Risks in new pesticide regulations

Promoting greater accountability in the science used for regulatory purposes is a necessary step if new pesticide regulations are to effectively balance the many different values and interests that are at stake.

Public Policy
Péricles Gonçalves Filho

After 24 years of debate, Brazil’s Congress approved Bill 1,459 of 2022 to define a new regulatory framework for pesticides. The text sought to accommodate the interests of environmentalists, agribusiness and industry. When he signed the bill into law, giving rise to Law 14,785 of 2023, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva vetoed several articles formulated by parliamentarians, especially displeasing industrialists and the agribusiness caucus.

There are a number of controversial issues surrounding the law and President Lula’s vetoes. Among all these issues, I consider the most serious problem to be the lack of social accountability that the law imposes on the process of building the scientific knowledge used to analyze risks related to pesticides. This is a topic that is not usually addressed in the specialized literature on regulation, even though it has major consequences for state intervention.

Science has considerable rhetorical appeal in decision making. There is a growing demand for political and regulatory decisions to be based on “sound science,” which would be enough to give authority and credibility to the risk assessment activity carried out by the state. In this context, scientists and experts working for regulatory bodies take on a role of recognized importance in society. Without them, it would not be possible to identify and measure the risks that products, substances and activities pose to the environment and health.

The importance attributed to science has granted it a space to act free from external influences. Law 14,785 of 2023 embodies this ideal of independent science by defining that the risk analysis process consists of three perfectly discernible phases: risk assessment, which corresponds to the scientific characterization of risks; risk communication, which means the transmission of information regarding risks; and finally risk management, in which various factors are taken into account in order to select regulatory options for the protection of health and the environment, in consultation with stakeholders.

Separating science (risk assessment) and social participation (risk management) into different categories of the regulatory process implies excluding stakeholders from the process of building the scientific knowledge needed to assess the risks related to pesticides from the outset.

This approach has significant negative effects on state intervention regarding these risks. This starts with the choice of science to be employed in the regulation of such products. In fact, science plays an instrumental role in the regulatory process, as it is used to answer the questions posed by policymakers and regulators. The choice of the “right science” therefore depends on the correct formulation of regulatory problems. In this context, social participation helps the public authorities formulate the right questions for science. Without social participation, science may end up offering answers to problems that are not at the heart of stakeholders’ concerns. This has the potential to generate mistrust in the work done by scientists and public authorities, a lack of compliance with policies, poor regulatory solutions and inefficient resource allocation.

The late social participation provided for by the law – that is, only in the risk management stage – means that stakeholders are only consulted after the problem has been framed, after scientific knowledge has been applied and, perhaps, after the regulator has drawn up a proposed regulatory solution. This makes the regulator’s experts more resistant to any changes to the work already done. On the other hand, stakeholders may feel discouraged from contributing to a regulatory process in which they have not had the opportunity to participate since its inception.

Despite the significant progress made in Brazilian regulatory policy in recent years, opening up regulation more to society and consequently providing greater coordination between regulatory specialists and stakeholders, there is still a deficit in terms of social participation in the early stages of the regulatory process. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has also identified this problem in most of its member countries. This contributes to perpetuating the idea that risk assessment, traditionally positioned in the initial phase of the regulatory process, should be carried out free from external influences.

The perspectives of stakeholders do not represent mere irrational fears. Non-specialized knowledge offers insights regarding aspects of the local situation, which are often neglected in risk analysis models. Risks have a multidimensional nature, encompassing not only scientific elements, but also ethical, economic, social and cultural ones. In order to assess them, it is necessary to structure processes that are permeable to this complex reality. Promoting greater accountability in the science used for regulatory purposes is a necessary step if new pesticide regulations are to effectively balance the many different values and interests that are at stake.

*As opiniões expressas neste artigo são de responsabilidade exclusiva do(s) autor(es), não refletindo necessariamente a posição institucional da FGV.


  • Péricles Gonçalves Filho

    Péricles Gonçalves Filho is a research professor at the FGV Rio de Janeiro Law School, where he also acts as institutional project coordinator. He has a master’s degree from the school and is currently doing a doctorate in regulatory law there. He is a former research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School (2022-2023) and a visiting researcher at the University of California, Irvine (2018).

Artigos relacionados

Últimos artigos

Esse site usa cookies

Nosso website coleta informações do seu dispositivo e da sua navegação e utiliza tecnologias como cookies para armazená-las e permitir funcionalidades como: melhorar o funcionamento técnico das páginas, mensurar a audiência do website e oferecer produtos e serviços relevantes por meio de anúncios personalizados. Para mais informações, acesse o nosso Aviso de Cookies e o nosso Aviso de Privacidade.