Brazil's Bolsonaro Green-Lights 150+ Pesticides This Year
By Sue Branford and Thais Borges
With the ruralist lobby now in control of key sectors of the federal government, Brazil is rapidly approving new pesticides for use, some of which critics say are either unnecessary or excessively toxic. During the first 100 days of the Jair Bolsonaro administration, the Agriculture Ministry authorized the registration of 152 pesticides, putting Brazil on course to authorize more pesticides this year than in any previous year. Brazil is already the world's largest user of pesticides.
An employee from Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources surveys a heap of emptied pesticide containers on a farm.
IBAMA / Mongabay
The number of pesticides authorized each year has risen rapidly, from 139 in 2015 under the Dilma Rousseff administration, to 450 in 2018 under the Michel Temer government (see graph). An even higher number is expected to enter the Brazilian market this year, as the Agriculture Ministry considers registration of roughly another 1,300 pesticides. Most of these requests are coming from foreign multinational companies, mainly based in the U.S., Germany and China, which is increasingly becoming an important supplier.
Pro-Pesticide Government vs. Environmentalists
Despite the rapid rise in authorizations, Bolsonaro's agriculture minister, Tereza Cristina, said "there is no general liberation" of new pesticide registrations. According to her ministry, the products will merely give farmers a greater choice of existing pesticides, and access to new chemicals and there is no reason to be concerned: "The use [of pesticides] is completely safe, provided they are applied as instructed, within a context of good farming practice and with the use of individual protective equipment," said the government.
Events within Brazil seem to deny the truth of Cristina's claims. Brazil has a higher per capita consumption of pesticides than any other country in the world — 7.3 liters per year per person — and it is already facing a serious problem with pesticide intoxication.
According to Guilherme Franco Netto, an Environment, Health and Sustainability Specialist at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, one of the world's top public health research institutions, about 100,000 cases of intoxication are recorded in Brazil each year. According to Alan Tygel, from the Permanent Campaign Against Pesticides and for Life, this figure seriously underestimates the real situation, as many rural workers fail to report pesticide intoxications.
Brazil: Pesticide Poisonings in Rural Areas
Brazil: Pesticide Poisonings in Rural Areas https://t.co/bWoQmksz4L— Human Rights Watch (@Human Rights Watch)1532077287.0
In July 2018, the human rights organization, Human Rights Watch, published a report documenting acute intoxication at seven locations in Brazil, including indigenous communities, schools and quilombolas — communities of runaway slave descendants.
"Pesticides sprayed in large plantations intoxicate children in schoolrooms in many parts of Brazil," said Richard Pearshouse, assistant director of the environmental and human rights division of Human Rights Watch. But the report found that many local inhabitants were too frightened to speak out.
In five of the seven impacted communities, people said they were afraid of suffering reprisals if they complained. In 2010 a rural farmer was shot dead after putting pressure on local government to forbid aerial spraying of pesticides — a common application practice in Brazil, even though it allows wind-carried toxic sprays to settle far from crops in surrounding communities and natural areas.
New Formulations Raise Alarms
Many of the requests given the go-ahead this year are for new formulations of already authorized pesticides."Once the initial manufacturer loses its patent, other companies start requesting registration so they can use the [same] active ingredients to produce new agricultural products," said Murilo Souza, from the State University of Goiás.
Leonardo Melgarejo, vice-president of the Brazilian Association of Agroecology, believes that this practice is harmful as it will inevitably lead to a big increase in consumption nationwide. "We are approving several variations of the same pesticide," he said. "We're heading for a situation in which farmers will be able to 'self-medicate,' with two pesticide shops on every block." Little research has been done to see how hundreds of various pesticides might interact to become more damaging.
The torrent of new approvals is also making it easier for Brazil's farmers to gain access to toxic pesticides with which the global community has serious concern. One such case is that of 2,4-D, an active ingredient in controversial defoliant Agent Orange, used by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and whose use is increasingly being controlled in other countries, after the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it in 2015 as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."
Monsanto Lasso herbicide to be sprayed on food crops showing proper protective gear.
The latest wave of Agriculture Ministry authorizations seen on 10 April, gave the go-ahead to 31 products via an official federal decree — Act 24 — including three new formulations of 2,4-D requested by multinational pesticide makers and distributors. One request came from the Chinese company, Rainbow Defensivos Agrícolas, while the other two were initiated by Dow AgroSciences for formulations to be manufactured in South Africa and exported to Brazil.
These new Brazilian authorizations took place at a time when the Rio Grande do Sul Public Ministry, a group of independent public litigators, was carrying out an investigation into an allegation made by the Brazilian Wine Institute that last year the state lost almost a third of its grape harvest as a result of the aerial spraying of pesticides containing 2,4-D. Farmers spray this pesticide before they sow soy — also a time when grape, apple and olive trees are flowering, and when the spray can easily drift over neighboring farms.
"The data from our survey [that showed a loss of almost a third of the grape harvest] is a conservative figure, as it relied only on information spontaneously offered by farmers," said Helio Marchioro of Brazilian Wine Institute. In fact, grape farmers themselves are calling for a 2,4-D ban, even as the Bolsonaro administration approves new 2,4-D formulations.
