More bad news from Brazil, where the government has shown that not only does it have no interest in protecting the environment, it is actively pursuing the over-exploitation of natural resources for maximum economic profit. In fact the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has repeatedly encouraged the destruction of the Amazon jungle (we recently reported that the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research has seen a 60% increase in deforestation compared to 2018), taken funding away from monitoring and protection (down 20%, according to the New York Times) and eased controls on illegality (modifications to Decree 6514).
These terrifying statistics are now joined by new reports from beekeepers, who say that the first months of 2019 have seen losses of 400 million bees in the state of Rio Grande do Sul alone, as well as 7 million in São Paulo, 50 million in Santa Catarina and 45 million in Mato Grosso do Sul, making a total of over 500 million dead bees.
The cause of this massacre is not hard to work out. The flood of pesticides required by intensive monocultures is choking Brazil. Traces of Fipronil—an insecticide banned in the European Union and classified as potentially carcinogenic to humans by the US Environmental Protection Agency—were found in the majority of the dead bees tested.
Since Bolsonaro took over the country, Brazil has allowed the sale of 290 pesticides, an increase of 27% compared to the same period last year, and a bill proposed to Congress would further weaken standards. Among the producers of the newly admitted substances are Brazilian companies like Cropchem and Ouro Fino, as well as global operators like Arysta Lifescience, Nufarm and Adama Agricultural Solutions, while multinational giants like Syngenta, Bayer/Monsanto, BASF and Sumitomo are also taking advantage of the new registrations. For many foreign companies Brazil is a godsend; Helm and BASF from Germany and Adama from China, for example, can register products here that contains chemicals that would not be approved in their home countries.
Between 1990 and 2016 the use of pesticides in Brazil increased by 770% (FAO), but the country’s Agriculture Ministry says that Brazil ranks 44th country in the world for use of pesticides by hectare and that as a tropical country, it would not be correct to compare its practices to those of temperate regions. However, the latest report prepared by Anvisa (a health monitoring agency) states that pesticide residues above the limits allowed or unauthorized pesticides were found in 20% of the food samples analyzed. These analyses, by the way, did not include glyphosate, the most-used weedkiller in the country. Bom apetite!
Bolsonaro was elected with strong support from the agriculture industry. “This is your government,” he promised the agricultural sector, and his administration has so far granted the industry great leeway in the use of chemicals. Around 40% of pesticides in Brazil are “highly or extremely toxic” according to Greenpeace, and 32% are not allowed in the European Union. Approvals are being accelerated without the government hiring enough people to evaluate them. Meanwhile the Brazilian Health Ministry has reported 15,018 cases of pesticide poisoning in agriculture in 2018, but admits that this is probably an underestimate.
Brazil is the country that buys the most pesticides in the world. According to Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative journalism platform, over 1,200 pesticides and weedkillers have been registered in Brazil in just three years, of which 193 contain chemical substances banned in the EU. Unearthed also confirms the significant peak in approvals of environmentally damaging new substances under the governments of Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro. Both leaders are close to the powerful Brazilian agriculture industry lobby.
As the Amazon continues to burn, Brazil’s problems are only multiplying.