Brazil, home of the Amazon rainforest and some of the world’s richest biodiversity, has approved over 1,000 new pesticide products in recent years, according to a new report by Greenpeace UK’s news agency Unearthed.
The spike in pesticides being registered and approved in Brazil has primarily occurred since 2016 under the far-right president Jair Bolsonaro and his conservative predecessor, Michel Temer, in a push to deregulate the environment and bolster agriculture. The use of over 1,200 pesticides and weedkillers has been given the go-ahead under their command, including 193 containing chemicals banned in the EU. Among these are atrazine, a herbicide that chemically castrates frogs, and paraquat, a pesticide linked to Parkinson's disease in humans.
Unearthed's investigation also found that many of these pesticides are being sold by European and Chinese companies, despite some of their ingredients being banned or restricted in their own countries. For example, German chemical giant BASF registered for the use of a product containing fipronil, a pesticide banned in the EU and linked to the massive die-off of honey bees in France.
Both Temer and Bolsonaro have tight links to agribusiness leaders. The sitting president, Bolsonaro, has been of particular concern to environmentalists and conservationists. Nicknamed by the media as the “Trump of the Tropics,” the former army captain is Brazil’s answer to strongman politics and right-wing populism. Among his many provocative policies, he has announced plans to take Brazil out of the Paris Agreement, strip indigenous people of land protections, restrict the power of international NGOs like Greenpeace and the WWF, and dismantle Brazil's Environment Ministry. These attacks on the environment are especially worrying when you consider that Brazil is home to 60 percent of the world's largest tropical rainforest, the Amazon.
The effect of this lax attitude towards pesticides is already being felt by people living in rural Brazil. A report from July 2018 documented people suffering from pesticide poisonings across seven different locations in Brazil, predominately in farming communities, indigenous communities, and Afro-Brazilian communities. In 2016 alone, over 4,200 cases of poisonings by exposure to pesticides were registered in the country.
Marelaine, a young teacher in a rural community in the south of Bahia, told the investigators: “The airplane was spraying beside the school and the wind was blowing it to the school. One couldn’t smell it but could feel the drift entering through the window. The children, between 4 and 7 years old, were complaining that their gums and eyes were burning.”
“I started feeling sick, nauseous. I tried to drink water to get better, but it didn’t help. I started vomiting many times, until I had thrown up all I had in my stomach and was just retching,” said Carina, a resident of Primavera do Leste municipality in Mato Grosso state.
One thing is clear: the people and biodiversity of Brazil are in for a bumpy ride over the coming years, to say the very least.