The UN Calls The Bluff on Pesticides’ Industry
I am relieved and yet I find myself furious...ly typing away as I repeat what ecologists and sustainable agriculture experts have been trying to say for a very very long time. And what has been echoed in a recent report1 by Hilal Elver, UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, that in essence the pesticides industry has been fear mongering and repeatedly lying to get us to believe that pesticides are necessary to feed a growing population.
Au contraire, in the long run, the use of these agrochemicals undermines the “rights to adequate food and health for present and future generations.”, which essentially is the result of decreased soil biodiversity, that over time negatively impacts yields and ultimately comes in the way of food security itself. This approach makes it a human rights violation, in fact!
The report goes on to say, “Hazardous pesticides impose substantial costs on Governments and have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole, implicating a number of human rights, putting certain groups at elevated risk of rights abuses.”
With respect to human health, it highlights the various groups affected by the use of pesticides from farmers, indigenous groups to susceptible groups – children and mothers, who are consumers from across the spectrum exposed to different levels of the chemicals. But more importantly, it clearly suggests that food production using pesticides has “come at the expense of human health and the environment.” And that it has not eliminated hunger globally.
On the environment front, the adverse implications were first brought to light by Rachel Carson with DDT in her well-known book Silent Spring2, and evidence ever since has only mounted. Evidences ranging from runoff, to direct impact on non-target species such as bees, which are estimated to be responsible for over 70 percent of the food production, to pesticides persisting in the environment - triggering off a domino effect on entire ecosystems decades after its use has been withdrawn.
The report has referred to three cases in India, the Kasargod3, Bhopal4 and Bihar5 tragedies, which should have been a case in point and pushed the Indian Government to take firm steps on the use of pesticides but haven’t. It also indicated that a number of pesticides banned in at least one part of the world continues to be manufactured in another part of the world, which makes it interesting in the current Indian context given that the government has recently passed an order to ban 18 pesticides. This order comes as a result of the recommendations of the Anupam Verma Committee, which was set up in 2013 to review for consideration 66 pesticides for banning6,7. The order is not only inadequate in terms of the extent of ban proposed, but also does not explain adequately why the other pesticides, which have been banned in other parts of the world, have not been included in this order. Perhaps, the UN report serves as a good reminder to review the list.
The report also makes it fairly clear that whilst GMOs claim to reduce the use of pesticides, they actually act as insecticides themselves given that they are designed to produce certain agrochemicals. Over a period of time, pests build up resistance and pesticides use in fact increases. It has also highlighted the specific concerns with herbicide tolerant crops, which are notorious for high dependence on herbicides, making GMOs a clear false solution.
As a way forward, it has not only proposed international binding regulations on the use of pesticides, but also at a more day to day level, proposed good labelling and protective laws. But most importantly and fundamentally, the report has questioned the very need for pesticides altogether. Whilst we need to clearly do away with pesticides and take long strides in that direction, the FAO report has proposed an agro-ecology based approach as the way forward. Also a very good example of adopting such a holistic approach is Greenpeace India’s Kedia model in Bihar.
In the words of the Director General of FAO, “we have reached a turning point in agriculture. Today's dominant agricultural model is highly problematic, not only because of the damage inflicted by pesticides, but also due to their effects on climate change, loss of biodiversity and their inability to ensure food sovereignty. These issues are intimately interlinked and must be addressed together to ensure that the right to food is achieved to its full potential.” “Political will is needed to re-evaluate and challenge the vested interests, incentives and power relations that keep industrial agrochemical-dependent farming in place.”
Shivani Shah is a Senior Campaigner with Greenpeace India
1. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/017/85/PDF/G1701785.pdf?OpenElement