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UN: 200,000 die each year from pesticide poisoning

UN: 200,000 die each year from pesticide poisoning

Report says pesticides are having 'catastrophic impacts' on human health and environment while failing to end hunger.

Farmers are among those affected most by pesticide poisoning [Getty Images]

An average of about 200,000 people die from the toxic exposure of pesticides per year across the world, the United Nations says, calling for tougher global regulation of substances meant to control pests or weeds for plant cultivation.

The UN report – published on January 24 and which is being presented to the UN human rights council on Wednesday – said although pesticide use has been correlated with a rise in food production, it has had "catastrophic impacts" on human health and the environment.

"Equally, increased food production has not succeeded in eliminating hunger worldwide. Reliance on hazardous pesticides is a short-term solution that undermines the rights to adequate food and health for present and future generations," the report said.

It lists an array of serious illnesses and health issues with suspected links to pesticides, including cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, hormone disruption, birth defects, sterility, and neurological effects.

"In some countries, pesticide poisoning even exceeds fatalities from infectious diseases," it said.

The report blamed "systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry" for "the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals".

In an email statement sent to Al Jazeera in response to questions about the UN report, the United Kingdom's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs cited an unnamed government spokesperson as saying there is not enough proof to show that pesticides are harmful.

"The government makes decisions on pesticides based on science and we are committed to ensuring pesticides are available only when the scientific evidence shows they do not pose unacceptable risks to people and the environment," it said.

According to the UN report, people can be exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides in a wide variety of ways, ranging from farmers who use it on their crops to babies drinking their mother's contaminated breast milk.

"Few people are untouched by pesticide exposure. They may be exposed through food, water, air, or direct contact with pesticides or residues," it said.

The UN report also highlighted profound effects on the environment.

"Pesticides sprayed on crops frequently pollute the surrounding ecosystem and beyond, with unpredictable ecological consequences. Furthermore, reductions in pest populations upset the complex balance between predator and prey species in the food chain.

"Pesticides can also decrease biodiversity of soils and contribute to nitrogen fixation, which can lead to large declines in crop yields, posing problems for food security."

Jay Feldman, executive director of the Washington DC-based non-profit environmental organisation Beyond Pesticides, told Al Jazeera the $ 43bn organic food industry in the US is the best example of how the world does not need to rely on pesticides.

"There are non-toxic approaches that could meet food production goals, fight starvation, and not contaminate the environment," said Feldman.

He highlighted how developing countries are much more susceptible to harmful impacts of pesticides because of a lack of regulation.

"Developing countries lack any infrastructure to ensure those handling the chemicals are using them to avoid causing dangerous levels of exposure or contamination.

"We don't export nuclear technology to countries that we don't trust would use it properly … so we should not be exporting hazardous materials or technologies to countries that we know do not have the proper system to ensure protection of public health and the environment."

He also explained why organic farming is much more cost-effective and productive for farmers in developing countries.

"Pesticides are a very expensive technology. When we are talking about subsistence agriculture, relying on pesticides becomes an economic burden for farmers largely due to growing weed and pest resistance that requires farmers to keep purchasing stronger pesticides.

"However, with organic practices, we rely on natural ecosystem services which cycle nutrients in the soil naturally, making costly synthetic fertilizers unnecessary.

"And if we want to feed the world, the attention to soil biology, organic matter in soil, and natural nutrient recycling, are the only sustainable and cost-effective approaches."


Paul Towers, a spokesman for Pesticide Action Network North America, an environmental group, told Al Jazeera about a growing movement towards "agroecology".

"Agroecology is the science behind sustainable agriculture, from the ground up. It encourages democratic, decentralised decision-making by farmers and incorporates practical, low-cost and ecology-based technologies for productive farming.

"Not only do agroecological farming methods strengthen ecological and economic resilience in the face of today's climate, water and energy crises, they offer a path forward for growing food to feed us all."

OP: The following article is older (November 2016) but is really interesting as it discusses the effects of pesticides all over the world, as well as the way in which the US government has allowed US companies which produce pesticides to export them once they have been banned in the US.
Circle of Poison

A look at the powerful pesticide industry, its effect on the developing world and how small farmers are fighting back.

“What I have found in my 25 years of working with biodiversity, working to build ecological agriculture systems, is that chemical-free, poison-free agriculture systems, which intensify ecological processes, which intensify biodiversity, produce more food per acre and more nutrition per acre: that's the way we must go.”

Vandana Shiva, activist and author of Poison in our Food

In recent decades, harmful pesticides spread around the world's less developed nations have caused immeasurable damage to populations and ecosystems.

In 2013, data from the US Environmental Protection Agency showed that pesticides, which are banned, restricted or unregistered in the United States, were manufactured in 23 states for export to other countries.

Used for growing coffee, fruit, tea and other products, these pesticides are likely to make their way back to the US as residue on imported food.

Only about 2 percent of imported produce is inspected by the Food and Drug Administration. It is a circle of poison.

"The environment doesn't know any boundaries. You know, dust and pollution from China settles in the US … nuclear radiation from Chernobyl went over Iceland. What goes up into the environment goes around the world," says David Weir, a journalist and co-author of Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World.

The documentary Circle of Poison examines how pesticides proliferated after World War II, the legal loopholes which allow the manufacture of insecticides – deemed unsafe for the American people – for export to developing countries, and the devastation caused by these toxic substances.

"Anything that was banned or heavily regulated or restricted or unregistered in the US was being allowed by the US government and in fact encouraged to be sent overseas, almost as compensation for the companies for losing the US market," says Weir, describing how the US started exporting dangerous pesticides.

