Brazil set to seize massive volumes of illegal pesticides this year, says govt official

Wheat crops before harvest, in Arapongas
A tractor sprays pesticides on wheat crops to be harvested this year, in Arapongas, Brazil July 6, 2022. REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer

SAO PAULO, Aug 25 (Reuters) - Brazil is expected to seize a record 500 tonnes of illegal pesticides in 2022, more than twice the volume in 2020, as the government steps up enforcement amid surging demand for agrochemicals.

The rise in seizures reflects greater cooperation among different government agencies, intended to prevent large criminal organizations from capitalizing on the trade, an agriculture ministry official told Reuters on Thursday.

The flourishing illegal market underscores supply chain risks for global grain traders operating in Brazil, aside from being a public health hazard.

Because Brazil is a tropical country, farmers here require more pesticides to protect crops like corn and soy than competing nations, where the climate is colder.

"Just like a company, organized crime directs its efforts to activities that generate more profits," said Julio Lima, head of the ministry's pesticides oversight unit, in an interview. "Gangs are leaning toward agrochemicals because demand and prices rose."

Criminals smuggle, steal, and adulterate products, he said.

An estimated 25% of Brazil's pesticides market is comprised of illegal products, according to a study by Idesf, an advocacy group. Lima disputes that estimate, pegging the total at around 15%.

The market is worth $14.9 billion, according to trade group Sindiveg.

Differing regulations for pesticide use are also a problem, as are Brazil's light penalties for offenders, experts say.

Marco Palhano, border control chief at the federal highway police, told Reuters that the herbicide paraquat, banned in 2020, has been the most commonly seized substance this year.

"Farmers ignore the ban and keep on buying it," he said.

According to Drugwatcher, the highly toxic paraquat is sprayed on over 50 crops in around 120 countries, including in the United States. But while some 32 nations have banned or restricted use of the substance, exports continue to flow.

Palhano noted paraquat is imported legally by Paraguay and Uruguay from China. Criminals later smuggle it into Brazil.

Reporting by Ana Mano, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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