Pesticides, Cancer, double standards, and what Bayer has to do with the Amazon‘s rainforest fires

by Christian Russau, human rights activist and board member of Ethical Shareholders Germany

Foto: Rafi Bablan, CC BY 2.5

As Bayer takes advantages of the new german shareholder participation laws in times of Corona‘s social distancing, for us, who we are human rights activists, this year it is not possible to take an active part in Bayer‘s AGM to criticize Bayer‘s directory board directly as we did the last decades. But, nonetheless our critic is more important than ever. So, here we go:

Bayer sells pesticides in Brazil that are banned in the EU. I took two investigations, one in 2016 and a second one in 2019.

The investigation in 2016 showed that Bayer was selling eight pesticide active substances in Brazil in 2016 that are not authorized at EU level as it states in the EU Pesticide Database. These substances were (in 2016):

  • Carbendazim
  • Cyclanilide
  • Disulfoton
  • Ethiprole
  • Ethoxysulfuron
  • Ioxynil
  • Thidiazuron
  • Thiodicarb

But by 2019, the number had increased to 12, as my new investigation in 2019 showed:

  • Carbendazim
  • Cyclanilide
  • Ethiprole
  • Ethoxysulfuron
  • Fenamidone
  • Indaziflam
  • Ioxynil
  • Oxadiazon
  • Propineb
  • Thidiazuron
  • Thiodicarb
  • Thiram

This means, between 2016 an d 2019 there had been a 50 percent increase in Bayer‘s sellings of agrochemical substances in Brazil, that are banned in the EU.

That reminded me of the year 1988, when the then Bayer CEO Hermann J. Strenger refused to admit that Bayer was using double standards. Strenger at the time said: „We make the same requirements of our investments in Brazil or India, in the US, or in Japan, as [in Germany].“ But he admitted: „In fact, in Brazil, for example, we do not have laws like in the Federal Republic.“

So, 32 years later, Bayer still sells in Brazil some herbicides, insecticides and fungicides with active ingredients that are banned in Europe. So, how would it be possible not to speak of double standards?

Why are we focussing o Brazil?

Why do we put our focus on Brazil? Because Brazil is at the center of Bayer’s growth interest. Bayer‘s CEO Werner Baumann said at the 2018 annual general meeting that Bayer’s interest in acquiring Monsanto would be in the seed sector and in the growth of that sector: Let’s take a closer look at this type of the company‘s growth. Bayer‘s (and now also the former Monsanto‘s) type of seed is usually genetically modified, and that’s goes together with a growth of agricultural poisons. If we put these three variables – genetically modified seeds, agricultural poisons and growth – together, only one common denominator can be found worldwide: Brazil. That’s the still sad reality, and with a far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro it is getting worser and worser. Only in 2019, in one year of government, the right-wing government in Brasília did legalize 503 more pesticides.

In the US, we see the ongoing law suits against Bayer/Monsanto, in Europe the people are more and more wants to get rid of Glyphosate & Co, in India, more and more states are declaring themselves „pesticide-free“ and China is showing concern about pesticide contamination. So: For Bayer, there is only Brazil which remains. And there’s a reason for that.” 503 new pesticides, that means – as a well-known scientist from the state research institute for health issues FIOCRUZ put it: “Brazil will become a paradise for agricultural poisons.” It already is.

And Bayer will continue to participate, perhaps more than ever, in the sale and distribution of highly toxic agrochemicals in Brazil. It might be some kind of suicidal-survival tactic in the face of Monsanto’s multi-billion dollar acquisition, but Bayer will go for growth at any price. Any poison which can be sold will be sold.

Brazil is THE PESTICIDE HELL ON EARTH

Brazil is the pesticide hell on earth. Let‘s look at the facts: Brazil is the world leader in the use of agricultural poisons. 7.3 litres of agricultural poisons per Brazilian citizen per year is the national average. The GM soy-growing province of Mato Grosso holds the world record: In the Central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso uses 13.3% (140 million litres) of all the pesticides used in Brazil. In the small municipality of Sapezal, in the state of Mato Grosso, in 2012, nine million litres of agricultural poisons were used in the municipality of Sapezal alone. In Sapezal the use of pesticides per person is 393 litres per person, 52 times higher than the national average of 7.3 litres.

A study by the Federal University of Mato Grosso found in that there were 1,442 cases of gastric, oesophageal and pancreatic cancer in 13 municipalities (644,746 inhabitants according to last 2015 census), in which soy, corn and cotton were grown between 1992 and 2014. In comparison, in the 13 comparable municipalities (219,801 inhabitants according to last census 2015), where tourism predominated instead of agriculture, the number of cancer cases was just 53. This results in a cancer rate of 223.65 per 100,000 inhabitants in predominantly agricultural municipalities, whereas in predominantly tourism municipalities, there is a cancer rate of 24.11 per 100,000 inhabitants. So, in municipalities where pesticides are heavily sprayed, the cancer rate is statistically higher by a factor of 8.

Last year I asked Bayer’s CEO Baumann: How much anti-cancer medicine (volume and sales) did your drug company send to the state of Mato Grosso in 2016 and 2017? Unfortunatly, I did not received an answer.

Amazonia‘s ramping wildfires in the tropical rainforest

The World had to witness in 2019 a Amazon rainforest wildfires season with a huge year-to-year surge in fires occurring in the Amazon rainforest. Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) reported a 77% year-to-year increase. End of August the sky above the city of São Paulo darkened during day light despite being thousands of kilometers from the Amazon. Bolsonaro’s government played his part in the horrible game. But, what about Bayer?

Bayer stated in September 2019 to take part in the so called „Brazilian Coalition for climate, forest and agriculture“. Bayer declared: „We are taking a clear stand to call for enforcing forest protection laws and to drive sustainable intensification of agriculture.“ Bayer argues, that the clue would be: „The more successful we are in sustainable intensification, the less pressure on further land-use extension there is.“ Translating this into real-world speech: More Bayer pesticides on agriculturally used lands, and then the Amazon would be saved.

Oddly enough, one has to remind, that the municipalities in the Brazilian Amazon with the highest rates of illegal deforestation are the same municipalities with the highest increase of agricultural poisons.

So, Bayer, stop spreading bullshit, as a science company like you should know way better… Or is it more a strategic decision?

In Paraguay, the anti-pesticides movement and the indigenous communities have a popular slogan: Ñamosêke Monsanto! – It is Guarani language and translates to „Monsanto out!“ The same naturally applies to: Bayer.

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