Brazil is the world’s largest user of pesticides, including more than a dozen considered highly hazardous, thanks to permissive legislation that allows some of Europe’s biggest agrochemical companies to continue selling products that have been banned in their home market.
The toxicity of these pesticides has raised concerns: 22 of them are classified as highly hazardous pesticides, or HHPs, by the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a global coalition that advocates for eco-friendly alternatives to chemical pesticides. The classification is based on criteria developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): in humans, they can be toxic to the reproductive system, damaging to DNA, or carcinogenic, as well as fatal to bees and other pollinators.
Even though these products have been banned in other countries, companies like Bayer, BASF and Syngenta make millions of dollars selling them in Brazil. According to IBAMA, the Brazilian environmental agency, more than 63,000 tonnes of just 10 of these 22 pesticides were sold in 2018. Sales of the other 12 products were not reported because of commercial confidentiality; IBAMA only discloses data on active ingredients manufactured by three or more companies. It also doesn’t break down the amounts sold by each company.
The global pesticide market generated $ 34.4 billion in 2017, according to the FAO. And the industry is increasingly controlled by a handful of companies. Headquartered in Switzerland, Syngenta is part of the ChemChina group, a world leader in the sector. German company Bayer comes second. It experienced massive growth in 2018 after acquiring Monsanto, which produces Roundup, a herbicide based on glyphosate, the world’s best-selling pesticide. Rounding out the top three is Germany’s BASF. Together, the three companies control 54.7% of the global agrochemical industry.
In 2018, 36.7% and 24.9% of the active ingredients sold worldwide by Bayer and BASF respectively were highly hazardous under the PAN definition, according to a reportthat lists German agrochemical companies’ sales to developing countries. The report was prepared by the Permanent Campaign Against Pesticides, INKOTA Network, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, MISEREOR and South African organization Khanyisa.
According to the study, more flexible registration procedures make it easier for highly hazardous pesticides to enter markets in the global South.