Pesticides Linked to Deaths of Millions of Bees in Brazil

Photo by Jared Belson

More than 500 million bees were found dead by beekeepers in Brazil over a three-month period earlier this year. Now, scientists are linking these mass bee die-offs to an increase in the use of pesticides, fueled by the weakening of chemical regulations by the Bolsonaro administration.

According to Mongabay, the Bolsonaro government has approved 290 new pesticide products in just seven months, including several chemicals that have been banned for use in the European Union, the United States, and elsewhere. For comparison, Brazil approved just 45 new pesticides over the same period in 2010, before President Jair Bolsonaro took office.

Brazil’s government also introduced a new regulatory framework for assessing pesticides in July that “will reduce restrictiveness of toxicological classifications,” Mongabay reported. More than 1,900 registered pesticides have since been reevaluated, and the number classified as extremely toxic has decreased from 702 to 43.

Beekeepers reported mass die-offs of entire hives in four Brazilian states between October 2018 and March 2019, with Rio Grande do Sul, a major soybean producer, experiencing the highest losses. Unlike colony collapse disorder in North America and Europe, where worker bees abandon their hives and disappear, the bees in Brazil are dying on the spot, according to biologist Thor Hanson, author of Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees. A study by scientists at the National Agricultural Laboratory of Rio Grande do Sul released last month found five types of pesticides in dead bees, honey, young, and combs.

“Brazil is going in the opposite direction from most developed countries, which have been reducing the use of pesticides,” Luiz Claudio Meirelles, a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), told Mongabay. “The Ministry of Agriculture says that the goal is to put new technologies on the market, products of less toxicity, and yet a large part of those being released are generic products of high toxicity, whose active ingredients are old.”