On May 29, the Brazilian National Congress will vote on Law Project 6299/02, also known as the Poison Pack Proposal (which includes 29 other Law Projects), which aims to dismantle the country’s regulatory system for agrochemicals. Brazil is among the biggest consumer of agrochemicals and their indiscriminate use is directly related to the country’s current agricultural policy.
According to Slow Food, Brazil should follow the decision made less than a month ago in Europe, in which EU member states voted to ban the outdoor use of neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used class of insecticides. For decades, Slow Food has advocated the use of alternative measures, including agroecological techniques*, that allow farmers to avoid using highly toxic substances while maintaining yields and reducing costs. But the crux of the matter is that the government wants to support industrial monocultures of GM soy and maize, which are indispensable for industrial breeding. Clearly there cannot be a sudden ban on all agrochemicals because industrial agriculture is already a chemically dependent system. This is why there is a particularly urgent need for public policies that support a transition to agroecological practiced and that reduce subsidies for pesticides and other Green Revolution technologies and practices, which only deepen socioenvironmental, food, and land injustice.
“The battle that our Brazilian friends are fighting these days concerns us all,” says Carlo Petrini, president and founder of Slow Food. “Once again, the individual economic interests of the major players want to impose themselves on the common good and on the health of the planet. This is a bill that goes against the concept of food sovereignty: We cannot—must not—accept it.”
The use of agrochemicals is no longer a question specifically related to agricultural production, but rather a problem of public health: Each year, the Brazilian Ministry of Health reports about 5,000 cases of acute pesticide poisoning brought on by contact with agrochemicals, and it is estimated that the number of chronic intoxications (which are not counted now, since they arise after years of exposure to low doses) may be 50 times higher.
Slow Food has already taken a stand against the proposed bill, as have IBAMA (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis), ANVISA (Agência Nacional de Vigilância Sanitária), and other organizations like Fiocruz (Fundação Oswaldo Cruz) and INCA (Brazilian National Cancer Institute). Thanks to this mobilization and public pressure, the vote, which should have been on May 16, was postponed to the end of the month. But the pressure must be increased, especially among parliamentarians. Brazilian society needs to become aware of the threat that agrochemicals and transgenics pose to health and the environment.
Among the changes proposed by the bill are:
- the implementation of measures that seek to make the registration system, control, and supervision more flexible and less strict, neglecting impacts on health and the environment.
- that the Ministry of Agriculture, headed by Blairo Maggi (the largest individual soybean producer in the world), should be the sole authority regarding the inspection and registration of new agrochemicals, instead of sharing decision-making powers with IBAMA and ANVISA, as is currently the case.
- the substitution of the term agrotoxic with the term phytosanitary defensive, which could confuse the population since the word toxic would disappear, making the products sound harmless and promoting a false belief of their safety.
More than a million tons of chemicals were released into the farming industry in Brazil in 2010, according to SINDAG (Sindicato Nacional da Indústria de Produtos para a Defesa Agrícola). According to SINDIVEG (Sindicato Nacional da Indústria de Produtos para Defesa Vegetal), 12.2 billion dollars in agrochemicals were traded in 2014, and this doesn’t even account for smuggling, which may increase the total by 20%.
*Agroecology is a set of practices based on the conservation and management of agricultural resources through participation, traditional knowledge, and adaption to local conditions. The use of agroecology as a scientific term dates back to the 1970s, but many of its solutions have been applied throughout history by rural communities around the world. This ancient body of knowledge has been systematically jettisoned or forgotten with the arrival of the so-called Green Revolution, which introduced a model of agriculture based on high levels of energy-rich external inputs, including synthetic agricultural chemicals and powerful machinery run on fossil fuels.