UK Supermarkets Urged to Remove Killer Pesticides from their Soya Supply Chains Linked to Mass Poisonings in the Amazon

28 Apr 2022

Demand from British food consumers are unknowingly fuelling the poisoning of people and wildlife in the Amazon in a “hidden scandal”, according to the Soil Association.

Chicken sold in a number of UK supermarkets is reared on soya feed grown in toxic pesticide heavy lands within Brazil’s Amazon region, highlights the Soil Association‘s new ‘Stop Poison Poultry’ campaign.

Launching a petition calling for action, Soil Association Campaigns Advisor, Cathy Cliff, said: “British shoppers should be able to walk into a supermarket and buy food that isn’t harming children, killing bees, or threatening rare and treasured wildlife thousands of miles away”.

According to a Soil Association survey carried out in January 2022, none of the 10 leading UK supermarkets are monitoring or restricting the use of highly hazardous pesticides in their soya supply chains. Soya linked to pesticide poisonings in Brazil is exported to the UK to feed livestock, primarily chickens.

“Our research has found that the 10 leading UK supermarkets are all ensnared in a broken system that is damaging communities, animals and ecosystems. British retailers are already taking good steps to address deforestation in their soya supply chains, and now we need them to address these hazardous pesticides”, said Cathy.

“The scale of highly hazardous pesticide use in Brazil is terrifying, as is our chicken’s industry reliance on these soya crops. It is a hidden scandal that both British shoppers and farmers are largely blind to, and it must no continue – we must stop the poisoning associated with UK poultry farming”, added Cathy.

Brazil is the world’s third largest user of pesticides, only behind China and the US.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has recently incorporated a presidential decree amending the 1989 pesticides law, by making the approval process of pesticides even more flexible, including the approval of chemicals that have already been banned in other countries.

Most of the pesticides used on Brazilian soya are banned for use in the UK, but some are being produced and sold abroad by companies operating out of Britain and Europe.

One example is highly hazardous pesticide paraquat, which is manufactured by Chinese ChemChina owned Syngenta in Huddersfield, banned for use in the UK and associated with poisonings abroad.

Recently, the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA), representing smaller and ecological farmers, has demanded the UK government stops the export of paraquat and other pesticides that are banned for use in the UK, but still made here.

Brazil, Soya and Pesticides

The Amazon region has been suffering from deforestation due to many official policies, with large natural areas replaced by monoculture with an indiscriminate spread of pesticides. Soy cultivation is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin, with 80% destined for animal feed.

Soya beans are Brazil’s largest export to the UK, worth approximately 220 million USD in 2020 and these crops account for 60% of the country’s pesticide use. Brazil’s pesticide use has risen to a staggering 900% since 1990.

These chemicals are contaminating surface and groundwater, the soil, killing bees, bugs, and the animals that eat those insects, are being found with a cocktail of chemicals in their bodies. Between 2013 and 2017, more than 1 billion bees were lost due to pesticide poisoning in Brazil, including honeybees and wild bees.

According to ABRASCO, the Brazilian Association of Public Health, 70,000 people, including children, who are usually the most severely affected, suffer from acute and chronic pesticide poisonings in Brazil every year.

There are 150 pesticide products approved by the Brazilian government for use on soya.  Of the 22 most commonly used in Brazilian soya production, 80% are classified as ‘highly hazardous’, and of these 66% are not approved for use in the EU or UK, including:

  • Paraquat, a herbicide which is ‘fatal if inhaled’, associated with farmer suicides, and exported by Syngenta, a company operating out of Britain;
  • Acefate, an organophosphate (OP) insecticide used on food crops, as well as a seed treatment. It’s known to be ‘highly toxic to bees’;
  • Chlorpyrifos (CPF), a broad-spectrum chlorinated organophosphate (OP), known to be ‘highly toxic to bees’ and ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’;
  • Diuron, a herbicide ‘likely to be carcinogenic to humans at high doses’;
  • Imadacloprid, an insecticide known to be ‘highly toxic to bees’.

The Brazilian Association of Collective Health estimates that pesticides contaminate approximately 70% of food consumed by Brazilians, and they drink nearly 7.5 L of pesticides per year – the highest per capita consumption rate in the world.

According to a recent study published by MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, there are numerous toxic effects of pesticides, particularly inflicting rural workers, inducing from hematological abnormalities, DNA damage, cell death, skin and eye irritations, pain, infertility, altered hormone levels, fatigue, tremours, hearing loss, neurological symptoms, miscarriage, fetal malformation, effects on cardiac, muscular and development of related metabolic diseases, overweight, underweight, insulin resistance, diabetes and various types of cancer.

Source: MDPI – Impacts of Pesticides on Human Health in the Last Six Years in Brazil (March 2022)

The Soil Association is calling for UK supermarkets to ‘clean’ UK supply chains, has lined up some proposals/solutions to be taken by the government in order to address this issue. They are also asking for the British public to get involved and sign the petition.

We are living challenging times and it’s often easy to forget how much we are all connected and how much we influence each other’s lives and the world.  

Our actions as consumers have a strong direct impact not only on our health, but also on the health of people living some 5,529 miles away in Brazil, as well as on wildlife and the environment. It’s up to us to get involved and make powerful positive changes to all living creatures and our planet!

The Soil Association‘s full report:

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