Brazil – Danwatch undersøgende journalistik Tue, 19 Feb 2019 10:09:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Brazil – Danwatch 32 32 Brazilian coffee is sprayed with deadly pesticides Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:19:41 +0000 Skin contact with the chemical known as terbufos can kill you. Symptoms of poisoning are involuntary muscle contractions, drooling, visual disorders, reduced coordination, dizziness, vomiting, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness. In the EU, it is illegal to use pesticides that contain terbufos because the chemical is so toxic. On Brazilian coffee plantations, however, it can be used to fight insects.

Half of all the coffee produced in Brazil comes from the state of Minas Gerais. In 2014, over 364,000 kg of pesticides containing terbufos were sold in the three regions of the state that are home to the most coffee plantations. Terbufos is just one of thirty active pesticide ingredients that are prohibited in the EU, but approved by Brazilian authorities for use on Brazilian coffee plantations. Tons of chemicals like aldicarb, fenpropathrin and carbuforan, which European authorities have determined to be too dangerous to workers and to the environment, were sold in 2014 in the three regions of Minas Gerais state where the majority of its coffee plantations are located.

Coffee worker Francisco Paulo Pereira applied pesticides on a Brazilian coffee plantation without protective equipment. Today he is extremely ill.

“These chemicals are outlawed in the EU because they are extremely toxic and can cause serious acute and long-term health problems”, says Erik Jørs, a senior consultant on the Clinic of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, who has spent many years studying the use of pesticides in developing countries.

“Many of the chemicals are neurotoxins that affect both insects and humans”, says Jørs, explaining that researchers suspect that the substances damage reproductive systems and cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms such as coordination problems and trembling hands.

Risk of cancer

The chemicals that are sprayed on Brazilian coffee are not only acutely toxic; some of them may also cause cancer. One of the most common herbicides used on Brazilian coffee plantations is glyphosate, which is sold under the brand name Roundup and used around the world as a weed killer.

In the three regions of Minas Gerais state where most of its coffee plantations are located, 1,800 tons plus 18,000,000 litres of glyphosate were sold in 2014. In March 2015, the World Health Organisation (WHO) changed its classification of glyphosate to “probably carcinogenic to humans”, in part because the chemical has been shown to cause cancer in research animals.

Glyphosate’s dangers include damage to DNA, according to Fabio Gomes, an expert working at the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA).

“Even in small doses, glyphosate can cause cancer twenty to thirty years later”, says Gomes.

The question of whether glyphosate causes cancer is still debated, and in November 2015, the European Food Safety Administration determined that the chemical is unlikely to damage DNA or to cause cancer in humans.

Applying pesticides without protection

Even though workers on Brazilian coffee plantations are handling toxic, disease-causing pesticides, they often apply them without or with insufficient protective equipment, according to experts, coffee workers, and union officials.

Several of the coffee workers encountered by Danwatch during the harvest described how they applied pesticides wearing their own clothes and without necessary protective equipment.

Coffee worker Elisabete Vitor da Costa describes how empty pesticide bottles are used to store food and drink.

Coffee worker Elisabete Vitor da Costa is helping to coordinate an awareness campaign about pesticides on coffee plantations in Minas Gerais. She lives in the city of Três Corações in southern Minas Gerais, in a neighbourhood that is home to many of the area’s coffee workers. She says that it is very rare that workers wear all the necessary protective gear when they are applying pesticides.

“There are about 700 coffee plantations in Três Corações and São Bento Abade. I have seen only one plantation where the workers wore protective equipment”, she says. Another problem, according to Costa, is that workers are not properly trained to use the pesticides before they are required to spray them on plants or soil.

Eduardo Garcia Garcia is a pesticide expert and researcher at the Brazilian research institute Fundacentro, which is affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Labour and Employment. According to him, there are plenty of laws in place that require workers to wear protective equipment when applying pesticides.

“The problem is a lack of compliance”, he says.

Handkerchiefs instead of masks

Proper protective equipment should primarily keep workers from inhaling the chemicals and from getting drops of it on their skin. Equipment regulations depend on the type of product being applied, how poisonous it is, and whether it is in powder or liquid form, as well as on the type of plant being sprayed (whether it is a tall or short plant, has many or few leaves, etc.). Pesticides are labelled with a description of the necessary protective equipment, but according to Garcia, these recommendations are very general and do not take the aforementioned considerations into account. Usually, the product labels recommend that workers should wear a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, hat, face mask, glasses and boots.

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“The recommendations seldom take heat and the risk of dehydration into consideration. As a result, workers often fail to use all the equipment, and improvise instead”, says Garcia.

