Article by the Coalition against BAYER-dangers
Brazil: Coffee Growing with Deadly Side Effects
The Leverkusen chemical trust Bayer is under the threat of criminal charges in Brazil for poisoning coffee growers. Environment protection organizations are alleging serious health damage and numerous deaths due to the BAYER poison BAYSISTON. The company is rejecting any responsibility.
"He died on the same day": Witnesses about BAYSISTON
I, Marly Avidel Vilete, living in Divino, testify as follows:
"On 8 December 1995 my husband Joao Jose Vilete (49) worked with BAYSISTON; I found him lying in the field. He did not have the strength to walk and was in a glow. He had a headache and was vomiting a lot; he had pain in his chest, no voice and held his stomach with his eyes shut. In the end he lost his balance completely. He died that same day from breathing paralysis. He is survived by a daughter."
I, Milton Pinto da Silva, living in Carolas, give testimony as follows:
"I had wounds all over my body and fever. I was in hospital for 8 days because of a lack of vision. The symptoms became evident after I had eaten maize which I had treated with BAYSISTON."
From the hospital files of the hospital Sao Vicente de Paulo in Manhuacu:
"Geraldo Ribeiro Camargo, 51 years old, died on 8 October 1997, four days after being admitted. He had contact with BAYSISTON." The hospital treats about 2 BAYSISTON contaminations each day.
The farm worker, Adelino Ferreira, died after he had dispensed BAYSISTON for 2 and a half days. The poison penetrated his skin and respiratory system. His widow with her 4 kids has no money for a gravestone.
Three year old Fabricio de Andrade was admitted to the hospital of Manhuacu only because he had passed a field which was being sprayed with BAYSISTON. His father reports: "The sun was scorching, and the smell of the drug hung in the air everywhere". The officiating physician points out that the fumes cause nausea, impaired vision and the shivers.
State Prosecutor Investigating BAYER
The State Prosecutor in Manhuacu in the State of Minas Gerais is investigating German BAYER AG (Ltd.), and a top manager is going to be personally indicted under criminal procedures. The background: The pesticide BAYSISTON, number 1 on the Brazilian market, is suspected to have poisoned more than 30 coffee growers, at least 12 of them fatally. Farm workers' organizations estimate the number of people with health damage to be several hundred. There are also tight safety regulations, e.g. the use of breathing devices and protective clothing, in Brazil for dealing with this extremely poisonous pesticide, the formula of which in Germany has not been permitted for 20 years. This equipment, however, is unaffordable for the poor farm laborers and, due to the tropical temperatures, it cannot be used anyway. In addition, many farm
workers are illiterate and therefore unable to read the instructions for the highly toxic substances. On top of all this, the omnipresent advertising of BAYSISTON camouflages the risks; many coffee growers even believe BAYSISTON to be a fertilizer which increases yields. The investigating State Prosecutor, Eduardo Nepomuceno, complains about the publicity which presents BAYSISTON as harmless and completely neglects potential risks.
According to the German TV magazine Report, which, on the initiative of the network Coalition against BAYER-dangers (CBG), inquired on the spot, the State Prosecutor is also investigating the corporation in a civil law-suit on counts of environmental damage. A BAYER spokesperson, however, denies all allegations because the corporation was "heavily engaged in informing users". Nonetheless it became known recently that the trust paid 70.000 US$ into a fund which was initiated by the State Prosecutor. The company somehow seems to realize that it did something wrong after all.
According to Nepomuceno, the company strives to avoid being sentenced at any cost and is trying to reach a compromise agreement.In the opinion of "plant conservation" expert Mathias Frost, who works for the German Company for Technological Cooperation (GTZ), BAYER is violating the behavior code of the Food and Agriculture Organization FAO for the sale of pesticides by selling BAYSISTON. According to the code, producers are not supposed to market pesticides, especially in tropical countries, that require costly protective equipment to handle. Frost is asking the company to withdraw the drug from the market "because in Brazil the use in accordance with instructions is not guaranteed".
BAYER AG replies that they are aware of cases of contamination, but they were not due to lack of information but to "inexpert use alone".
It appears cynical that the company shifts the liability for having been poisoned to the hurt people themselves, arguing that it was up to them to provide for effective protective clothing. The responsibility rests upon the producer, because there is no efficient protection against those poisons, even less so in poor countries.
Environmental organizations request the company to, after all, live up to its responsibility and stop the sale of extremely poisonous agrochemicals. Pesticide use only benefits producers like BAYER and unscrupulous plantation owners, while the health of the farm workers continues to be endangered. Any pesticides that are classified as extremely dangerous by the World Health Organisation (WHO) should be taken off the market immediately.
"Danger of Life"
Ruediger Hillmann, toxicologist at the University Hospital in Mainz,
"For people who spread the drug without protective clothing there is a severe health risk even up to endangering their lives. That means that contamination with such a substance normally leads to muscular spasm, muscular shivering, severely impaired consciousness and muscle paralysis up to a respiratory standstill - i.e. death. Handling such toxins implies you ought to be wearing a complete chemical protection suit, i.e. a suit which prevents the toxin from penetrating to your skin.
In addition, you should use a breathing device to avoid getting dust in your lungs."
