Around half a billion bees died in four of Brazil’s southern states in the year’s first months. The die-off highlighted questions about the ocean of pesticides used in the country’s agriculture and whether chemicals are washing through the human food supply — even as the government considers permitting more. Most dead bees showed traces of Fipronil, an insecticide proscribed in the European Union and classified as a possible human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January, Brazil has permitted sales of a record 290 pesticides, up 27% over the same period last year, and a bill in Congress would relax standards even further.
The fertile nation is awash in chemicals. Brazil’s pesticide use increased 770% from 1990 to 2016, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Still, in its latest food-safety report, Brazil’s health watchdog Anvisa found that 20% of samples contained pesticide residues above permitted levels or contained unauthorized pesticides. It didn’t even test for glyphosate, Brazil’s best-selling pesticide, which is banned in most countries.