Rodrigo Carvalho Fernandes, an inspector from Instituto Mineiro de Agropecuária (IMA), the state agricultural institute in Minas Gerais, agrees. IMA carries out inspections related to the use of pesticides on coffee plantations.

“The workers often don’t want to use the safety equipment because it has a tendency to be uncomfortable and hot”, says Fernandes.

According to Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro, it’s also a question of money. “Instead of using expensive gloves, they may use a plastic bag to cover their hand, or a handkerchief to cover their mouth and nose. This gives a false sense of security. The poison gets into the material. A handkerchief can actually do even more harm than good, since it spreads the poison around on the skin.”

Garcia thinks that it’s problematic to focus only on the responsibility of workers to use the correct protective equipment. Meanwhile, workers’ resistance to the equipment is not the only problem, if you ask the largest agricultural labour union in Minas Gerais, the Federação dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura do Estado de Minas Gerais (FETAEMG).

“Some plantations simply do not offer it”, says FETAEMG’s leader, Vilson Luiz da Silva.

Nothing protects 100 %

Even if the workers wear all the approved protective equipment, they cannot be sure they are safe.

“The problem is that no kind of safety equipment protects you 100 percent. The equipment reduces the impact of pesticides, but it does not eliminate it”, says Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro.

“We don’t believe that protective equipment solves the problem”, says Fabio Gomes from the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA). He explains that when it comes to cancer risk, even small doses over a long period of time can be problematic.

Pesticide poisoning is widespread

The use of acutely toxic pesticides leads to pesticide poisonings and deaths in the coffee state of Minas Gerais. The latest numbers from Brazil’s national toxicological information system, Sistema Nacional de Informações Tóxico-Farmacológicas (Sinitox), record 21 deaths and 817 poisonings caused by agricultural pesticides in Minas Gerais in 2012.

According to Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva from INCA, an expert in pesticides and farm workers, the hidden numbers are considerable. “Many cases are never reported”, she says.

A survey of coffee workers taken in southern Minas Gerais in 2011 hints at the scope of the problem. Out of a group of 412 workers, 59 percent experienced at least one typical symptom of pesticide poisoning. The study was carried out by researchers from the Universidade Federal de Itajubá in Minas Gerais.

“Many coffee workers complain of dizziness and stomach pain”, says Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho of the organisation Articulação dos Empregados Rurais de Minas Gerais (Adere), which works to improve conditions for coffee workers. Santos has also noticed an increasing incidence of rash on workers’ arms.

Marluce Silva Braz describes how she got a severe rash when harvesting coffee

When she harvested coffee, the skin on Marluce Silva Braz’s hands began to burn and develop fluid-filled blisters that later turned into open sores.

Many of the other coffee workers in Braz’s neighbourhood in Três Corações in southern Minas Gerais have symptoms like dizziness, nausea, difficulty breathing and stomach pain.

Sixty-three-year-old Goncalo de Sousa Barbosa, who for years applied pesticides without protective equipment, reports difficulty breathing and episodes of dizziness. Others who worked with pesticides have trouble walking and describe feeling like their feet are asleep.

According to Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva, pesticides have been linked to a wide range of other serious health problems.

“A pervasive problem among farm workers, including coffee workers, who are exposed to pesticides is the incidence of children with birth defects”, she says, adding that miscarriages, suicide and fertility problems also appear to be correlated with pesticide exposure.

Increased risk of cancer

When coffee workers experience symptoms of acute pesticide poisoning like dizziness, stomach pain, tremors, sweating and headache while they are applying pesticides, it is not very difficult to demonstrate a connection between the pesticides and the symptoms. It is much more challenging to do so when illness first arises days, months or years later.

“It is very difficult to prove causality between the use of pesticides and cancer, because cancer takes so many years to develop”, says Eduardo Garcia Garcia from Fundacentro.

Even though protective equipment is required by law, many workers apply pesticides on Brazilian coffee plantations without it. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

Fabio Gomes from INCA describes similar difficulties when trying to measure the connection between cancer and pesticides. He says that the number of unreported cases is very high because it is rarely noted that a cancer patient has a risk factor like pesticide exposure.

“When you speak to health personnel in agricultural areas where the use of pesticides is increasing, they report that the incidence of cancer is also increasing. They see a connection, but it is very difficult to prove it in a scientific way”, he says.

In 2007 his colleague at INCA, Dr Jandira Maciel da Silva, was able to show a correlation between cancer and the pesticides that are used by agricultural workers in southern Minas Gerais. Her study showed that workers who had been exposed to pesticides that are used on coffee and other crops were four times more likely to develop lymphoma.

