Photo: Daniel Öhman & Malin Olofsson/Swedish Radio.
in the soyfields of brazil:

Banned pesticides injure thousands

Thousands of people are injured by dangerous pesticides used to produce animal feed for pigs, cows and chickens. Although many of these pesticides have been banned in the European Union for several years European importers still accept that they are being used on the soyfields in Brazil. This is revealed by an investigating report from the Swedish Radio.

22-year-old Christiano Ketzer takes painstaking steps in the courtyard of his house. A year and a half ago he accidently inhaled a strong nerve poison called methamidophos (an insecticide frequently used in soy fields in Brazil) while working out on the giant soybean fields. He suffered a severe nerve damage. Today, every step he takes is very painful.

"It hurts all the time but it’s worse when I am walking", he said.

The use of pesticides are soaring in Brazil. In six years sales have tripled. Today Brazil has the highest consumption of pesticides in the world.

"It is a very worrying problem. We use many pesticides that are very dangerous, pesticides banned in many other countries", said Luis Claudio from the Brazilian health authoritiy Anvisa.

A road divides two gigantic soyfields. On one side of us, soybean plants are green and lush, on the other side they are brown, looking dead and dried-out.

Farmers are spraying the fields with pesticides that kills all plants and makes it easier to access the soybean. This is done before the soybean is harvested. The pesticide used here is called Paraquat.

The organisation Pesticide action network has listed Paraquat as one of the "dirty dozen", the twelve most harmful pesticides. Paraquat is banned in he European Union.

"It is one of the worst pesticides known. this pesticide is causing the more deaths worldwide than any other pesticide. There is no doubt that it is a very nasty substance. I find it incomprehensible that you let this kind of chemical remain on the market", said Peter Bergkvist of the Swedish Chemical Agency.

But without these pesticides and others that are currently banned in many countries production costs for soy would increase in Brazil and such a price increase is not accepted by the price-sensitive customers in Europe and China.

Soy is used in animal feed for poultry, cattle and hogs and more expensive animal feed means more expensive meat. Soybeans are sold to Europe by companies such as Cargill and Bunge.

One of the European importers are Swedish company Lantmännen. As most others importers Lantmännen accept even the most dangerous chemicals, demanding that they are not used would be to costly.

"It would of course affect the cost of soy significantly. I can not say how much, " said, Claes Johansson, head of sustainable development at Lantmännen.

The price of animal feed would be higher and then the price of meat consumers would also be higher?

"Yes."

But is possible to raise demands if you pay the price?

"Absloutely."

Wanderley Pignati, professor at the University of Cuiaba and one of the foremost experts on health effects caused by pesticides in Brazil, argues that the companies buying soy from Brazil should act tougher.

In Brazil many people are intoxicated each year, some so severely that they die. Official statistics underestimate the number of intoxications.

"For every case recorded there are 50 not recorded", professor Pignati said.

If that is the case, 300 000 brazilians are poisoned each year and in areas where a lot of soybeans are grown, the number of cases of chronic diseases, cancers and birth defects are soaring quickly, claimed Pignati.

"Importers of soya should say that they do not buy these products that are produced using pesticides that pollute the environment, harm people and cause cancer and birth defects", said professor Wanderley Pignati.

Malin Olofsson
malin.olofsson@sr.se

Daniel Öhman
daniel.ohman@sr.se

Grunden i vår journalistik är trovärdighet och opartiskhet. Sveriges Radio är oberoende i förhållande till politiska, religiösa, ekonomiska, offentliga och privata särintressen.
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