Brazil is the largest consumer of agrochemicals in the world. Agrochemical sales increased from USD 2 billion in 2001 to 8.5 billion in 2011. A report from Brazil’s National Cancer Institute José Alencar Gomes da Silva (INCA), part of the country’s Ministry of Health, says that national consumption of agrochemicals is equivalent to 5.2 litres of agrochemicals per year for each inhabitant.
According to the report, “The cropping pattern with the intensive use of pesticides generates major harms, including environmental pollution and poisoning of workers and the population in general. Acute pesticide poisoning is the best known effect and affects especially those exposed in the workplace (occupational exposure). This is characterized by effects such as irritation of the skin and eyes, itching, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, spasms, breathing difficulties, seizures and death.
“Already chronic poisoning may affect the whole population, as this is due to multiple exposures to pesticides, that is, the presence of pesticide residues in food and the environment, usually at low doses. Adverse effects of chronic exposure to pesticides may appear long after the exposure, and so are difficult to correlate with the agent. Among the effects that can be associated with chronic exposure to pesticide active ingredients are infertility, impotence, abortions, malformations, neurotoxicity, hormonal disruption, effects on the immune system, and cancer.”
Regarding sources of exposure, the report says, “It is noteworthy that pesticide residues not only occur in fresh food, but also in many processed food products, such as cookies, chips, breads, breakfast cereals, lasagna, pizza and other ingredients that contain wheat, corn and soybeans, for example. Pesticide traces may still may be present in meat and milk of animals fed with these crops, due to the process of bioaccumulation.
“Therefore, the concern over pesticides must not mean a reduction in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are key foods in healthy eating and of great importance in preventing cancer. The main focus must be on combating the use of pesticides, which contaminate all vital resources, including food, soil, water, breastmilk and air. In addition, methods of cultivation free from pesticide use can produce fruits, vegetables and legumes such as beans, with the greatest anticancer potential.”
The report calls for stronger regulation of pesticides and for the development of agroecological alternatives to the dominant pesticide-dependent GMO agricultural model.