“The study showed a significant correlation between cancer and work on coffee plantations, mainly among those who applied pesticides, but also among temporary workers who picked coffee at the harvest,” says Silva.

Family members also at risk

Workers on coffee plantations are not the only ones who risk illness as a result of contact with pesticides. They may also expose their families to small amounts of the dangerous chemicals when they come home from work in the same clothing they wore while applying pesticides.

“New research has shown that workers who bring their equipment home to wash it expose women (in the home, ed.) to the poisons. A lack of awareness about these things is a serious and widespread problem”, says Garcia from Fundacentro.

“The workers often put their pesticide-contaminated work clothes in with the rest of their laundry. They just take a bath when they come back from their plantation work, and usually don’t take any other precautions”, says Dr Silva from INCA.

Drinking water from pesticide containers

Another problem is that empty pesticide bottles are sometimes used for other, dangerous purposes.

Before Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho became a coordinator and advocate for coffee workers with the organisation Adere, he was a coffee worker himself. Today he travels around to coffee plantations, reporting irregularities to the authorities.

“Often, workers will take a five-litre pesticide container down to the river to get drinking water”, he says.

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Years ago, when he worked on coffee plantations, Jorge Ferreira dos Santos Filho also used to drink from empty pesticide bottles. He didn’t know that it could be dangerous.

Rodrigo Carvalho Fernandes, one of the agricultural inspectors from IMA in Minas Gerais, says that, earlier, empty pesticide containers were frequently used to store drinking water without being properly cleaned first.

“This issue has improved somewhat,” but irregularities still remain, he says.

According to coffee worker and pesticide-awareness campaigner Elisabete Vitor da Costa, it is still quite common for people to use empty pesticide bottles to store drinking water or milk.

Traces of dangerous pesticides in waterways

Ordinary people who live near coffee plantations also risk ingesting small doses of dangerous pesticides.  Once pesticides have been sprayed on plants, rain washes some of the chemicals into the earth and onwards into streams and rivers, where they pollute the environment.

In 2013, Alexandra Fátima Saraiva Soares, a Brazilian civil and sanitation engineer and PhD who studies pesticides and water contamination, published as part of a team of researchers an investigation into pesticide residues in waterways near coffee plantations in Manhuaçu, Minas Gerais. In their water samples, the researchers found traces of twenty-four different pesticides, including the acutely toxic substance terbufos, which is outlawed in the EU. Terbufos is used to kill insects. If the chemical is being rinsed into rivers and waterways, it will also kill insects and water-dwelling animals there.

The EU’s official classification says Terbufos is “very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects”.

According to Soares, water purification facilities are not able to remove pesticide residues, and she worries that they may pollute the drinking water in local homes.

“We do not know the health effects of exposure to low concentrations of pesticides over long periods of time”, she says.

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Coffee workers apply pesticides without protection Thu, 10 Mar 2016 13:50:03 +0000

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You may be drinking coffee grown under slavery-like, life-threatening conditions Thu, 10 Mar 2016 13:34:24 +0000 Debt bondage, child labour, deadly pesticides, a lack of protective equipment, and workers without contracts. Danwatch has been on assignment in Brazil and can prove that coffee workers in the world’s largest coffee-growing nation work under conditions that contravene both Brazilian law and international conventions.

Danwatch has confronted some of the world’s largest coffee companies with the facts surrounding these illegal working conditions. Two coffee giants admit that coffee from plantations where working conditions resembled slavery according to the Brazilian authorities may have ended up in their supply chains.

This means that when you buy coffee in the supermarket, you risk taking home beans that were picked by people whose accommodations lack access to clean drinking water, or by workers who are caught in a debt spiral that makes it practically impossible for them to leave the coffee plantation.

Conditions analogous to slavery

Danwatch accompanied the Brazilian authorities on an inspection and was able to trace the sale of coffee from some of the other plantations where the authorities has characterised conditions as analogous to slavery.

– Read reporting from the inspection Danwatch participated in where seventeen men, women and children were freed from slavery-like conditions.

Danwatch can therefore document that coffee from plantations with slavery-like conditions was purchased and resold by middlemen who supply the world’s largest coffee companies.

Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts corporations together account for about 40 % of the global coffee market. Their brands include Nescafé, Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, Taster’s Choice, Coffee Mate, Gevalia, Senseo, Jacobs, Maxwell House and Tassimo. Both companies admit that coffee from plantations where working conditions resembled slavery may have ended up in their products. Nestlé also admits to having purchased coffee from two plantations where the Brazilian authorities freed workers from conditions analogous to slavery in July 2015.

