500 million bees in Brazil dead after govt lifted ban on toxic pesticides

There has been a surge in pesticides used ever since Brazil's new president took office.

Ashley Tan| August 22, 04:25 PM

Brazil is currently the epicenter of an environmental disaster.

The Amazon rainforest, the world's largest rainforest and considered the earth's "lungs" due to the amount of carbon the trees can store, is going up in flames.

The surge in wildfires has been attributed to deforestation, an activity supported by Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro.


But deforestation is not the only consequence of Bolsonaro's presidency. Bees have been dying en masse around the country.

Half a billion bees dead

In the last three months, beekeepers reported that 500 million bees have dropped dead in four of Brazil's southern states.

Vice president of Brazil's Rio Grande do Sul Beekeeping Association, Aldo Machado, said that his bee colony had been decimated a mere 48 hours after the insects first showed signs of illness.

The die-off has been pinned on a deadly concoction of pesticides, reported Bloomberg

Most of the dead bees showed traces of Fipronil, an insecticide banned by the European Union and classified as a potential human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Lifting the ban on pesticides

Pesticides are commonplace in Brazil, where agriculture makes up a huge proportion of its economic activity.

However, the use of pesticides in Brazil has increased in the past three years, even more so when Bolsonaro—who had been dubbed the "Trump of the Tropics" for some rather similar views on the environment, immigration and gender equality—took the office in January 2019.

Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro. Photo from Palácio do Planalto / Flickr

The EU had imposed a total ban on neonicotinoids in April 2018, a group of insecticides particularly toxic to bees.

However, later in 2018, Brazilian congress approved a controversial bill to lift a ban on these pesticides, despite strong opposition from environmentalists, according to BBC.

Bloomberg reported that since January, Brazil permitted sales of a record 290 pesticides, 27 per cent higher than the previous year.

Additionally, international environmental non-profit Greenpeace reported that 40 per cent of Brazil's pesticides are "highly or extremely toxic", and 32 per cent of these are banned in the EU.

In the run-up to his presidency, Bolsonaro received strong support from agribusinesses, and promised to abolish Brazil's environmental agency IBAMA, a promise which he seems to be making good on.

Bees critical to food security

Despite their small size, bees are extremely critical to our food security. One-third of the food we eat relies on pollination by bees, while more than three-quarters of the world's food crops depend to some extent on bees and other pollinators.

Here's what our supermarkets might look like with and without bees and other pollinators, according to a campaign by American supermarket WholeFoods Market.

Photo from WholeFoods Market

Photo from WholeFoods Market

Unfortunately, humanity is in the midst of an insect extinction, with more than 40 per cent of insect species declining, according to The GuardianPopulation declines of bees can ultimately result in a collapse of the global food production industry.

Related stories

Top photo from Indy / Flickr and rawdonfox / Flickr