Since 2020, Brazilians don’t know how many pesticide residues there are in apples, oranges, tomatoes, peppers and other foods sold at fairs and supermarkets across the country. This is because the main federal government monitoring program did not disclose the results of the collections made since the beginning of the government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL). The last publication dates back to 2019, from samples collected in 2017 and 2018.
Created in 2001, the Program for the Analysis of Pesticide Residues in Food (PARA) has published seven reports. “While the government itself evaluates and authorizes pesticides, which are substances that pose a danger to human health, monitoring becomes mandatory. [O programa] is what allows you to know what is happening after the release of a certain pesticide, what is contaminated and in what proportion, “says Luiz Cláudio Meirelles, researcher at the National School of Public Health in Fiocruz, who was also one of the founders of PARA when he was in charge of toxicology at Anvisa.
In August 2020, Anvisa announced that collections would be temporarily suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The results of the collections carried out in the cycle of the second half of 2018 and 2019 were not disclosed, and from 2020 there have been no new collections to evaluate the fruit and vegetables consumed by the population. Through the press office, the agency replied that the report with the data of 2018 and 2019 should be published in the second half of this year. With regard to the new samplings, the advisory replies that “from the second half of 2022 the preparatory activities for the execution of the sampling and analysis of the samples are in progress”.
The result of the last edition was evaluated by Public authority And Reporter Brazil and found that oranges, peppers and guavas were the main foods with over-the-limit pesticides. For every ten peppers, eight had pesticides that were banned or above the permitted level, while 42% of the guava samples, 39% of the carrots and 35% of the tomatoes tested were non-compliant. In the latest edition of the Program, 14 fruit and vegetable products were analyzed and the samples were collected between August 2017 and June 2018, i.e. before the beginning of the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who leads the historical record for the release of pesticides.
In recent years, Brazil has had an average annual approval of 500 new products, a report from the Friends of the Earth organization, written by researchers Larissa Mies Bombardi and Audrey Changoe, shows. “Although the government asks Anvisa to speed up the registration of new pesticides, it does not maintain programs like Para,” assesses Fran Paula, member of the National Agroecology (ANA) and agronomist. According to her, the Agency’s role in ensuring the health of the Brazilian population would be distorted to serve the chemical industries. “The Program is an example of this attack and attempts to change the focus of the Agency’s action,” she says.
Anvisa’s performance in relation to pesticides is in the sights of PL 6,299, nicknamed the “Poison Package”. The bill under discussion in the Senate envisages concentrating responsibility for the approval of new products on the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (Mapa), removing power from Anvisa and Ibama. Currently, for a new pesticide to be registered in the country, it must be approved by the three bodies. Luiz Cláudio Meirelles analyzes that the approval of PL 6,299 would mean the end of the Anvisa Program for the analysis of agrochemical residues in food. “If you take away the competence from Health [para registro de agrotóxicos], the Agency is unlikely to give priority to the program, ”he says. Meirelles estimates that there has been a deterioration in the area dealing with pesticide issues.
No suitable program
The first PARA report released by Anvisa contained information on the amount of pesticides in food between 2001 and 2007, and informed that the program would be implemented gradually, for infrastructural reasons (such as the scarcity of public laboratories that carry out the analyzes) and with the public surveillance of the state. The next three reports were annual (2008, 2009 and 2010). It then proceeded to condense years in an irregular fashion, with reports plotting samples from 2011 to 2012 and then from 2013 to 2015.
For ANA member Fran Paula, the fluctuation of disclosed periods has already demonstrated a break in the program. “It felt like everything was fine, that there was no longer any need to monitor food,” she says.
In response to the report, the Anvisa press office informs that “the decision on the period to be communicated depends mainly on obtaining and consolidating all the results of the samples analyzed, as well as on the context of execution of the Program”.
The former executive of Anvisa recalls that, even once implemented, the program would already be insufficient, because it only monitors food in nature. “[O governo] I should monitor processed foods, of animal origin, in addition to water, to get a better idea of the levels of pesticide contamination in the country, which is a champion in the use of poisons, “he says. Such monitoring is not carried out or disclosed. systematically by the Brazilian government, but there are initiatives that investigate and disclose situations. An example is the Water Map, published by Public authority And Reporter Brazil, which reveals public data to show that there are pesticides in the water that comes out of taps in several cities across the country. Another example is the research conducted by Idec, which found pesticides in 60% of ultra-processed foods, such as tubes, crackers and milk-based drinks.
In addition to PARA, carried out by Anvisa, Mapa also monitors pesticide residues in food. “There is a big difference, because the PARA [Programa da Anvisa] he is the only one who analyzes pesticide residues in food that goes to the population’s table on the supermarket shelf. The Mapa program collects samples in the production area ”, assesses Fran Paula. “There is a long way to go between the place of production and the place of consumption. An orange produced in Rio Grande do Sul can take five or six days to arrive in Mato Grosso, for example, and would also have a greater chemical application. So you need to consider that there is a difference between the programs and their purpose, ”she says.
change of tone
Significant changes have already been criticized in the latest survey conducted by Anvisa, published in 2019. The report had an optimistic tone, stating that “plant foods are safe”. For the first time, Anvisa assessed potential chronic (long-term) health risks, as well as acute (short-term) risk. For this reason, data were used on how much Brazilians consume on average of each food and on the weight of consumers from 10 years of age, i.e. ignoring the risk for children from zero to 10 years of age.
“No situations of potential risk for the health of consumers have been identified”, informs the document in relation to chronic risks. The report identified an acute hazard in only 0.89% of the samples, or 41 fruit and vegetable samples. Of these, 27 were oranges. The document did not clearly include the information that was highlighted in the release of the previous reports. For example, the report did not highlight the information that, for every 14 oranges sold on the market, one had enough pesticides to cause immediate poisoning. Five oranges tested had more than five times the safe exposure limit, all for the pesticide carbofuran, an insecticide banned in Brazil since 2017 for causing nerve damage, such as killing neurons.
An independent analysis of this same report by the Fiocruz Pesticide Working Group shows that pesticide mixtures, ranging from two to 21 different types of active ingredients, were identified in 34% of the samples. “When the methodology changed, which set the acute reference dose as a parameter, it’s over! Of course, there won’t be an amount of pesticide residue that has this acute effect on anyone, only in very rare cases. But that’s not what counts in a toxicological assessment of residues, because no one in their right mind wants to eat lettuce with 15 different types of pesticides, ”concludes Meirelles.