Larissa Mies Bombardi is a geographer at the University of Sao Paolo. She recently published a detailed atlas on the use of agricultural poisons in Brazil.
Agricultural policy was important for the free trade agreement. Brazil in particular is hoping for a new market for soybeans, oranges and beef. Brazil and the United States are the main users of pesticides in the world. How are pesticides handled, Ms. Bombardi?
Brazil consumes about one million tons a year. More than 500 pesticides are approved here, of which 150 are banned in the EU. Glyphosate is by far the most popular pesticide.
Because of the expansion of the area or increasing resistance?
Especially because of the expansion. The areas are moving further and further away from the central savanna in the Amazon. For example, they almost doubled from 18 million hectares in 2002 to 33 million hectares in 2015.
How many pesticides are sprayed?
I have documented that in the south, where there are large agricultural areas, 12 to 16 kilos of pesticides per hectare are sprayed. In Europe it is one, in Belgium up to two kilos.
Where does this huge difference come from?
The official argument is that there are more pests in the tropics. But it is also based on the model of industrial agriculture, which is based on genetic engineering whose seeds are resistant to glyphosate. 70% of the pesticides are used for genetically modified soya, corn and sugar. These are huge monocultures. The area cultivated with soybeans is four times that of Portugal. In addition, the authorities are very generous with regard to the limit values.
Do you have an example?
In the case of soybean, glyphosate residues of 0.05 milligrams per kilogram are allowed in the EU. In Brazil, 10 per kilogram, so 200 times more. In drinking water, Brazil authorizes 5000 times more glyphosate than Europe.
Do not pesticides break down on contact with water?
No, they do not disappear, they are stored in the ground and in the groundwater and kill the micro-organisms present. The soil becomes sterile, as we discovered during university studies. Soil fertility does not only concern minerals but also biological microorganisms killed by insecticides and fungicides.
In 20 years, the deserts of Sojaäcker?
In the medium term, studies show it.
And what does this have to do with Europe?
There is a cycle of poisoning. The majority of pesticides come from the United States and the EU. Chemical companies such as Monsanto, Bayer or Syngenta also export pesticides to banned third countries in Europe. Part of it comes back to Europe via food exports.