Brazil’s House of Representatives recently passed the draft law “Pacoto de Veneno” or “Poison Package” Pesticides Act, which would make the use of pesticides more flexible, despite being in violation of the rights to food and a healthy environment as enshrined in Brazil’s Constitution.
The bill would allow the release of carcinogenic pesticides, giving greater power to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) to open an “industry” of temporary registrations for pesticides away from the prying eyes of health and environmental authorities.
So far, Brazil’s Senate has not yet approved the bill – and the Brazilian civil society has mobilized to keep it that way.
The Poison Package moves forward in the context of record increases in the use of pesticides, some of which are extremely toxic and banned in the European Union (EU).
The legislation passed the Chamber of Deputies in February by a vote of 301 to 150, with two abstentions.
Already on its way to Senate, the bill eases the regulations governing the approval, use and monitoring of chemical pesticides in Brazil, which remains to be an agricultural powerhouse and the world’s biggest producer of soy.
The legislation passed with the backing of Jair Bolsonaro’s government, which already has close ties with agribusiness and regularly clashes with environmentalists and health experts. Moreover, the bill will also overhaul the approval process for pesticides, putting it under the sole control of the Agriculture Ministry, while the Environment Ministry and health authorities will be relegated to advisory rules.
However, opponents condemn the pesticides act as dangerous to the public and the environment. Opposition leader Alessandro Molon already warned that it would have “irreversible” consequences, adding that the administration is negligent in the matter.
“They are clearing the way to put poison on our plates,” he said.
There had been more than 1,500 new pesticides released in Brazil since the beginning of Bolsonaro’s administration – 641 in 2021 alone. The House of Representatives disregards the dozens of public scientific institutions, technical bodies, entities representing the Public Health System and civil society organizations that have spoken out against the Poison Package in the past two years.
Parallel to this development, Bolsonaro declared sanctions against Russia in the wake of the war in Ukraine, which could affect Brazil’s import of potassium, a key ingredient in making pesticides. He reaffirmed his call to pass the bill instead, which could allow the exploitation of mineral and water resources on indigenous lands. (Related: Brazil plans to reduce dependence on Russian fertilizer by 2050, but what are people supposed to eat for the next 30 years?)
EU double standards on pesticide use
Meanwhile, the EU has shown double standards on the use of pesticides.
It prohibits some of them within its borders, but exports them to other countries. For instance, in 2018 and 2019, the EU exported some 7,000 tons of deadly pesticides that they banned in their areas of Mercosur (Southern Common Market) countries. These dangerous substances, however, make it back to the EU in food imports.
The EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement in its current form would expand both the cultivation of crops reliant on pesticide use and the trade-in pesticide products, locking in a commercial cycle of dependency. In 2020, a United Nations report stated that “the overuse of pesticides is resulting in grave impacts on human rights in Brazil. Victims rightly allege deaths, health problems, as well as cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment resulting from pesticide exposure.” (Related: Brazilians poisoned to death as 70 percent of crops are treated with pesticides banned in other nations.)
The EU member states, as well as the European Parliament, are to ratify the agreement, but it is unlikely that they can do so before Brazil’s general election in October.
Following the Brazilian Representatives’ approval of the law, however, European Commission officials have declared to Brazilian media that the Poison Package will not facilitate their work to convince European leaders to accept the Mercosur agreement.
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