The Vicious Cycle of Agrotoxins

Sunday, June 4, 2017
Info Source: 
Carta Capital

agrotoxinDespite the apparent health risks, consumers know very little about what they are consuming and the industry insists that there is a "safe level" for the consumption of these substances. May 5, 2017 4:20 p.m.

By Carla Bueno, Mariana Tarricone Garcia and Marina Cobra Lacorte*

Behind each plate of food there is a complex production chain spanning from scientific research to the regulation of the use of chemical substances in agricultural production. This chain involves the seed and fertilizer industries as well as agricultural pesticides, better known in Brazil as agrotoxins.

This model of production imposes a vicious cycle of toxicity on our system of agriculture. In this cycle, soil, seasonality, climate and geographic characteristics are no longer treated as living and dynamic, and agriculture is constantly undergoing chemical interventions.

The side effects of the excessive use of agrotoxins, in the environment and in the health of the population, demonstrate the necessity to break this cycle.

In Brazil, the National Cancer Institute (INCA) recommends the progressive reduction of the use of pesticides and cites their health risks, particularly as causes of cancer, in addition to pointing out other effects associated with chronic exposure to the active ingredients of pesticides, such as birth defects, hormonal imbalances, impact on the immune system, infertility, among others.

The pesticides are not only present in fruits and vegetables, but also in rice, beans and processed foods.

Despite the apparent health risks, consumers know very little about what they are consuming and the industry insists that there is a "safe level" for the consumption of these substances.

A report from the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) in Brazil measuring the amount of pesticide residue consumed by the population leaves a feeling of defenselessness and inevitable risk.

Currently, the use of agrotoxins is regulated through a legal framework that provides for the control, registration and inspection of these substances, involving organizations such as Anvisa, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Energy (IBAMA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, with aims to protect the environment and the health of consumers.

International protocols indicate a trend of increasing restrictions on agrotoxins.

On the other hand, the farm lobby defends the "Poison Package", a set of 18 bills linked to PL 6299/2002. The bill is being processed by a special committee in the Chamber of Deputies and, if approved, will repeal the current Agrotoxins Law.

This proposal intensifies the vicious cycle of toxicity, by making the prerequisites for registration of new substances more flexible, removing the assessment of health and environmental impact as determinants of approval.

At the same time, there have been reports of a provisional measure that would amend the Agrotoxins Law and allow for an increase in the use of toxic substances posing serious health risks to Brazilians, representing yet another maneuver by the farm lobby to circumvent the limits imposed by the law.

In opposition is the National Policy of Reduction of Agrotoxins (PNaRA), proposed by way of bill 6670/2016. The bill provides for the progressive transition from the current production model to systems based on agroecology.

Settled gaucho farmers are already the largest producers of organic rice in Latin America, which shows that it is possible to make this transition. The National Policy for the Reduction of Agrotoxins opens the door to stimulating the development of science, technology and public policies aimed at meeting the demand for healthy and sustainable food production.

Both bills will be processed in the National Congress this year. In order to create a space for protest against the current dismantling of the Agrotoxins Law, the campaign #ChegaDeAgrot├│xicos was launched.

The campaign, which already has almost 50 thousand signatures, attests to the importance of this issue to society.

It is necessary to break the vicious cycle of toxicity and carry out the will of society: healthy and safe food and sustainable and fair production for consumers and farmers.

* Carla Bueno is an agronomist, coordinator of the Permanent Campaign Against Agrotoxins and For Life; Mariana Tarricone Garcia, is a nutritionist and food researcher at Idec (Brazilian Institute of Consumer Protection); Marina Cobra Lacorte, is an agronomist and member of the Greenpeace agriculture and food campaign.