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Both Nestlé and Jacobs Douwe Egberts have adopted codes of conduct in which they require suppliers to adhere to a variety of international human rights conventions and to core conventions of the International Labour Organisation.

Following Danwatch’s investigation, both companies acknowledge that there is a need to do more to resolve the labour issues that affect Brazilian coffee cultivation.

“We are determined to tackle this complex problem in close collaboration with our suppliers, whom we have contacted”, Nestlé said in a written statement.

Jacobs Douwe Egberts stated that in the wake of Danwatch’s enquiries it had been in touch with all its suppliers to ask them to explain what steps they are taking to ensure that they do not purchase coffee from plantations with slavery-like working conditions.

– Read Nestlé’s and JDE’s reactions, and get the whole story of the coffee’s journey from the plantations with slavery-like conditions onto the world coffee market.

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Applying deadly pesticides

Aside from the problem of slavery-like working conditions, the most serious problem for coffee workers on Brazilian plantations is that it is legal to spray the coffee with pesticides that cause illness and are potentially lethal – and that are forbidden in the EU.

Some of the pesticides are so toxic that merely getting them on your skin can kill you.  Nevertheless, many workers spray the coffee bushes with pesticides without using the protective equipment that is required by law.

“These chemicals are outlawed in Denmark and the EU because they are extremely toxic and can cause serious acute and long-term health problems”, says Erik Jørs, a senior consultant on the Clinic of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University Hospital and the University of Southern Denmark in Odense.

Erik Jørs has studied the use of pesticides in developing countries for many years, and explains that researchers suspect that the substances damage reproductive systems and cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms such as coordination problems and trembling hands.

Danwatch has interviewed Brazilian coffee workers who have applied pesticides without sufficient protective equipment, and who today complain of hands that won’t obey them and feet that feel as though they are asleep.

– Watch video of coffee worker Francisco Paulo Pereira, who has applied pesticides on a Brazilian coffee plantation without protective equipment.

– Read the story of coffee picker Ronaldo Vicente Antonio. He applied pesticides for years without sufficient protective equipment. Today he has trouble controlling his hands, and can’t button his own shirt. 

 Read more about the potentially lethal pesticides that are legal for use on Brazilian coffee plantations.

Children pick coffee in Brazil

Danwatch’s investigation also shows that child labour is still a problem on Brazilian coffee plantations. At an inspection observed by Danwatch in July 2015, two boys aged 14 and 15 were found to have been picking coffee and freed from slavery-like working conditions.

Brazilian authorities lack statistics showing how many children work on coffee plantations, but in Minas Gerais, Brazil’s largest coffee-producing state, 116,000 children aged 5-17 years old worked in agriculture in 2013. Of these, 60,000 were under 14 years old, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), a government agency.

– Read more about the problem of child labour in Brazilian coffee cultivation.

In addition to the serious issues of child labour, deadly pesticides and slavery-like working conditions, Brazil’s coffee industry is beset by a number of other problems. Brazilian labour organisations estimate that as many as half of all coffee workers work without contracts, and mention other challenges, such as underpayment and serious workplace injuries, as well.

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Bitter Coffee Wed, 02 Mar 2016 14:01:21 +0000 A Poisonous Blend Thu, 08 May 2014 14:03:37 +0000 MINAS GERAIS, BRAZIL – This summer José Braga, a coffee farmer of 46, will sit in the back of a truck in a chaos of 36 random co-workers, on dusty and bumpy roads, off to a coffee plantation where he will work throughout the summer.
José Braga is more fortunate than most coffee farmers in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. He owns a small plot of land, on which he has a house and can grow his own coffee and a few additional crops. However, the income from his land is not nearly high enough to support himself and his family. And this year has been the driest in many, which will give a poor harvest. That is why José Braga will, again this year, take the harsh work picking coffee as a day labourer in one of the big, powerful farmers’ coffee plantations.

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José Braga will work without a contract or the rights and benefits that workers should have under Brazilian law. But that is not his biggest concern. ”Cancer is the worst problem, because so many use pesticides. That is what I am afraid of”, he explains.

