Hazardous and potential cancer-causing pesticides are being sprayed over farms supplying Nestlé and Coca-Cola
Pesticides banned in the EU and linked to potential human health risks continue to be produced and exported by European chemical companies. Our investigation identified the Brazilian farms using the pesticides and the international food and drinks companies they supply. Among them are multinationals like Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Pepsico.
In response to our findings, UN Rapporteur Marcos Orellana called the export of hazardous pesticides an “abhorrent practice”, adding, “It exacerbates environmental injustices and is a form of modern day exploitation”.
Orellana said sugar industries should “ensure that their supply chains are free from human rights abuses, such as those relating to exposure to hazardous pesticides”.
With our partner on the ground, Repórter Brasil, we obtained documents from the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture through a Freedom of Information request led by the public defenders’ office of the State of São Paulo.
Hundreds of pages of documents revealed the names of pesticides used in some of Brazil’s largest sugar and orange farms during the 2020 harvesting period. They revealed the dates, co-ordinates and scope of the spraying carried out by small agricultural planes, which occurred over thousands of hectares and sometimes in close proximity to residential areas.
We followed the paper trail to identify the supply chains of these farms. They showed some of the sugar farms were first-tier suppliers to Swiss food and drink conglomerate Nestlé. We found that orange farms sprayed with EU-banned pesticides were suppliers to PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.
We spoke to scientists and representatives of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) who confirmed the hazardous nature of the active substances of these pesticides, which include Bifenthrin, Epoxiconazole, and Thiametoxam.
In February, Cristina Silva was sitting in her living room in the municipality of Rancharia, São Paulo, with her husband when she heard the sound of a small plane flying overhead. A few minutes later, the couple felt an overpowering smell and began to experience symptoms that ended up lasting a week: a swollen and painful stomach, lack of appetite and headaches. She told us the plane was spraying pesticides.
A local community organiser, Bianca Lopes, says it is common for people to report feeling the products sprayed by agricultural planes on their skin. A few years ago, her mother and daughter, who was six months old at the time, almost lost their sight after a plane sprayed pesticides outside their home.
A study published in 2022 by the University of Santa Catarina revealed that regions where most sugar and orange farms are located had higher rates of death by cancer than the national average in Brazil in 2019.
UN Rapporteur Orellana urges pesticide companies and sugar industries to keep up with their human rights responsibilities, and called on the EU to take leadership at a global level and implement its chemical strategy for sustainability without further delay.
Officials at DG SANTE, the EU body responsible for regulating pesticides, said the export of banned pesticides would be phased out in line with the bloc’s Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability – which is part of its “zero pollution” ambition – although no exact date has been set for implementation.
RESPONSES BY THE COMPANIES
A spokesperson for Nestlé said all its suppliers must meet Nestlé’s responsible sourcing standard, including in relation to good agricultural practices. “We continue to closely follow regulatory developments everywhere we operate to ensure full compliance for all our products. Nestlé is not involved in campaigning against an export ban on pesticides and active ingredients banned in the EU.”
Coca-Cola Company said that all ingredients used in its products, including sugar and orange, are subject to rigorous inspection protocols for quality and safety standard evaluation, which follow the company’s global guidelines. In this context, the company highlights its laboratories for the control of inputs, in order to ensure that they are adequate to the criteria established by regulatory agencies in Brazil and competent authorities in each country where it operates. The company also clarifies that it requires its suppliers to adopt responsible and sustainable practices, in accordance with the Principles of Sustainable Agriculture, where its environmental, social and economic expectations are defined, besides international certifications, audited annually, among them the SAI FSA (Farm Sustainability Assessment, of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative) and Rainforest Alliance.
We have an uncompromising commitment to the safety and quality of all our products and the ingredients we use. We abide by international and local laws and guidelines in relation to sourcing ingredients and only work with suppliers which meet our rigorous standards.
PepsiCo did not reply to our partners’ attempts for contact.