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Brazil authorities crack down on illegal pesticides trade

FILE PHOTO: A side-view mirror of a tractor shows herbicide being sprayed in a field of soybeans, near Brasilia

By Ana Mano

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - An agency tasked with patrolling federal roads in Brazil has reported a surge in volumes of illegal pesticides seized from criminals in the last eight years, including a record 358 metric tons apprehended in 2022 when the country harvested close to 300 million tons of grains.

According to information sent to Reuters by the federal highway police (PRF), herbicide Paraqua t, banned in 2021, and insecticides Thiamethoxam and Emamectin Benzoate are among chemicals most commonly seized by authorities.

The parallel trade in pesticides, which would represent about 20% of the entire Brazilian market, according to a lobby group, highlights supply chain risks faced by global grain traders in farm powerhouse Brazil.

Criminals smuggle, steal and adulterate products, enforcement agencies say. And because adulterated pesticides are produced from insecticides, herbicides and fungicides "of a lesser commercial value," their application can spoil crops, the PRF said.

Increasingly, criminals are using structures involving front companies that arrange false invoices, produce fake labels, smuggle and move the illegal products.

The parallel market also represents a human health scare.

For example, authorities tested batches of seized insecticide Thiamethoxam that showed a 95% concentration of the active ingredient, whereas the highest concentration allowed in Brazil is 50%, the PRF said.

Brazil's only approved Emamectin Benzoate insecticide, used to control larvae and caterpillars, has a 50 gram per kilogram concentration of the active ingredient in its composition. But the same smuggled product can have concentrations ranging from 100 to 300 grams per kilogram, PRF's test data showed.

Brazil imports chemicals used to protect crops from nations, including China and India, accounting for an estimated 20% of global pesticide use.

The country is a key market for companies like Syngenta, Basf and Bayer.

Last year, the industry welcomed a new law setting harsher penalties for those producing, storing or shipping illegal pesticides in Brazil.

The new law was signed as seizures of illegal pesticides rose threefold in eight years, to 195.7 tons in 2023, according to PRF data.

(Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Aurora Ellis)