More than 1,200 pesticides and weedkillers, including 193 containing chemicals banned in the EU, have been registered in Brazil in just three years, according to a Greenpeace Unearthed investigation.
Meanwhile, almost half of the phytochemical products approved since far-right Jair Bolsonaro took office contain active ingredients that appear on a list of highly hazardous pesticides, compiled by non-profit Pesticide Action Network’s (PAN). The list groups phytochemicals that pose a risk to human health or the environment.
This wave of pesticide authorizations has already been the subject of numerous public health campaigns in Brazil.
Now, São Paulo-based Labor party politician Emidio de Souza has proposed a bill calling for food products sold in the state of São Paulo in their “natural, partially processed or processed forms” to provide on-pack information regarding the use of pesticides during the production process.
For loose-packed fresh produce, this information should be provided at the point of purchase, such as on the supermarket shelf, he suggested.
“This year alone, the Bolsonaro government has released 325 pesticides, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply. This is the largest volume ever documented since 2005,” reads the draft bill.
“Once used in agricultural systems, pesticides remain in food even after washing. Therefore, the general population ends up ingesting a large part of these substances and their continuous consumption can trigger a wide variety of diseases.
“Most cases of pesticide poisoning occur not only because of the lack of control but also because of the population's lack of awareness of the health risks that food coming to their table can cause.”
De Souza’s draft bill cites a Datafolha survey, conducted in July this year, which found that 78% of Brazilians consider pesticides unsafe for human health and 72% believe food produced in Brazil has more pesticides than they should.
In addition to harming Brazilians’ health, the pesticide authorizations risk damaging Brazilian food exports. This summer, Swedish supermarket Paradise stopped stocking Brazilian fruit and vegetables over pesticide concerns.
Whether de Souza’s proposed bill will become law, however, is unclear.
“The intention is positive but I doubt that any legislation will be worked out and approved,” said Ming Liu, executive director of Organis, the Brazilian organic trade association. “Actually even if they approved something, I see with skepticism how the legislation would [evaluate] any kind of food - processed or unprocessed - to be labeled if pesticides or any chemical have been used.
“Probably in our market, all food, with the exception of organic, will have some degree of use of pesticides or chemicals,” Liu told FoodNavigator-LATAM.
According to Liu, the best way to guarantee a product is pesticide-free is to opt for certified organic.
Food and drink analyst at Mintel Marina Ferreira already identified Brazil’s relaxing of pesticide laws as an opportunity for the country’s organic sector last year.
“Consumers are looking for healthy alternatives to products that use toxic substances. For example, three in ten Brazilians say they have tried organic food/beverages; meanwhile, a similar percentage say they have not tried organic food/beverages but would be interested in doing so as a way to adopt healthy eating habits,” she wrote in an online blog post. “These results demonstrate that organic food can meet current consumers' demands.”
In a 2017 survey, market research company Euromonitor found 20% of Brazilians were willing to pay more for food products positioned as natural, local, or minimally processed.