The European Union and the South American Common Market (Mercosur) have been negotiating for 20 years. Now there is the free trade agreement, which creates a market with 760 million consumers and on which goods worth 87 billion euros are already traded. The stumbling block was until the end of EU agricultural protectionism. Brazil, in particular, hopes to create a new market for soybeans, oranges and beef. But this is not necessarily good news for European consumers, says Larissa Mies Bombardi of the University of Sao Paulo.
DW: Ms. Bombardi, you recently published a well-documented 290-page atlas on the use of agricultural pesticides in Brazil. The numbers are scary. What about the use of pesticides in Brazil?
Larissa Mies Bombardi: Brazil and the United States are the main users of pesticides in the world. In Brazil, about one million tonnes are sprayed each year. More than 500 pesticides are approved here, of which 150 are banned in the EU. Glyphosate is by far the best-selling pesticide, but Europe's highly publicized debate about the dangers of glyphosate has not even started here in Brazil.
Glyphosate – under the brand name "Roundup" – is the best-selling pesticide in Brazil
How has the use of pesticides evolved over the years?
Over the past ten years, the use of pesticides has increased by 150%, as has the number of acute poisonings by pesticides.
Is it related to expansion of area or increasing resistance to pests?
Especially with the expansion. The cultivated areas penetrate from the central Brazilian savanna further and further into the Amazonian region. For example, soybean acreage has nearly doubled from 18 million hectares in 2002 to 33 million hectares in 2015.
The National Cancer Research Institute (CNIB) has carried out a study in which every Brazilian consumes an average of five liters of pesticides a year, just for food residues. ,
This bill does not belong to me. But I have documented that in the south, where large agricultural areas are located, 12 to 16 kilograms of pesticides per hectare are sprayed each year. In Europe, it's just one 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?
For soy, glyphosate residues amounting to 0.05 mg per kilogram are allowed in the EU. In Brazil, it is 10 mg per kilogram, so 200 times more. In drinking water, Brazil leaves even 5000 times more glyphosate residues than Europe.
Is there no precautionary principle in Brazil?
No. For example, once the pesticide is registered, the license never expires and is not subject to periodic re-evaluations, as in the EU.
Soybean field in the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil
Soybean producers say that glyphosate is not very toxic and is much better than any other pesticide.
You can discuss it. Glyphosate is considered to have low toxicity, but this classification refers only to acute toxicity. Long term damage is not taken into account. The World Health Organization has conducted studies that it could be carcinogenic.
What about the environmental impact? Do pesticides break down when in contact with water?
No, they do not disappear, they are stored in the ground and in the groundwater and kill the micro-organisms present.
What episode does it have?
The soil is becoming sterile, as we discovered during studies at our university. Soil fertility does not only concern minerals but also biological microorganisms killed by insecticides and fungicides.
In 20 years, the soy then the desert?
Yes, in the medium term, studies show it.
And what does all 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 Bayer-Monsanto or Syngenta also export pesticides to third countries, banned in Europe. Of course, most of the damage to these chemicals is done here in Brazil, but some of that damage is coming back to Europe through food-related exports.