Cancer, depression and suicides

Dalberto Luiz Gomes, director of CRESOL, a workers union in nearby Muriaé, confirms this. ”The biggest problem in the coffee industry is cancer”, he says. There is no doubt in his mind as he continues to explain, how the cancer is directly linked to the use of pesticides.
José Alves, administrative manager at the Cancer Hospital Fundacão Cristiano Varella in the coffee region of Minas Gerais, confirms that “the three most common types of cancer can be related to the use of pesticides”; he continues: “The cancer patients mainly come from small family farms, which are plentiful in this area,” and the number of patients is on the rise. But contrary to the union director, José Alves argues that the cancer stems from alcohol and tobacco. That the rural population has a high risk of getting cancer, can be related to the fact that “they smoke and drink more” and that the chemicals that can be found in cigarettes cause cancer.
Back at the union, the director Dalberto Luiz Gomes is not surprised to hear the doctor blaming cigarettes. He still believes that the pesticides are the reason that cancer is on the rise in the region:
“I have no technical evidence, but this is what I hear and experience”.
And he is far from the only one with that opinion. Based on first hand impressions and supported by media articles, student reports, farmers, and NGOs, union leaders and fiscal work auditors, he argues that pesticide-related cancer is both very real and a growing phenomenon.
Chances are that cancer is just one part of the problem. Bruno Arnelli Lopes, a fiscal work auditor with the Ministry of Labour in Rio de Janeiro, explains how shocked he was when he read news articles on the subject. They state that, due to pesticides, the farmers working with tomatoes, plants and coffee not only triple the risk of getting cancer. They are also much more likely to have severe depressions leading to a tripling of the suicide rate in the industry.

A toxic job

Brazilian agriculture is notoriously known for using very strong toxic pesticides. And they use a lot of it, says farm worker José Braga: ”There are weed and rushes between the coffee trees. To remove them we throw chemicals on it. Then we throw other chemicals to make the coffee grow”.
And as safety equipment in many farms is but a wish, it is no wonder José Braga is afraid of how the toxics might affect him.
President of the Rural Workers Union in Manhuaçu, José Adenil Campos, explains that this is a common problem within the coffee plantations.
“This problem is increasing. It is dangerous pesticides and most of the workers do not have any protective gear”, he continues; “if they have some gear, they lack something else”.
José Adenil Campos says that the workers lack simple equipment such as masks, proper boots or even gloves. Furthermore, there is almost no awareness of how dangerous the chemicals are. For example there are cases where farm-workers decide not to use masks, just because of the heat, says José Adenil Campos. He adds that most often the workers simply do not have a choice, as they are offered no safety equipment and they do not have money to buy it themselves.
Juares Campos, who works for a landowner in Manhuaçu, has first-hand experience with the pesticides. “The farmer came with some pesticides that I had to spread on his land”. He stretches out his arms, completely covered in red rashes.
“His arms have been like this for a long time, he has even been to the hospital twice” tells his wife, Joana D’Ark.

Contaminated water

The problem goes beyond safety equipment and farmers’ health as the toxics contaminate the farms’ water supply and spread on to the surrounding areas. Union director Dalberto Luiz Gomes explains: “some students took samples of the water in a village near Muriaé and the water was full of pesticides”.
Romerito Antunes Perreira, a coffee picker of 29, who is fortunately aware of the problem, says:
”I don’t want to drink the farm’s water, because it is so full of chemicals that you get sick. I bring my own water from home”. The trouble is that his own water supply could be full of pesticides as well.

The pesticide trap

While the workers often are unaware of how toxic the products are, the pesticide industry uses every mean to sell off their products. Especially the uneducated and often illiterate small scale farmers with minor family plantations are easy victims.
Valdeli Silva works in the municipal ministry of Agriculture and Environment in Rosário de Limeira, and he knows this problem very well: “The pesticide industry sells cheap, unlicensed pesticides to the small scale coffee producers at their family farms”. In this way even the pesticides that are too poisonous to be accepted in Brazil are used in the farms.
Union director Dalberto Luiz Gomes explains how the pesticide salesmen convince the small farmers that the coffee cannot grow without the pesticides. He continues “but once you use the pesticides it ruins the soil” and the following four years nothing can actually grow without using more pesticides. For the small scale farmer that has to provide food for his family it is not an option to wait for the soil to re-fertilize. He will have to buy and use new pesticides to earn his living.

A small step forward

Back in the Limeira, Valdeli Silva of the municipal ministry of Agriculture is advocating for agricultural sustainability and awareness about how to use pesticides. At his nearby farm José Bragas seems to have got the message.
“I don’t want to use pesticides on my own farm, because of the risk of cancer” he says.
But he is one of few and most of the farmers are still unaware of the risk they run when they work with pesticides. And though he refuses to use them on his own farm, José Bragas will probably have to work with chemicals this summer, when he starts working as a day labourer on the big farms.

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