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News > Latin America

Brazil's Neoliberal Policies Boost Agrochemicals Use, Leading to over 148 Deaths a Year

  • A worker sprays chemicals at a farm in Brazil's  Ceara state. The WHO released a report recently which found that Monsanto chemicals

    A worker sprays chemicals at a farm in Brazil's Ceara state. The WHO released a report recently which found that Monsanto chemicals "probably cause cancer." | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 June 2018

The pesticide use not only impacts large-scale agricultural food production but has also been linked to a high number of deaths each year.

With a 20 percent stake in world's total consumption since 2008,  Brazil has become the main consumer of pesticides on the planet, a new study has revealed.  

How Agro-Chemical Giant Monsanto Has Been Destroying Environment, Human Lives for Decades

The pesticide use not only impacts the large-scale agricultural food production but has also been linked to a high number of deaths each year.   

The Brazilian government grants nearly 60 percent reduction in taxes, such as the ICMS (tax on the movement of goods), total exemption of PIS / COFINS (Social Security contributions) and IPI (Tax on Industrialized Products) to boost production and trade of pesticides, per João Eloi Olenike, the  president of the Brazilian Institute of Planning and Taxation (IBPT).  

Ada Cristina Pontes Aguiar, a professor at the Federal University of Cariri (UFCA) and participant in the Nucleus of the Environment and Health Work (TRAMAS) of the Federal University of Ceará (UFC), said, "It is a structural problem; there is a high incentive for agro- even in relation to taxes." 

The study pointed out that government's neoliberal economic model has allowed the flourishing and massive use of agrochemicals since 2000, and is mainly based on the export of commodities, primary products. Nearly 52 percent of the herbicides purchased are used in soybeans, a major highlight of Brazilian production.

A study by Larissa Mies Bombardi, professor of geography at the University of São Paulo, who compared the usage of pesticides in Brazil and in the European Union, reveled Brazil government's lax policies. Bombardi pointed out that Brazilian legislation allows contamination in drinking water with a limit five thousand times higher than that acceptable in Europe. 

While member countries of the European Union tolerate up to 0.1 microgram glyphosate per liter of water, Brazil allows up to 500 micrograms per liter. Furthermore, the country has presented numerous cases of agrochemical poisoning.

Data from the Ministry of Health revealed that between 2007 and 2014, Brazil witnessed 1,186 deaths directly related to pesticide use, meaning on an average, 148 per year, or one death every two and a half days. 

Per Fiocruz or Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a Rio-based research organization which also provides relief services to health professionals who inhale toxic fumes from these herbicides, estimated an average of one case every 90 minutes, arguing that a high number of cases go unreported, Sul 21 reported.  

Chronic cases, those to which the individual - usually agricultural workers - are exposed repeatedly to the toxicant, hardly appear in the statistics. Aguiar pointed out, "the contamination routes are multiple: at work, at home, with aerial spraying, in the food and water they consume."

There is also a concern over how farming companies and the healthcare system treat the issue. The first one is based on an impertinence of the companies that give out services and the second with imprecise diagnoses in health. 

According to Aguiar, "great majority of workers do not seek health centers because they suffer from a great moral harassment in companies so that they do not seek services," and also because there is no specific way to address the issue in health centers for these cases. 

And an intensive research done on the history of soybean production in Latin America a few years ago by Miguel A. Altieri of University of California, Berkeley, and Walter A. Pengue of University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, revealed some disturbing findings within the industry. 

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia, the world producers, are known to produce most of the world’s soybeans. 

In the region, "Since 1961 soybean increased 57 times and production volume increased 138 times," Altieri and Walter reported in their 2006 study "GM soybean: Latin America's new colonizer". 

"In Brazil, the Cerrado and the savannas are falling victim to the plow at a rapid pace."

The two researchers concluded, "Soybean expansion in Latin America represents a recent and powerful threat to biodiversity in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. Transgenic soybeans are much more environmentally damaging than other crops because in addition to the effects derived from the production methods, mainly heavy herbicide use and genetic pollution."

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