Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Brazil - Highest Use of Pesticides in the World

Of the many environmental issues facing Brazil, this isn't usually anywhere on the list:

Brazil became in 2008 the world’s top consumer of agriculture pesticides (ahead of the US), and continues to use a range of dangerous pesticides banned in other countries, according to a study released Friday. [...] Acccording to the Anvisa report released to the press, 64% of sweet peppers contained chemical residue above the limit allowed by Anvisa. In total, 15% of the fruit and vegetable samples investigated by Anvisa exceeded the allowed limits.

Although this is news to me, it's in no way surprising news. The Brazilian agro-industrial elites are one of the most contemptible and powerful groups in Brazil. That they are willing to use these pesticides to maximize profit and production with no consideration for the effects they'd have on the workers or on the populace that eats these fruits and vegetables is far from shocking - elite landowners have already repeatedly displayed a general disregard for the lives of others.

This is of course terrible news for the poor agricultural workers who work in producing this food, though. The landowners in these agricultural areas (almost always in the Northeast, North, and West) have ridiculous amounts of power at the local levels, controlling almost all levels of regional politics, and the workers to my knowledge are unable to unionize or really offer much of a challenge to the landowners. I openly admit my knowledge of rural labor practices in Brazil isn't the best, but while things have changed some since the 1960s, there is no doubt that the landowners still have an inordinate amount of power, and any rural-poor resistance I'm familiar with is not tied up in unionization, but more in the Landless Workers Movement (MST), whose angle is more about getting their own land than fighting for better pay, safer conditions, or unionization.

The report says that ANVISA [National Health Surveillance Agency] is "considering" banning 13 of these pesticides in Brazil. I hope they are able to do this, but I have my doubts, especially if the decision requires congressional approval, since a not-insignificant number of senators and politicians are tied directly or indirectly to the major agro-industrial companies, sometimes even heading these companies while serving as governor, as in the case of Mato Grosso state's governor, Blairo Maggi, head of the Maggi food corp. [As an added "race in Brazil" bonus, notice the race of the people the company invites to work for them on the Maggi homepage and compare that to how most Brazilians actually look.] Still, the report should raise more than a few eyebrows in Brazil, and some of these pesticides will get banned. But overall, I'd say awareness among the general population of what is being used in the production of food in Brazil is even lower than in the United States.