An economy that destroys. It destroys the Amazon, contaminates rivers in indigenous lands, legalizes the occupation of public lands for deforestation, expands the illegal extraction of precious metals, takes away the rights of farming families and small producers, reduces control over environmental licenses and opens up space for the creation and expansion of huge landowning companies.
According to a document by the NGO Greenpeace Brasil, all these are features of the bills pending in the Chamber of Deputies that outline one of the darkest aspects of the Bolsonaro government’s politics of death.
Last week saw yet another “step forward” for these policies in the name of economic growth: the same legislative chamber approved bill 6.299/2002, called by Greenpeace the “Poison Package.” The project loosens the rules on the use of new pesticides and concentrates the inspection and analysis of these products for agricultural use exclusively at the Ministry of Agriculture, while they were previously also subjected to the approval of the National Agency for Health Surveillance (Anvisa) and the Ministry of the Environment. Scholars and environmentalists warn about a number of risks related to pesticides, such as the increase of carcinogens in food and the contamination of soil and water sources.
Now the bill will go to the Senate for approval. According to the “ruralist” sector within the Chamber of Deputies and its allies—one of the pillars of the Bolsonaro government—the law will help “modernize” agricultural activity, particularly soybean production, which represents an important share of Brazilian exports.
As of 2019, the Brazilian government has authorized the use of more than 1,500 pesticides, many of which have been banned for years in the European Union, such as the herbicides Amethrin and Tebutiuron, banned in 2002 for being associated with cancer outbreaks and contamination of water and various organisms. In Brazil, they are now used against invasive plants in pineapple, cotton, banana, coffee, sugarcane, citrus, corn and grape crops, among others.
A 2021 study by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (Embrapa) analyzed grain production data and found that Brazilian agribusiness feeds about 800 million people at home and abroad. Brazil’s share of the world food market has jumped from $20.6 billion to about $100 billion over the past decade, with a focus on meat, soybeans, corn, cotton and forest products.
But despite abundant production and enormous quantities of arable land, 116 million Brazilians live in food insecurity, accounting for more than half of all households, according to a recent national survey by the Penssan Network (Brazilian Network for Research in Food Sovereignty and Security). Severe food insecurity affects 9% of the population and represents a convergence of issues such as lack of daily access to important nutrients and the overconsumption of ultra-processed foods. The numbers have only increased after the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the presidency and the pandemic-related economic crisis, putting Brazil back on the United Nations’ so-called “Hunger Map.”
Between 2004 and 2013, after the start of a number of social programs to combat hunger, such as Bolsa Família, the country had dropped off that infamous list and the share of the population suffering from hunger had fallen to 4.2%, the lowest level on record. After Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016, the country returned to the Hunger Map. Inequality is also making itself felt in the use of agricultural land: according to Oxfam (2019), fewer than 1% of agricultural entities own 45% of Brazil’s rural area.