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Bees Are Dropping Dead in Brazil and Sending a Message to Humans

Bruce Douglas and Tatiana Freitas

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8-19-19\

 

A beekeeper inspects his newborn European bees in Sao Roque, Sao Paulo state, Brazil.

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

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Death came swiftly for Aldo Machado’s honey bees. Less than 48 hours after the first apis melliferashowed signs of sickness, tens of thousands lay dead, their bodies piled in mounds.

“As soon as the healthy bees began clearing the dying bees out of the hives, they became contaminated,” said Machado, vice president of Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul beekeeping association. “They started dying en masse.”

Around half a billion bees died in four of Brazil’s southern states in the year’s first months. The die-off highlighted questions about the ocean of pesticides used in the country’s agriculture and whether chemicals are washing through the human food supply — even as the government considers permitting more. Most dead bees showed traces of Fipronil, a insecticide proscribed in the European Union and classified as a possible human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

European honey bees sit on hives in  Sao Roque.

Photographer: Patricia Monteiro/Bloomberg

Since President Jair Bolsonaro took office in January, Brazil has permitted sales of a record 290 pesticides, up 27% over the same period last year, and a bill in Congress would relax standards even further. Manufacturers of newly permitted substances include Brazilian companies such as Cropchem and Ouro Fino, as well as global players including Arysta Lifescience Ltd., Nufarm Ltd. and Adama Agricultural Solutions Ltd.Giants such as Syngenta, Monsanto, BASF and Sumitomo also won new registrations.

The fertile nation is awash in chemicals. Brazil’s pesticide use increased 770% from 1990 to 2016, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The Agriculture Ministry says that Brazil ranks 44th in the world in the use of pesticides per hectare and that, as a tropical country, it is “incorrect” to compare its practices with those of temperate regions.

Still, in its latest food-safety report, Brazil’s health watchdog Anvisa found that 20% of samples contained pesticide residues above permitted levels or contained unauthorized pesticides. It didn’t even test for glyphosate, Brazil’s best-selling pesticide, which is banned in most countries.

The silent hives, critics say, are a warning.

“The death of all these bees is a sign that we’re being poisoned,” said Carlos Alberto Bastos, president of the Apiculturist Association of Brazil’s Federal District.