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Use of pesticides in Brazil: the geographer warns of a poisoning cycle

What consequences for the EU has a Mercusor Free Trade Agreement? Geographer Larissa Mies Bombardi warns against the cycle of poisoning: pesticides sold in Brazil could come back as food.

Sandra Weiss, Puebla

The European Union and the Common South American Market (Mercosur) have been negotiating for 20 years now. There is now an agreement on free trade, which creates a market of 760 million consumers today, where goods worth EUR 87 billion are exchanged today. The rock of sting was the end of EU agricultural protectionism. Brazil is particularly hoping for a new market for strawberries, oranges and beef. But this is not necessarily good news for European consumers, he says Larissa Male Bombardi from São Paulo University.

Things are getting busy in her office: while the tropical rain is falling on the roof, the TV crew packs the camera. The Brazilian geographer was required because he recently published a 290-well-documented atlas on the use of agricultural poisons in the South American country. The figures are scary – as well as the prospects that EU consumers will now return with the help of a Free Trade Agreement with South America in the form of food that previously exported chemical companies to the EU in the form of agricultural poisons.

What about the use of pesticides in Brazil?

Brazil and the US are the largest pesticide users in the world. Brazil spends about one million tons a year. More than 500 pesticides have been approved here, of which 150 are banned in the EU. Glyphosate is by far the best-selling pesticide, but the European debate on the dangers of glyphosate has not even started here in Brazil.

How has pesticide use developed over the years?

In recent years the use of pesticides has increased by 150 percent and the number of acute pesticide poisoning.

Is it related to spreading the surface or increasing resistance?

Especially with enlargement. Cultivated areas penetrate the central area further and further in the Amazon. For example, the soybean area almost doubled from 18 million hectares in 2002 to 33 million hectares in 2015.

There is a study conducted by INCA, the National Institute for Cancer Research, which estimates that every Brazilian consumes 5 liters of pesticide per year for food residues.

This account is not mine. But I have documented that in the south, where large agricultural areas are located, they spat between 12 and 16 kg of pesticides per hectare. In Europe there is one, in Belgium, up to two kilograms.

Where does this huge difference come from?

The official argument is that there are more pests in the tropics. But it is also based on the model of industrial agriculture, based on genetic engineering whose seeds are resistant to glyphosate. 70 percent of pesticides are used for genetically modified soy, corn and sugar. These are huge monoculture. The soybean area is four times the size of Portugal. Further, the authorities are very generous in terms of limit values.

Do you have an example?

For strain, EU residues of glyphosate in an amount of 0.05 milligrams per kilogram are allowed in the EU. In Brazil, 10 milligrams per kilogram, so 200 times more. In drinking water Brazil allows 5000 times more glyphosate residue than Europe.

Is there no precautionary principle in Brazil?

Not. For example, when a pesticide is registered, the license never expires or is periodically re-evaluated as in the EU.

Soy farmers say that glyphosate is not very poisonous and much better than anything else.

You can talk about it. Glyphosate is considered to be low in toxicity, but this classification refers to acute toxicity. Long-term damage is not taken into account. The World Health Organization has made studies that may be carcinogenic.

And for the environment? Do pesticides do not decompose in contact with water?

No, they do not disappear, are stored in soil and groundwater and destroy the present microorganisms.

What is this episode?

Soil becomes infertile, as we learned in a university study. Fertility does not only apply to minerals but also to biological microorganisms that kill insecticides and fungicides.

For 20 years, the soy is so deserted?

Yes, in the mid-term, studies point to that.

What does this have to do with Europe?

There is a poisoning cycle. Most pesticides come from the United States and the EU. Chemical companies such as Monsanto, Bayer or Syngenta also export pesticides to third countries that are banned in Europe. Of course, most of these chemicals and damage are working here in Brazil, but some are returning to Europe via food exports.