $16.14 an hour for each parent, CNN reported.

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that the average wage being paid to all minimum wage workers can go as low as $12 an hour, according to an economist who served in the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama.

“There is not a single community in the U.S. where someone can have a decent quality of life at the current federal minimum wage,” said David Cooper, an EPI researcher on the minimum wage. “Congress has never waited this long to lift up the wages of workers at the bottom.”

In line with the report, states have passed bills that raise state minimum wages higher than the federal baseline. As of June this year, 21 states have passed minimum wage hikes—some even at the $15 an hour threshold.

However, the state minimum wage varies. In Florida, the minimum wage stands at $8.46 an hour; in Hawaii, it’s $10.10 an hour; in California, the minimum wage goes up to $12 an hour. Meanwhile, in states like New York and Seattle, the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour and even $16 an hour, respectively.

On the other hand, Republican-led states are known to reject Democrat appeals for minimum wage hikes. An estimate of around 700,000 minimum-wage workers in areas that have not passed local increases are still paid $7.25 an hour, the New York Times said.

Republican-led states like Arkansas, Arizona, and Missouri are some exceptions due to public support via ballot initiatives. In the polls, over 60% in each state voted in favor of minimum wage hikes.

However, in order to gain public support from ballot initiatives state leaders first need to put it in motion. With Republicans abstaining such initiatives, the citizens have resulted to demand higher minimum wages from the federal government directly.

In other efforts, big companies like Amazon and Walmart have raised their minimum wage to $15 and $14.26 an hour, respectively. The move has prompted government states to follow suit.

Additionally, it’s not just large companies that are on board with a wage hike. There are around 800 companies, most of which are small businesses, who are willing to support the raising minimum wage to $15 by 2024.

The record delay also comes after the US experiencing significant economic growth. The US has enjoyed roughly 10 years of economic expansion, which may soon become the longest such expansion in this country’s history, according to USA Today.

Analysts have also shared that raising the minimum wage would improve employee recruitment and retention in a tight labor market—higher wages would easily attract employment-seeking individuals. Moreover, higher pay also means more spending money salary-makers, which boosts the local economy.

Comparatively, May’s employment report showed that there were only 75,000 jobs provided in the month — a disappointing number compared to expectations of 185,000. Furthermore, employment rates are evidence of cracks forming in the economy.

In 2012, Texas had 452,000 workers making the minimum wage or less, according to federal data. By 2017, that number had fallen to 196,000, despite a slight increase in hourly workers, Dallas News reports.

“The minimum wage is still relevant; it just needs to be raised to a level where more workers benefit,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, work quality director at the National Employment Law Project.

Adding a dollar or two to the minimum scoops up a lot of people and spills over to other workers. “But at $15 an hour, you’re starting to affect a significant portion of the workforce,” Gebreselassie said.

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Pope Tells Oil Execs: The World Needs A “Radical Energy Transition”

The Pope urged oil executives to heed warnings caused by global warming and take concrete actions to prevent devastating effects Click To Tweet

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Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash

Pope Francis has declared a global “climate emergency” and preach to oil companies executives, pointing out that specific measures are needed to alleviate the problem with rising global temperatures. “The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now and the Church is fully committed to playing her part.”

“Time is running out!” Francis said. “Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done, and concentrate on what needs to be done. We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward, or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits.”

This is the second year that oil executives have gathered in Rome at the invitation of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development and Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business. The theme of this year’s meeting is “The Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home.”

Attendees of the said event were the CEOs of Royal Dutch Shell, Eni, BP, Repsol, Conoco Phillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and executives of investment funds.

The Pope took the opportunity to urge oil executives to find solutions to address the rapidly rising global temperatures. “Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid [perpetuating] a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations,” he said. “We must take responsible actions bearing in mind their impact in the short and in the long term,” the Pope added.

Particularly, Pope Francis called for “open, transparent, science-based and standardized” reporting of climate risk and a “radical energy transition.” Furthermore, Francis encouraged the idea of carbon pricing.

“Such a transition involves managing the social and employment impact of the move to a low-carbon society,” Francis said. “If managed well, this transition can generate new jobs, reduce inequality and improve the quality of life for those affected by climate change.”

Carbon pricing is a way for governments to encourage innovations in low-carbon technology by implementing higher taxes or emissions trading schemes. It directly applies the costs of using fossil fuels that cause global warming to consumers. The signatories called for a “combination of policies and carbon pricing mechanisms … designed in a way that simultaneously delivers innovation and investment in low-carbon solutions while assisting those least able to pay”.

