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Rebelling Against Massive Use of Pesticides, Brazilians Shift to Organic Foods

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page and our All About Organics page.

SANTA MARIA, Brazil - Every Saturday morning, organic food traders from Santa Maria de Jetiba, a Pomeranian settlement on the mountains of Espirito Santo State, in southeastern Brazil, set up their stalls under a bridge in the beach district. It is Praia da Costa, in Vila Velha, one of the cities that make up the metropolitan region of the capital Vitoria, and they are selling organic products to a loyal clientele who are lucky enough to have the foods brought to their doorstep at a price that's competitive with non-organic items sold at the supermarket.

Selling organic produce is more than a business choice for these Pomeranians: it is, rather, a health-preservation measure. This ethnic group, which emigrated in the 1840s from a Polish region that used to belong to Germany, chose Santa Maria as one of its mountain settlements. They preserved a dialect that is no longer spoken in Europe and lived in relative isolation for over a century.

Then, some years ago, a high suicide rate in the community called the attention of researchers, who established a link between the deaths and the high use of pesticides in the region - many of which also caused infertility and skin cancer. In response, an organic food movement was born as a local organic certification scheme, called Chao Vivo, in 1999 began stimulating a shift toward organic farming.

One of the reasons that many concerned Brazilians are switching to organic is that the country is also the biggest user of pesticides per capita in the world, an unfortunate distinction Brazil has held since 2008. The situation inspired documentary maker Silvio Tendler to produce O Veneno Esta Na Mesa (Poison is On the Table), a film that reveals, among other things, the alarming statistic that Brazil uses 5.1 kilos (11.2 lb) of pesticide per person per year.

In the United States, the equivalent figure is 4.5 pounds per person, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And besides the amount of pesticides, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that chemicals which have been banned in most other countries get dumped in Brazil due to lax legislation and intense lobbying from chemical companies.  


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