Controversial Pesticides Approved for First Time in Brazil
Several of the pesticides authorized this year will be entirely new to Brazil. Some have already been classified by Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency as "extremely toxic." These include: mancozeb, a broad-spectrum fungicide used in agriculture and horticulture; the fungicide fluazinam; and the insecticide chlorpyrifos. In 2018 the Pest Management Regulatory Agency banned the use of mancozeb in Canada, except for foliar use on potatoes, due to "unacceptable risks to human health." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of chlorpyrifos in 2018 after its use had been associated with development disabilities in children.
One particularly controversial newly approved chemical is sulfoxaflor. This pesticide was one of several believed to have caused an outbreak in Brazil of colony collapse disorder — the catastrophic sudden disappearance of worker bees from a bee colony, leading to the death of hives. According to a survey carried out by Agência Pública and Repórter Brasil, half a billion bees were found dead in four Brazilian states in the first quarter of 2019 — a staggeringly large die off posing a threat to the pollination of fruits and vegetables and to native vegetation.
How @realDonaldTrump swampy @EPA has made a so-called "emergency" approval to spray @sulfoxaflor — an #insecticide… https://t.co/WBQJ24E2Cz— Organic Live Food (@Organic Live Food)1556652344.0
But at a press conference on April 9, Agriculture Minister Cristina seemed unaware that Brazil has already authorized sulfoxaflor. "The problem with the bees is that a product called sulfoxaflor was used. This [toxin] is not registered in Brazil," she said. "It probably entered Brazil illegally and is being used incorrectly and thus caused the death of the bees." In fact, sulfoxaflor was authorized at the end of last year by the Temer administration, though the official decree was only issued in January of this year under the Bolsonaro government.
Sulfoxaflor is classified by Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency as "averagely toxic," but this evaluation is challenged abroad. Dow Chemical initially developed sulfoxaflor as a safer alternative to neonicotinoids, known to be harmful to bees. It was initially approved by the US EPA in 2013, a decision reversed in 2015 when studies found that sulfoxaflor was also dangerous to bees. Today sulfoxaflor can still be used in the U.S., but only in restricted circumstances.
Pesticide Deregulation in the Works
Environmental activist Alan Tygel believes that the rapid rise in the number of pesticide authorizations is directly linked to the growing power of the bancada ruralista agribusiness lobby in Congress. This lobby, he said, made its support for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016 dependent on government backing for pro-agribusiness measures. "From then on, the counterweight that came from progressive sectors, from family farming and from agroecology, was lost, and today the ruralist agenda faces fewer obstacles in its drive to have more pesticides approved and to push through more permissive laws," Tygel said. The Bolsonaro presidential campaign greatly benefited from ruralist support, and it greatly helped sweep the former Army captain and legislator to victory last October.
The next goal of the ruralist agenda — more permissive laws — may well get a major boost this year with congressional approval of PL 6299/2002, dubbed as the "poison package" by critics. The legislation, which would greatly deregulate pesticides, was endorsed by a Chamber of Deputies commission in June 2018 and it now awaits plenary debate. The Temer government justified the bill, presented to Congress by then Agriculture Minister and dedicated ruralist, Blairo Maggi, claiming that the country desperately needed to simplify the complicated process of getting new pesticides authorized in order to help farmers.
But Castro Moreira, president of the prestigious Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, representing more than 100 scientific societies, disagreed strongly. He said at the time that the bill, "could have very serious consequences for the health of the Brazilian population and the environment … Its approval would be a backward step, because it follows the logic of mechanized agriculture, with high investments in fertilizers and pesticides, which is an outmoded way of thinking, dating from the end of the Second World War."
Current Agriculture Minister Cristina is a strong proponent of PL 6299/2002, but there is bound to be opposition to the bill's approval, though it will likely be difficult for critics to block the measure. The ruralists have never had a stronger grip on both the legislative and executive branches, and they seem determined to press their agribusiness agenda.
As President Bolsonaro ended his first 100 days in office, his popularity was slipping fast, with 30 percent of the population already assessing his administration as "very bad" and the markets believing the government is becoming unstable. However, that very perception of growing uncertainty seems to have only caused the ruralists to move forward with greater urgency. Meanwhile, conservationists and food experts continue to warn of the national and global environmental and health repercussions of Brazil's deregulated pesticide use — permissiveness likely to soon outstrip that seen among other major agricultural nations.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
By Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere hit a new record in 2019 and have continued climbing this year, despite lockdowns and other measures to curb the pandemic, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Monday, citing preliminary data.
- 13 Must-Read Climate Change Reports for 2020 - EcoWatch ›
- Large Methane Leaks Soar 32% Despite Lockdowns and Green ... ›
These black-and-white lizards could be the punchline of a joke, except the situation is no laughing matter.
By Isabella Garcia
September in Portland, Oregon, usually brings a slight chill to the air and an orange tinge to the leaves. This year, it brought smoke so thick it burned your throat and made your eyes strain to see more than 20 feet in front of you.
- 16 Essential Books About Environmental Justice, Racism and Activism ›
- 7 Devastating Photos of Wildfires in California, Oregon and ... ›
- Several West Coast Cities Have the World's Worst Air - EcoWatch ›
- Extremely Rare Leopard Cubs Born in Connecticut Zoo - EcoWatch ›
- Small Wild Cats Face Big Threats Including Lack of Conservation ... ›
- 5 Species Bouncing Back From the Brink of Extinction - EcoWatch ›