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GM crops push up pesticide sales in Brazil
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Use of pesticides in Brazil has risen significantly precisely over the period when the cultivation of transgenic crops has exploded, informs the leading Brazilian newspaper Valor Econômico in a report published on July 31st. Since 2005, the year that the Biosafety Law was approved (11.105/05), the area planted with genetically modified seeds has more than tripled in Brazil, rising from 9.4 million to 32 million hectares. Between 2005 and 2011, average pesticide consumption has jumped from a little of 7 kilos per hectare to 10.1, a 43.2% increase. According to data from Sindag, the union representing pesticide manufacturers cited in the report, sales of these products grew more than 72% between 2006 and 2012, from 480,100 to 826,700 tons. This rise in the use of pesticides cannot be explained by the expansion in total cultivated area since this rose by less than 19% over the same time according to the National Supply Company (CONAB), whose data includes cereals, fibres, coffee and sugar cane.

Eighty-five per cent of the transgenics released by CTNBio (National Biosafety Technical Commission), among them soybeans, maize and cotton, are modified for resistance to herbicides, whose sales reached 403,600 tons, an increase of 44% in relation to the 279,200 tons recorded in 2006. Sales of fungicides tripled while those of insecticides rose by almost 84%, the Valor report adds.

"Plantations of transgenic soybean – a crop that alone consumes 48% of all pesticides used in the country – make more intensive use of pesticides than those that have not adopted the technology. In Paraná state [in the South of Brazil], for example, the crops using the Roundup Ready (RR) technology of Monsanto, consume 3.6 kilos of pesticides per hectare on average, 16.2% higher than the 3.1 kilos consumed with conventional crops. The advantage for the producer lies in the reduced management levels: in RR plantations several herbicides are replaced by a single product, glyphosate, applied in larger doses.” This wider use of glyphosate has accelerated the development of resistant weeds, which lead the producer to use more toxic products to control them. Also in Paraná, the State Agriculture Department recorded an 85% increase in the use of Gramoxone (Paraquat) between 2005 and 2007 and a 52% increase in the use of 2,4-D. It is worth recalling that transgenic soybean was already grown illegally in Brazil prior to this period before being authorized in 2003 through a provisional legal measure. “In all events, the benefits of biotechnology in relation to the use of pesticides in plantations are still marginal,” concludes the reporter Gerson Freitas Jr. In other words, the real benefit goes to the company selling the pesticide.

The data is important, but is also fairly unsurprising given that it is common knowledge that these seeds were developed to promote the sale of pesticides and justify seed patenting. The promises made by the industry since the 1990s, echoed loudly in the press, have obscured the actual results of the technology for a long time. Since covering up these poor results has become increasingly difficult, it seems a new wave of hot air is needed.

The representative from the consultancy firm Céleres cited in the report claims that “there is no contradiction in the increase of sales in pesticides or agrochemicals.” He argues that previously very few pesticides were used. “Had it not been for biotechnology, this growth would have been even higher,” he assured. Meanwhile the interviewee from Sindag said that Brazil had previously experienced “an underdose problem.” The representative from Abrasem (Brazilian Seed and Seedling Association) attributed some of the increase to the arrival of soybean rust.

"Céleres predicts, though, that the gains will be more noticeable in the next decade with the consolidation of the technology and the arrival of new varieties in the country, such as insect-resistant soybean.” Don’t hold your breath.
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