The documentary takes us to Kasaragod, a town in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where decades of spraying the pesticide endosulfan on cashew farms have caused deformities in hundreds of children. Many countries have banned this dangerous insecticide. In 2010, the US took action to ban the 60-year-old substance. It is still legal to manufacture it in the US, but only for export.

We meet children with pesticide-related illnesses and speak to activists with the environmental activism group Thanal, which raises awareness about these health problems and fights for access to safe food.

"Pesticides are pushed on the grounds that it's a very modern way to do farming. I remember years ago reading a book that India is underdeveloped because it doesn't use pesticides,"  says the pioneering Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva.

"We've made poisons the measure of progress."

In Yaqui River Valley in Mexico, we see how pesticides have caused illnesses in the children born to women working in the fields. In the Argentinian city of Ituzaingo, where the use of agrochemicals on soy crops has increased exponentially over the years, cancer rates are reportedly 41 times the national average. But local activists are fighting back. The group Mothers of Ituzaingo succeeded in getting a local ban on aerial pesticide being sprayed within 2,500 metres of homes.

The US hasn't been immune to pesticide exposure. In the state of Louisiana, residents living along a corridor of industrial facilities where pesticides for export are manufactured have suffered from chronic exposure to chemicals, which has led to a high incidence of cancer.

The Circle of Poison delves into the political history of pesticides in the US and the machinations of big industry.

Today, at least 75 percent of the global pesticide trade is controlled by six large agrochemical companies – Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, Syngenta, Du Pont and BASF. These corporations form powerful lobby groups which drive and shape legislation that regulates farming and food production. This influence has protected the industry, particularly in the US.

In September 2016, US seed giant Monsanto agreed to a takeover by German crop chemical maker and pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer in a $ 66bn deal – the biggest corporate deal of this year. If approved by regulators, this will spawn the largest seeds and pesticides company in the world.

But people are fighting back by creating alternatives to the agrochemical industrial complex.

Small farmers around the world are turning to sustainable methods of agriculture after witnessing the devastation caused by pesticide use. These range from organic farm co-ops in Mexico and Argentina to a growing farmers' market movement in India, but one of the most striking battles against pesticides is being fought by the Himalayan nation of Bhutan. It has set itself the challenge of becoming the first country in the world with a wholly organic agricultural system.

In the US, a business structure for the organic farming industry is emerging with profitable results.

"What I thought might happen, hoped might happen and, it turned out, did happen, was the organic farm bill. People started paying a lot more attention. And that hobby type thing that the detractors called it has now turned into a $ 30bn-a-year business in the United States, about the only agriculture business that's growing. But also, more importantly, people started asking questions," says Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy.

Circle of Poison spans the US, India, Argentina, Mexico and Bhutan, with a wide range of interviews with activists in these countries, the people affected by crop-spraying, and experts and  key figures who have led the fight againt pesticides, including former US President Jimmy Carter, Patrick Leahy, Noam Chomsky and Vandana Shiva. The documentary is an important look at how dangerous pesticides have been imposed on developing countries and how people are now fighting back.

(OP: You can see a trailer for or buy the movie here.)

Additional links and related topics:
(1) The EPA just recently decided not to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos, despite evidence suggesting it has an effect on children's intellectual development (i.e. IQ and such).
-EPA decides not to ban a pesticide, despite its own evidence of risk (from two days ago). (The study mentioned in the article is here.)
-Common pesticide 'disturbs' the brains of children (at Scientific American). (The study mentioned in this article is here.)
-EPA chief, rejecting agency's science, chooses not to ban insecticide (at the New York Times).

(2) A Swiss pesticide giant recently claimed that an influential study showed that farmers who used the weed killer paraquat were less likely to develop Parkinson's disease, when the study actually reported that those who used paraquat or another agent known as rotenone were actually two and a half times more likely to develop Parkinson's.
-Fact-checking a claim about a weed killer (at the New York Times).

(3) Colony collapse disorder (CCD) in bees: this has been linked to the use of a certain type of pesticides (i.e. neonicotinoid insecticides).
-Colony collapse disorder (definition, at Encyclopedia Britannica). "Colony collapse disorder (CCD), disorder affecting honeybee colonies that is characterized by sudden colony death, with a lack of healthy adult bees inside the hive. "
-What we know -and don't know- about honeybees and colony collapse disorder (at National Geographic).
-Neonic pesticide link to long-term bee decline (at the BBC). OP: So there have definitely been studies suggesting a link.
-Decline of bees poses potential risks to major crops, says UN (at The Guardian). "Populations of bees, butterflies and other species important for agricultural pollination are declining, posing potential risks to major world crops, a UN body on biodiversity said Friday".
-Bee declines driven by combined stress from parasites, pesticides, and lack of flowers (at the journal Science).

(4) Pesticides and human disease.
-Cancer health effects of pesticides (i.e. this is a systematic review of the literature).
-The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the WHO. It groups scientists from around the world in various fields to look at cancer risks. The monographs section lists the various monographs which provide a synthesis of the latest scientific evidence of cancer risk associated with all kinds of exposures. Many monographs deal with specific types of pesticides. (All exposures are classified according to the degree of evidence of carcinogenicity.)
-Pesticides and human chronic diseases: Evidences, mechanisms, and perspectives. (Not a systematic review, but can still be a place to start for those wanting to look at the scientific evidence or get an overview of it.)
-The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety on the health effects of pesticides (i.e. mostly deals with acute effects exposure).
-Pesticides (i.e. at the EPA/US Environmental Protection Agency).

OP: Yay capitalism. Ugh.

PS: Feel free to let me know of any tag suggestions, I wasn't really sure what to choose.

PPS: I would suggest viewing the huge second figure (i.e. 'The big 6 and the circle of poison) at the source, since lj's format seems to shrink it and make parts of it difficult to read.

Source: ONTD_Political

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