The Pope also emphasized the 1.5C limit on temperature from a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report—noting that the world has a decade or so to bring greenhouse gases under control or otherwise let the world face devastating effects such as droughts, floods, heatwaves and damage to agriculture.

However, with the Vatican’s active campaign for climate change action, it has faced criticism and clashing with leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump who doubts the validity of global warming and rejects the idea that the problem is solely due to human activity.

Last year, Trump rejected projections that were outlined in a report by his own government and that projected climate change will cause severe economic harm to the US economy.

Trump also announced his intent for the US to withdraw from the Paris deal, making it the first country to do so among 200 signatories.

By the end of the 2-day event, oil companies made pledges to take action to resolve the global crisis. However, there were no specific conversations on set dates nor concrete plans to achieve a solution.

The Guardian reports that the oil companies’ pledges did not go far enough, as Mel Evans, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK said, “The oil majors knew all about the risk from climate change many years before most of us first heard about it. They knew where we were heading, they knew their products were the cause, and yet they kept it quiet and lobbied for business as usual. Moreover, “they’re still lobbying for business as usual. When it comes to saving the planet they will do what they are forced to do, and no more, which is why we’re having to block them from drilling new oil wells as we speak. Expecting leadership from them is a path to certain disaster.”

The Pope concluded by saying, as “human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

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New York Moves To Rule Out Religious Exemption For Vaccines

New York will no longer allow parents to cite religious beliefs to opt out their children for measles vaccines Click To Tweet

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Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

In the face of the worst measles outbreak in the country within the past 25 years, New York has decided to make necessary immunizations in schoolchildren, citing that religious exemption to vaccinizations can no longer be accepted.

In the past, legislation has allowed parents to reason against vaccines due to religious reasons. They have cited that it is their religious freedom to opt out of the science-based system in exchange for their beliefs.

The decision was made Thursday with a Democrat-led Senate and Assembly. The decision has made all schoolchildren take the first round of immunization shots—for those who have opted out—as a requirement before enrollment.

Furthermore, schoolchildren wishing to enroll in the upcoming school year are given up to 30 days to complete the first dose of each required immunization.

The newly-signed measure was met with mixed reactions from the hundreds of people who flocked the streets of New York. Some expressed that it was about time that the government had taken legislative action towards addressing the measles outbreak given that the problem is spiraling out of control. Moreover, some cited that religious beliefs have been used as a counter-action to opt out from vaccinations, which are due to rampant misinformation regarding the vaccine to cause other side effects.

Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers have complained against the measure citing that their religious freedom is being taken away by the vague impression that public health is in a state of fear due to measles.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who signed the measure told reporters that he believes public health — and the need to protect those who cannot get vaccinated because for medical reasons — outweighs the concerns about religious freedom.

“I understand freedom of religion,” he said. “I have heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk.”

Bronx Democrat Jeffrey Dinowitz, the bill’s Assembly sponsor added, “I’m not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated.” Moreover, “If you choose to not vaccinate your child, therefore potentially endangering other children … then you’re the one choosing not to send your children to school.”

On the other hand, New York is not completely absolving reasons to opt out of vaccinations. Particularly, the government will still allow children to skip taking the required shots for reasons citing medical concerns (some people are medically compromised and cannot take vaccines or immunizations due to risks from detrimental side effects.) These people can be those with compromised immune systems such as HIV or those who are allergic to said medications, to name a few.

Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarmingly increasing number of measles cases in the United States — gaining the highest incidence for the past 25 years.

Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported about 971 cases of measles in 26 states in the US from January 1 to May 30 of this year — threatening the nation’s elimination status.

The report also indicated that the spike in measles outbreaks was centered in hotspots such as Washington and New York. Also, since the disease is common among children, most of the cases reported are from unvaccinated school-age children.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told BBC that “If these outbreaks continue through summer and fall, the United States may lose its measles elimination status. That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health.”

The issue is also magnified with misinformation that is being widely spread against the measles vaccine—which prompted Facebook to finally take action and try to mitigate false information that is widespread across its platform.

“These Groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or predictions when you type into Search,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, said in a statement. She added that when ads that include misinformation about vaccinations are found, “we will reject them.”

With New York’s move, similar exemptions are still allowed in 45 states, though lawmakers in several of them have introduced their own legislation to eliminate the waiver.

California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015. Maine ended its religious exemption earlier this year. Mississippi and West Virginia also do not allow religious exemptions.

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