BAYER on BAYSISTON: "Other reasons for diseases"
BAYER, on the day after the report in the German TV, sent a press bulletin to political "decision makers" and state monitoring agencies. BAYER had this to say: "BAYER vigorously rejects all allegations by the TV magazine Report (.) Were those statements correct BAYER, in accordance with its pledge of 'Responsible Care', would have taken drastic measure long ago. The fact is that BAYSISTON, as a standard drug in Brazilian coffee growing, is well known and appreciated for its good effects. According to the criteria of the Word Health Organization (WHO) the drug was classified as toxicity class II which means less poisonous. (.) BAYER, on the spot, started an intensive information and schooling campaign, using among others films, demonstrations and pictorials for illiterates. In addition, medics and toxicologists who were commissioned by BAYER, thoroughly investigated the cases of contamination which had been reported by physicians and hospitals. Apart from individual cases with light symptoms all the other alleged BAYSISTON contaminations could be traced back to other reasons. (.) We at BAYER treat each case of inexpert use of our drugs that becomes known very seriously indeed and examine the allegations immediately. The company has pledged to always followed the goals of the FAO codex with the utmost care and responsibility."
Uwe Friedrich of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN):
"This press release shows the company's bad conscience. The facts which were investigated by the TV magazine are not being invalidated. Instead, only the existing pledge is being pointed to violations which have been registered for years. They are the same arguments that were brought forward by the company against reports about misuse of the pesticide NEMACUR in banana plantations in Central America.
A simple lie is the statement classification of the pesticide in toxicity class II means less poisonous. In fact, classification as level II corresponds to rating as "hazardous" which constitutes a real danger, especially in tropical regions. The high esteem which BAYER claims results from wholesale advertising that simply ignores existing dangers and not from safe handling qualities. And even in case BAYER did wage information campaigns on the spot then they cannot have been very comprehensive. Neither the farm workers who were interviewed nor the State Prosecutor had previously known of them."
Itinerary for Minas Gerais
by André Schösser
After graduation I decided to go to Brazil for several months to join a project for street children. The janitor of this project took us along to his home village Espera Feliz over a weekend to let us meet his family. The village is located at high altitude in a mountainous area in the State Minas Gerais. It was the first time in Brazil that I came across seemingly intact nature. Since we were the first Germans in the village in a long time we were soon invited by the Mayor. There I was pulled out of my dreams very quickly, and we got to know the real situation of the region. "Do you know the company BAYER?" they asked us. We learned that BAYER has been selling a highly poisonous pesticide named BAYSISTON in Minas Gerais for several years. This pesticide enables higher yields, but we have had serious diseases and even deaths among coffee growers since it has been employed. Many people in the village are scared. The new "miracle" from Europe is increasingly being used with great success in more and more regions. But time and again they hear frightening news of serious diseases which often lead to death. People in the region blindly trust the more advanced technologies from Europe; they do not realize, however, that they are being totally exploited at the expense of their health. Insufficient information by BAYER meanwhile resulted in farmers using the pesticide to fertilize their maize and bean plants. Subsequently it directly gets into the nutritional chain with fatal consequences for the populace. Small groups in the areas concerned regularly have counter demonstrations - unfortunately with little success.
The people in Minas Gerais asked us for help and gave us the feeling that we were the last hope in their hopeless fight against BAYER. Through a telephone call that I made with BAYER in Germany I learned that the company is conscious of what is happening in the region.
A manager said BAYSISTON must be sprayed with a special machine only and not by hand. If this is not observed it is the farmers alone who must be blamed for it. We were also promised that a commissioner to be sent to Espera Feliz. Four months later no one had arrived yet. I was invited by a journalist of the TV magazine Report for a second trip to Brazil. The contact came about via Coalition AGAINST BAYER-DANGERS. The first date we had was at a State Prosecutor's in Manhuacu who has represented the coffee growers concerned for years. He granted us access to the files of actual trials which, as is widely known, is quite uncommon. Next we asked a farmer in the village Matipo how he uses the pesticide. He uses BAYSISTON in the old way without even the most modest piece of protective clothing and only with a little spoon. This coffee farmer confirmed to us that many of his friends work with BAYSISTON this way and that there is no problem at all to purchase BAYSISTON in the shops. We further learned that samples were taken near the city Simonese soil to examine the intensity of the pesticide contamination. There we met a doctor of soil science from Belo Horizonte. She showed us how seriously exposed the coffee growing areas are to erosion and that even if you dig in BAYSISTON 7 to 8 centimeters deep the heavy rain will wash the granulate out of the soil. Even by using special machines BAYSISTON filters through into the ground water and contaminates the nearby rivers.
In Simonese we met and interviewed several BAYSISTON victims:
To begin with there was the widow of a man who died from poisoning through BAYSISTON. He left her with 4 kids whom she now has to take care of herself. Another victim was a good friend of the deceased. Together they brought out the poison on the fields and he was contaminated too. He lay in a coma for 6 days and escaped death because he was younger and stronger than his friend. He still severely suffers from the consequences of the contamination even today. The third victim was charged with filling the necessary quantity of BAYSISTON the farm workers needed into tins. Since he did not wear any protective suits for this job he suffered serious burns on his arms, legs and especially on his belly. For a long time he had to fight symptoms of paralysis, and today still he has to take medicine against the unbearable pain. He has yet to receive a single penny in compensation from BAYER, although he and his lawyer have been fighting for it for 4 years. Each victim could give witness that the packages had hardly recognizable warnings and that the suppliers did not say a word about the dangers of the produce, but even boasted BAYSISTON could be used for fertilizing.
On the last day we tried to buy BAYSISTON on our own because, according to BAYER, this is supposed to be almost impossible.
You should actually only be able to obtain BAYSISTON by presenting a prescription and by assuring that you have a big enterprise. A friend,
a broadcasting moderator, helped us very much in this respect and before long he was sold a box of BAYSISTON without the slightest problem - with no hint whatsoever to possible dangers.
Coalition against BAYER-dangers demands:
- Ban of all dangerous pesticides
- Compensation of victims and their surviving relatives
- Conversion of agricultural production to ecological methods
- Establishment of a fund by BAYER and other producers for
the elimination of environmental damage