Europe’s toxic business in Brazil

Deforestation, pollution, diseases … In Brazil, the massive use of pesticides has made agriculture a lawless activity. But Europe, a major exporter of these chemicals, pretends to ignore this system, condemning two directors in this gripping documentary.

It is a vicious and toxic circle that highlights Pesticides: European hypocrisy, the survey conducted by Stenka Quillet and written by Anne-Vigna with Nicolas Glimois, broadcast on Tuesday at 22:25 on Arte. Their demonstration, argued and rigorous, reveals the damaging consequences of an infernal circle connecting Brazil with Europe. Because the South American giant has become an El Dorado for European pesticide producers. Every year, they sell almost 80,000 tons of drugs whose use is banned in Europe. In return, for almost € 2.5 billion, Brazil exports agricultural products to the old continent, foods with traces of pesticide residues. A paroxysmal example of globalization with catastrophic consequences. Thus, the workers and their families in the Brazilian villages crammed inside the middle of the great agricultural exploits are victims of serious diseases. As for the water in half of the Brazilian cities, it is not drinkable. The directors’ perspectives on this health and environmental scandal.

How did the idea for this study come about? Stenka Quillet It comes from the atlas published in 2017 by Larissa Bombardi, a geographer from the University of São Paulo. She establishes the link between exports to Brazil of pesticides, the use of which is banned in Europe, and the agricultural production method implemented in her country. A counter-intuitive but enlightening demonstration that emphasizes how much the chemical industry depends on agriculture and not the other way around. Because in order to sell and make money, pesticide producers need the agricultural land to get bigger and bigger. Some areas equivalent to the size of Belgium have been converted to grow crops for export. The harvest is not used to feed the Brazilians, but to produce especially soy sold in Europe!

Pesticides are found in astronomical doses in the water at a school regularly analyzed by Mato Grosso State University.

© Kino Presse / Kino / ARTE

We understand in your film how complicated it is to work with these topics in Brazil … Anne Vigna For issues related to advertising revenue, the main Brazilian media avoids investigating the food industry. On the other hand, we have seen the emergence of many independent information sites on the Internet, such as Reporter Brazil Where Public instance. They are particularly interested in issues related to food. But their investigations are being systematically downgraded. They are accused of manipulation or of creating false information. A disturbing phenomenon has also developed: attacks on scientists. They can no longer set foot in certain places. In the state of Mato Grosso, the members of the small local research institute are thus personæ non gratæ. Yet they are the only ones conducting pesticide studies. As for geographer Larissa Mies Bombardi, she left Brazil after threats.

Let us also take the example of British journalist Dom Philipps and anthropologist Bruno Pereira, defenders of the Amazon, who were recently assassinated. In Brazil, it is said that the delay in starting the search to find the two men is related to the question Dom Philipps asked the Brazilian president about what he intended to do with the Amazon. Jair Bolsonaro replied: “You must first understand that the Amazon belongs to Brazil, it is not yours!”

“To sell and make money, pesticide producers need agricultural land to grow,” says director Stenka Quillet.

Cinema Press / Cinema / ARTE GEIE

You state in the film that fifty environmental activists are murdered in Brazil every year. How did the recordings go? SQ For the first time, I was forced to delete a sequence that we had shot. One of our interlocutors, a man whose role was to use pesticides in the state of Mato Grosso, withdrew after our interview. He chased us at night in the small town where we were. At one point, he blocked our car with his. He threatened us. A locally elected official came to support him and asked us to delete that passage in pain of being taken to the military police. We complied with it so as not to endanger the team on site and the scientists who had spoken to us. In this corner of Mato Grosso, it’s the Wild West. Freedom of the press no longer matters.

Some peasants, like Arnaldo Soares Borges from the landless movement, are trapped in the grip of large farms, trying to propose an alternative cultural model.

Some peasants, like Arnaldo Soares Borges from the landless movement, are trapped in the grip of large farms, trying to propose an alternative cultural model.

© Kino Presse / Kino / ARTE

How do you explain this connection? OUCH Following the election of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in 2019, industrialists in the agricultural sector felt they were growing. Their economic weight has steadily increased. Like their political significance. Today, the rural group, which defends the interests of this industry, represents 50% of the seats in parliament. New elections are scheduled for October and the excitement is palpable as former President Luiz Inácio Lula could win. This is likely to lead to a change in environmental considerations. Signs of this tension drones usually sprayed for the spread of pesticides on the fields urine and excrement on the followers of Lula during a meeting …

In what state of mind are you at the end of this study? SQ Depressed and affected. We filmed children born with malformations or suffering from early puberty. Farm workers are sick. When we eat a grapefruit or other tropical fruit here, we should think about the conditions under which it grew and how the people who produce it live. And ask politicians to act.


r Pesticides: European hypocrisy, Tuesday 5 July at 22.25 at Arte.

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