Global implications if Brazil were to ban glyphosate

Global rows over what technology farmers can use may come to a head, as the glyphosate spotlight falls in Brazil.

Global implications if Brazil were to ban glyphosate

Stephen Cadogan

Global rows over what technology farmers can use may come to a head, as the glyphosate spotlight falls in Brazil.

In August, a Brazilian judge ordered the sale and use of glyphosate to be suspended until the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency concludes a toxicity re-evaluation.

In news terms, this was probably overshadowed by a California jury in the same month finding Monsanto liable in a lawsuit, and ordering it to pay $289 million in damages to a man who alleged the company’s glyphosate-based weed-killers, including Roundup, caused him cancer.

In any case, the injunction in Brazil was overturned earlier this month, but proponents of the ban on glyphosate may still appeal the overturning decision.

If the ban returns, and remains in place, there could be difficulties in controlling weed infestations in Brazil’s next crop season, due to the country’s high dependency on the product.

So say global agri-trade analysts at Rabobank, who go on to explain the huge significance of the potential setback for Brazil’s soy crop.

Rabobank expects the recent temporary suspension of glyphosate to have only a small impact on Brazil’s soybean expansion, even though glyphosate has become the most important herbicide used in Brazil, because of the widespread use by Brazilian soybean farmers of crops genetically modified to be glyphosate-tolerant. Using this GMO technology, farmers were able to do more no-till farming, and simplified weed control, thus saving time and money. From about 50% of the Brazilian soybean crop in 2005, GMO soybean (glyphosate-resistant) has increased to 97%.

This enabled soybean to become the main crop in Brazil, both in scale and in value.

The country is the world’s second biggest grower, producing nearly one third of the global crop, and on course to pass out the United States as the No 1 grower in the coming decade.

Technological efficiency for production in tropical lands, availability of arable lands, and entrepreneurial farmers, have helped Brazil become the largest soybean supplier to China, delivering 57% of the imported soybean China needs for its vast livestock operations, to feed its increasingly prosperous 1.4 billion citizens

Therefore, a lot of people around the world were depending on the recent legal battle after a Brazilian judge determined at the beginning of August that Anvisa (the Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency) had to suspend registry of all products containing glyphosate before September 3, and finalise a re-evaluation of toxicity by December 31.

The injunction was overturned earlier this month, because of the importance of glyphosate in Brazil’s agriculture, and the timing of the injunction just before Brazilian farmers start planting the 2018/19 crop. If a follow-up court appeal rules out glyphosate again, farmers will have to find substitute herbicides, likely to increase their expenditure on herbicides by at least 80%, or the equivalent of €26 plus per hectare.

Most of the soybean acreage expansion expected this year would take place on underused pasturelands, but higher costs without glyphosate may make this unfeasible. And Rabobank analysts say the scenario of farmers being unable to use glyphosate, and unable to find enough substitute products, cannot be ignored. As glyphosate replaced the substitutes in recent decades, their production and stocks level were rundown.

This means that the glyphosate ban could cause unpredictable losses in soybean yields and in the Brazilian crop size, with reverberations across the world — such as the possibility of China going hungry. That’s why any measure to limit use of crop protection has to consider the ability of farmers to find substitute products, said Rabobank experts.

Brazil recently banned the paraquat herbicide, banned in the EU since 2007. But the Brazil ban won’t enter into force until 2020, following a three-year transition period. An even longer transition period would be needed to allow Brazilian — and global — transition to a glyphosate herbicide ban.

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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land

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