“He began to suffer from fever and itching. Then he had cold sweats, diarrhea, and the pressure went down. We ran to the hospital. Then his skin burned and he was detaching. I can barely remember him,” says milk producer José Quintino, shocked. . His son Julio died in 2016 with 22 years in the state of Paraná. “Different doctors came, but there was nothing to do. Soon, he stopped breathing. They said he had a completely burned lung.” The pulmonary insufficiency, confirmed as a cause of death, was caused by acute pesticide poisoning. “Paraquat burned his lung. He was burning the skin, oral and nasal mucous membranes, reaching the pulmonary alveoli.” It is a pesticide of drying, dry and burning leaves, and does the same with the skin, mucous membranes, the lung, “says epidemiologist Dr. Lilimar Mori, head of the Division of Health Surveillance of the Health Secretariat of Paraná and one of those responsible for confirming that the pesticide was the cause of Júlio’s death, contaminated by spraying soybean shells with paraquat. Due to the risks of acute poisoning of the product that poisoned Júlio, as well as its relationship with diseases such as Parkinson’s, genetic mutations and depression, the National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa), linked to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, decided in 2017 to progressively ban paraquat, used in the desiccation of plantations to advance the harvest As of September 2020, no liter of this agrotoxic must be used in soil b However, despite the obvious risks, Anvisa’s resolution did not set goals for reducing use, ending stocks and importing paraquat until it was completely suspended. Without that limit, the importation rate of the pesticide increased since the beginning of the prohibition process, as reported by Repórter Brasil and Agência Pública. That gap has opened the space for a process that researchers call “spawning”, because almost all of the paraquat used in Brazil comes from countries where its use is already prohibited and they send it there to deplete stocks. “Ideally, initiated the limitation process, the importation is prohibited. As this measure was not taken, the companies end up ‘spawning’ the material in Brazil because, normally, the one being vetoed here has already been banned in their countries of origin, “says Luiz Cláudio Meirelles, researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and former general coordinator of toxicology at Anvisa. This is the case of the Swiss giant Syngenta (recently bought by ChemChina), one of the largest producers of paraquat in the world; from the German Helm; and of the Chinese Sinon and Rainbow Defensivos. Switzerland removed the paraquat from the shelves in the 80s. In England (where the Gramoxone, the Parange brand of Syngenta is manufactured) and in the rest of the European Union it was banned in 2007. In China, it usually has environmental legislation more permissive, its use has been banned for four years. Despite the restrictions, the paraquat produced by these countries continues to be exported mostly to developing countries where legislation is more flexible, with Brazil being the main consumer. “The right thing would be zero import” Import data from the Ministry of Economy , Industry, Foreign Trade and Services on the Comex Stat portal support the “spawning” phenomenon. In 2017, when the paraquat banning process began, 35,300 tons of the herbicide – paraquat or paraquat dichloride – arrived in Brazil. The following year, that amount increased to 50,800 and continued to rise in 2019. By November 2019, 65,300 tons of this agrotoxic had already been imported.
Paraquat import in Brazil
“That is a typical attitude, which we have already seen in other cases: the country does not want more and companies need to ‘spawn’ their stocks and take the opportunity to do so in countries with a transition period until the complete ban,” explains the professor of Economics of the Federal University of Paraná and food engineer, Victor Manoel Peláez Álvarez.According to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama), in 2017 the paraquat occupied eighth position in the list of the ten best selling active ingredients in Brazil, with more than 11,000 tons sold. Already in the bulletin referring to 2018, the pesticide rose in position and came to occupy the sixth place with more than 13,000 tons sold throughout the national territory. “Since evidence of the problems caused by paraquat accumulated, consumption continued to grow even after the ban on use. The right thing would be zero import in 2019, “says agronomist Leonardo Melgarejo, vice president of the Brazilian Agroecological Association in the southern region. On the other end of this still lucrative market is the rural producer. “Since there was no imposition of an import limit, they can store the product until, for example, 2023 and there will be no supervision,” says Meirelles of the Fiocruz Foundation. In practice, the risks for rural workers can last until 2023 or until stocks run out. From the Syngenta press office and 10 other companies that sell paraquat in Brazil (which form the so-called ‘Paraquat Working Group’) they affirm that “the supply and commercialization of products based on paraquat – like any other – is determined by the demand of the farmers and the health of the crops”. Anvisa points out that there is no contradiction in the increase in the sale of paraquat during the transition, since “the resolution does not set a percentage of reduction or an expected trend of decrease over the three years.” Originally, the Brazilian Government established transitory measures for three years until the total ban in 2020. Among them, the ban on the use of paraquat for desiccant purposes – its main use in Brazil. According to Anvisa, the restriction would serve to protect workers who have contact with paraquat. However, Anvisa revoked two months after establishing these measures. The change occurred under strong pressure from businessmen in the pesticide sector. Five days after the first resolution was published, senior executives of Syngenta in Brazil and Latin America met with the board of the government agency. The meetings were repeated several times over the following months to deal precisely with the veto al paraquat, as shown by the organ’s public agenda. Meanwhile, a working group of producing companies and producer associations was created that requested Anvisa the review of its position, according to reports from the Ministry of Livestock and Supply itself. Anvisa never clarified why the veto on the use of paraquat as a desiccant was lifted, but only reported that the second resolution kept the immediate bans, ” responsible for ensuring the reduction of worker exposure “, such as the prohibition of the use of paraquat in containers of less than five liters, which, according to the agency, would prevent the use of the product by small producers. That means that containers of more than five liters are still used. For Meirelles, of Fiocruz, this permissiveness implies a “bad behavior” on the part of those who wish to ban paraquat, since in practice it is like “maintaining the release of the product”. In Brazil, about 60% of the substance is used in desiccation and is released for the cultivation of cotton, rice, potatoes, sugar cane, corn and soybeans, some of the main products grown in the country. * This report forms part of the project Por Trás do Alimento (Behind Food), a collaboration of Agência Pública and Repórter Brasil to investigate the use of pesticides in Brazil. Translated by Diajanida Hernández