By Lisandra Paraguassu
BRASILIA, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Brazil's Agriculture Ministry will allow for agrochemicals awaiting regulatory approval to receive licenses automatically, potentially allowing new pesticides to reach market faster, according to new rules published on Thursday.
If the ministry fails to review applications for new chemicals to be licensed within 60 days, the products will automatically be approved, according to the rules published in the government gazette. The rules go into effect on April 1, it said.
The products will still need to receive separate approvals by the Health and Environment Ministries before going on the market.
Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias has complained that the licensing process for new agrochemicals in Brazil is too slow, saying in some cases it means older more dangerous chemicals are used longer while newer safer products await approval.
But activists say that the ministry's moves to accelerate approvals since the government of President Jair Bolsonaro came into office last year are worrying signs for the environment and public health.
"A ministry that has not expanded its capacity for analysts, the number of analysts or laboratories, how can it reduce the time frame for analysis?" said Leonardo Melgarejo, a representative for sustainable agriculture advocacy group Brazilian Association of Agroecology for the Southern Region.
The Agriculture Ministry's policy shift follows on a change by the federal agency Anvisa under the Health Ministry to now only evaluate chemicals on the risk of causing death rather than other factors.
The change has led to many products previously considered extremely toxic to be reclassified as moderately or slightly toxic.
Bolsonaro won the presidency with overwhelming support from farmers and has sought to implement policies friendly to his base.
Congress is also considering a bill that would concentrate power over agrochemicals in the hands of the Agriculture Ministry over other ministries by giving it sole veto power over licenses for new products. (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; writing by Jake Spring; editing by Grant McCool)