Report blames GM crops for placing Brazil in the top ranking globally for pesticide use

Earlier this year we announced the release of a hard-hitting report from Brazil’s National Cancer Institute José Alencar Gomes da Silva (INCA), part of the country’s Ministry of Health.

The report blamed GM crops for placing the country in the top ranking globally for pesticide use. It called for stronger regulation of pesticides and for the development of agroecological alternatives to the dominant pesticide-dependent GMO agricultural model.

We’ve received several requests for English translations of this report. We are delighted to be able to offer the English translation below, which was generously provided to us by volunteer translators.

The parts of the text in bold type are our own emphases, to draw attention to the most important aspects of the report.

The original report in Portuguese is here.

Position of the Brazilian National Institute of Cancer José Alencar Gomes da Silva (INCA) on pesticides

INCA (Brazilian Ministry of Health), 6 April 2015

The National Institute of Cancer José Alencar Gomes da Silva (INCA), a body of the Ministry of Health, has a mission to support this Ministry in the development of integrated actions for prevention and control of cancer. These actions include research on the potential mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of substances and products used by the population, as well as communication and mobilization activities for their control, in collaboration with other institutions and representatives of society.

Over the past few years, INCA has supported and participated in different movements and combating actions against pesticides use, such as the Permanent Campaign Against Pesticides and for Life, the State Forum to Combat Impacts of Pesticide of the Rio de Janeiro, the Dossier of the Brazilian Association of Colective Health (Abrasco) (‘An alert on the impact of pesticides on health’), the Dispute Board on Pesticides of the National Council on Food and Nutrition Security – CONSEA, and the documentaries ‘The Poison is on the Table 1 and 2’, by Silvio Tendler.

In addition, INCA has cooperated with other sectors of the Ministry of Health to include the topic of ‘pesticides’ in the ‘Strategic Action Plan for Combating Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases in Brazil (2011-2022)’. In 2012, the Technical Association for Occupational Exposition, Environmental and Cancer and the Technical Association for Food, Nutrition and Cancer of INCA organized the ‘Seminar on Pesticides and Cancer’, in collaboration with the National Agency of Health Surveillance (ANVISA) and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FIOCruz). This event gathered health professionals, researchers, farmers and consumers to discuss the risks to human health from the exposure to pesticides, particularly their relationship with certain types of cancer. And in 2013, together with Fiocruz and Abrasco, INCA signed a statement warning of the dangers posed by the pesticide market.

From this perspective, the purpose of this document is to mark the position of INCA against the current practices on the use of pesticides in Brazil and highlight their risks to health, especially with regard to cancer. Thus, we expect to strengthen initiatives of regulation and control of such substances and encourage agroecological alternatives, presented here as a solution to the dominant agricultural model.

Pesticides are synthetic chemical products used to kill insects or plants in the rural and urban environment. In Brazil, pesticide sales jumped from US$ 2 billion to more than US$7 billion between 2001 and 2008, reaching record a value of US$ 8.5 billion in 2011. Therefore by 2009 Brazil had reached the undesirable position of being the world’s largest consumer of pesticides, surpassing 1 million tons, which is equivalent to an average consumption of 5.2 kg of agricultural poison per inhabitant.

It is important to highlight that the release of transgenic seeds in Brazil was one of the facts that has contributed to putting the country in the first place in the ranking of pesticide consumption. This is because the cultivation of these genetically modified seeds requires the use of large amounts of these products.

The cultivation model with intensive use of pesticides generates great harm, such as environmental pollution and intoxication of workers and population in general. Acute pesticide intoxications are the best known effect. They mainly affect people exposed in the work environment (occupational exposure). They are characterized by effects such as irritation of skin and eyes, itching, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, spasms, breathing difficulties, seizures and death. Chronic intoxications can affect the whole population, as they arise from multiple exposures to pesticide, i.e. from the presence of pesticide residues in food and the environment, usually at lower doses. Among the adverse effects associated with chronic exposure to active ingredients of pesticides we can mention infertility, impotency, miscarriages, malformations, neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption, effects on the immune system and cancer.

The latest results of the Pesticides Residues Analysis Program (PARA) from ANVISA revealed samples with pesticide residues in quantities above the maximum limit allowed and with the presence of unauthorized chemicals. Besides, the presence of pesticides that are in the process of being banned by ANVISA or that have never been registered in Brazil was also recorded.

It is important to mention that pesticide residues are not only found in fresh food, but also in many processed products such as cookies, chips, breads, breakfast cereals, lasagnas, pizzas and others that have as ingredients wheat, corn and soy. They can also be present in meat and milk from animals that were fed with traces of pesticides, due to the bioaccumulation processes. Therefore concerns over pesticides must not mean the reduction in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are essential foods in a healthy diet and of great importance in preventing cancer. The main focus must be on combating the use of pesticides, which contaminates all vital resources, including foods, soils, waters, breast milk and air. Moreover, pesticide-free types of cultivation can produce fruits, vegetables and legumes, such as beans, with a greater anti-cancer potential.

Other issues are important to highlight because of their large impact. One is the fact that Brazil still performs aerial spraying of pesticides, which causes the dispersal of these substances in the environment, contaminating large areas and reaching the population. Another is the tax exemption that the country continues to grant to the pesticide manufacturing industry, a great incentive to strengthen this industry, which goes against the protective measures recommended here. Moreover, Brazil allows the use of pesticides already banned in other countries.

It is noteworthy that in March 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a Monograph, IARC volume 112. The Monograph reported an assessment of the carcinogenicity of five active ingredients of pesticides by a research team from 11 countries, including Brazil. It ranked the glyphosate herbicide and the insecticides malathion and diazinon as probable human carcinogens (Group 2A) and the insecticides tetrachlorvinphos and parathion as possible human carcinogens (Group 2B). Malathion, diazinon and glyphosate are authorized and widely used in Brazil as pesticides in public health campaigns for vector control and agriculture, respectively.

The recommended actions for combating the use of pesticides are based on the evident toxic effects described in the national and international scientific literature, as well as on the Human Right to Adequate Food – DHAA (provided in Articles 6 and 227 of the Constitution of the Federative Republic of Brazil, 1988), the National Policy for Food and Nutrition Safety (Decree no. 7.272, 25/08/2010), the National Policy on Integral Health of Field and Forest Populations – PNSIPCF (Ordinance no. 2.866, 02/12/2011), the National Policy on Workers Health (Ordinance no. 1.823, 23/08/2012) and the National Policy on Agroecology and Organic Production – PNAPO (Decree no. 7.794, 20/08/2012).

Considering the current Brazilian scenario, the scientific studies carried out until this moment and the existing policy frameworks for combating the use of pesticides, the National Institute of Cancer José Alencar Gomes da Silva (INCA) recommends the use of the Precautionary Principle and the establishment of actions that aim at gradual and sustained reduction of pesticide use, as provided by the National Program for Reduced use of Pesticides (PRONARA).

To replace the dominant model, INCA supports agroecologically-based production in accordance with the National Policy of Agroecology and Organic Production. This model optimizes the integration of productive capacity with the conservation of biodiversity and natural resources essential to life. In addition to being an alternative to the production of pesticide-free foods, it is based on ecological balance, economic efficiency, and social justice, strengthening farmers and protecting the environment and society.

The preparation and dissemination of this document are intended to contribute to the role of INCA in producing and disseminating knowledge that helps to reduce the incidence and mortality from cancer in Brazil.