Last week, Brazil’s sanitary surveillance agency Anvisa re-evaluated its permissions for the use of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, an active ingredient in weedkillers and the second-most sold pesticide in Brazil. Commonly known as 2,4-D, the substance is notorious for being a component of Agent Orange, the chemical weapon used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War to provoke serious illness and disability in an estimated one million people. But 2,4-D is just one active ingredient in a universe of 2,263 pesticides currently licensed in Brazil.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the country has always been </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">open to such products</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">—with Brazil being one of the world&#8217;s largest agricultural producers—the rate of newly-approved pesticides has shot up in recent years. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of pesticides cleared each year varied between 100 and 200. In 2016, the quantity of new products rose to 250 and has increased exponentially ever since. Last year, for instance, a staggering 450 pesticides were approved for use.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">2019 is unlikely to buck the trend. Just last week, as Anvisa reaffirmed the license of 2,4-D, the federal government issued permits for 31 new pesticide products in one day—13 of them classified as either &#8220;extremely&#8221; or &#8220;highly&#8221; toxic.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Since President Jair Bolsonaro took office on January 1, 197 pesticide licenses have been approved in Brazil. Continuing at this rate, the government is set to break 2018&#8217;s record, on course to clear 485 products by December 31.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Of these 197 new products, 55 are classed as &#8220;extremely toxic&#8221;—defined by the Ministry of Health as products with a median lethal dose in rats of equal or less than 20 mg/kg.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-full wp-image-18242" src="" alt="pesticides cleared in Brazil" width="1200" height="800" srcset=" 1200w, 300w, 768w, 1024w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1200px) 100vw, 1200px" /></p> <hr /> <h2>Behind the Food</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This recent spike in pesticide permits has forced Brazilian journalists to innovate in an effort to keep up. Investigative journalism group </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Agência Pública</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> has gone as far as creating its own Twitter bot, &#8220;Robotox,&#8221; which is programmed to tweet every time the federal government approves a new pesticide product. Reading the records published every day on Brazil&#8217;s Federal Register, the bot automatically publishes posts including the name of the approved product, the company holding the permit, its toxicity classification, and the product&#8217;s use.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Robotox is the latest innovation in </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Agência Pública</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8216;s &#8220;Behind the Food&#8221; project, carried out in partnership with </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Repórter Brasil</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;">. The project also involved a study into the levels of pesticides present in Brazil&#8217;s water supply, which threw up astonishing results.</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="pt">Existem hoje 2263 produtos agrotóxicos comercializados em todo o Brasil.</p> <p>— Robotox (@orobotox) <a href="">May 29, 2019</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The study, republished by </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> at the beginning of this month, found a </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">cocktail of 27 pesticides</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> (16 of them classed as extremely or highly toxic and 21 banned in the European Union) in the water of 1 out of every 4 Brazilian municipalities. Only 8 percent of tests found none of these substances to be present.</span></p> <h2>The agro-friendly presidents</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Curiously, this festival of permits for pesticides in Brazil coincides with a dramatic change in the country&#8217;s government. In 2016, as herbicides and fungicides saw their biggest jump in a decade, Workers&#8217; Party President Dilma Rousseff was impeached by Congress, and replaced by Michel Temer, of the center-right (and agro-friendly) Brazilian Democratic Movement party.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">On his first day in office, Mr. Temer appointed Blairo Maggi as his Minister of Agriculture. Mr. Maggi—previously the governor of Center-West state and agricultural powerhouse Mato Grosso do Sul—was famously nicknamed &#8220;The Soy King&#8221; and once described as the world&#8217;s largest producer of soybeans. He was also the unwitting winner of </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Greenpeace&#8217;s Golden Chainsaw Award</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in 2005. While serving as governor of Mato Grosso do Sul, the NGO decided to &#8220;congratulate&#8221; Mr. Maggi for the state&#8217;s 48 percent of total forest loss between 2003 and 2004.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 2016, Mr. Maggi instated the Agro+ Plan, aimed at reducing red tape in the agribusiness sector and loosening sanitary surveillance rules. By the time the Temer administration came to an end in 2018, Brazil had cleared over 1,000 new pesticide products.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Then, Jair Bolsonaro came along. A crucial part of the wide and varied support base which took Mr. Bolsonaro to the presidency was the agribusiness lobby. Once in office, he made Tereza Cristina—the head of the Agriculture Parliamentary Front—his new Agriculture Ministry, giving the department unprecedented levels of power.</span></p> <h2>The Poison Bill</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the current scenario is already favorable to the authorization of scores of new pesticide products, it could pick up even more steam as the year goes on.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Back in 2002, when he was still a senator, Blairo Maggi submitted a bill to alter Brazil&#8217;s pesticide legislation, making the permit process even easier and quicker. As things stand, for a herbicide or similar product to be cleared for use by the Ministry of Agriculture, it must also be analyzed by the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency (Ibama) and Anvisa—a process which often incurs long delays. The bill proposed by Mr. Maggi states that the Agriculture Ministry would be able to grant licenses without complete analyses from regulatory bodies.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Critics dubbed the proposition the &#8220;Poison Bill&#8221; and, despite considerable opposition, it is now ready to be voted on by the House of Representatives, which is home to several decidedly pro-agro politicians.

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MoneyMay 30, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.