Dear Friends and Colleagues
UN report: Pesticides detrimental to the rights to food and health, agroecology needed instead
A report by the UN's Special Rapporteur on the right to food being presented to the Human Rights Council this week states that "Pesticides, which have been aggressively promoted, are a global human rights concern, and their use can have very detrimental consequences on the enjoyment of the right to food" and also the right to health.
The report is severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”. Industry's claim that pesticides are necessary to feed the world "....is a myth,” says Hilal Elver, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food, “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger.”
The report concludes that today’s dominant agricultural model is highly problematic, not only because of damage inflicted by pesticides, but also their effects on climate change, loss of biodiversity and inability to ensure food sovereignty. The solution identified is a holistic approach to the right to adequate food that includes phasing out dangerous pesticides, moving away from industrial agriculture, and enforcing an effective regulatory framework grounded on a human rights approach, coupled with a transition towards sustainable agricultural practices that take into account the challenges of resource scarcity and climate change.
Among the recommendations made are for the international community to work on a comprehensive, binding treaty to regulate hazardous pesticides throughout their life cycle, taking into account human rights principles, and which promotes agroecology. Meanwhile, States should develop comprehensive national action plans to phase out hazardous pesticides and support alternatives; as well as to establish systems to enable various national agencies to address the adverse impacts of pesticides and to mitigate risks related to their misuse and overuse.
We reproduce below the Introduction, Conclusions and Recommendations of the report (Item 1) as well as a related press article (Item 2).
With best wishes,
Third World Network
REPORT OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE RIGHT TO FOOD (EXCERPTS ONLY)
United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council,
1. The present report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food was written in collaboration with the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. Pesticides, which have been aggressively promoted, are a global human rights concern, and their use can have very detrimental consequences on the enjoyment of the right to food. Defined as any substance or mixture of substances of chemical and biological ingredients intended to repel, destroy or control any pest or regulate plant growth, pesticides are responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year, 99 per cent of which occur in developing countries, where health, safety and environmental regulations are weaker and less strictly applied. While records on global pesticide use are incomplete, it is generally agreed that application rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades.
2. Despite the harms associated with excessive and unsafe pesticide practices, it is commonly argued that intensive industrial agriculture, which is heavily reliant on pesticide inputs, is necessary to increase yields to feed a growing world population, particularly in the light of negative climate change impacts and global scarcity of farmlands. Indeed, over the past 50 years, the global population has more than doubled, while available arable land has only increased by about 10 per cent. Evolving technology in pesticide manufacture, among other agricultural innovations, has certainly helped to keep agricultural production apace of unprecedented jumps in food demand. However, this has come at the expense of 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.
3. Pesticides cause an array of harms. Runoff from treated 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, thereby destabilizing the ecosystem. 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.
4. While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions, or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agroindustry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics remain unchallenged.
5. Exposure to pesticides can have severe impacts on the enjoyment of human rights, in particular the right to adequate food, as well as the right to health. The right to food obligates States to implement protective measures and food safety requirements to ensure that food is safe, free from pesticides and qualitatively adequate. Furthermore, human rights standards require States to protect vulnerable groups, such as farm workers and agricultural communities, children and pregnant women from the impacts of pesticides.
6. Although certain multinational treaties and non-binding initiatives offer some limited protections, a comprehensive treaty that regulates highly hazardous pesticides does not exist, leaving a critical gap in the human rights protection framework.
7. Without or with minimal use of toxic chemicals, it is possible to produce healthier, nutrient-rich food, with higher yields in the longer term, without polluting and exhausting environmental resources. The solution requires a holistic approach to the right to adequate food that includes phasing out dangerous pesticides and enforcing an effective regulatory framework grounded on a human rights approach, coupled with a transition towards sustainable agricultural practices that take into account the challenges of resource scarcity and climate change.
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
101. While the present report has illustrated that there is no shortage of international and national legislation, as well as non-binding guidelines, such instruments are failing to protect humans and the environment from hazardous pesticides. These instruments suffer from implementation, enforcement and coverage gaps, and generally fail to effectively apply the precautionary principle or meaningfully alter many business practices. Existing instruments are particularly ineffective in addressing the cross-border nature of the global pesticide market, as proven by the widespread and often legally permitted practices of exporting banned highly hazardous pesticides to third countries. These gaps and inadequacies should be confronted on the basis of human rights mechanisms.
102. International human rights law sets forth comprehensive State obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. In particular, the rights to adequate food and to health provide clear protections for all people against excessive or inappropriate use of pesticides. Taking a human rights approach to pesticides guarantees the principles of universality and non-discrimination, under which human rights are guaranteed for all persons, including vulnerable groups, who disproportionately feel the burden of hazardous pesticides.
103. Implementing the right to adequate food and health requires proactive measures to eliminate harmful pesticides. Corporations have the responsibility to ensure that the chemicals they produce and sell do not pose threats to these rights. There continues to be a general lack of awareness of the dangers posed by certain pesticides, a condition exacerbated by industry efforts to downplay the harm being done as well as complacent Governments that often make misleading assertions that existing legislation and regulatory frameworks provide sufficient protection.
104. While efforts to ban and appropriately regulate the use of pesticides are a necessary step in the right direction, the most effective, long-term method to reduce exposure to these toxic chemicals is to move away from industrial agriculture.
105. 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 damage inflicted by pesticides, but also their effects on climate change, loss of biodiversity and 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. Efforts to tackle hazardous pesticides will only be successful if they address the ecological, economic and social factors that are embedded in agricultural policies, as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals. Political will is needed to re-evaluate and challenge the vested interests, incentives and power relations that keep industrial agrochemical-dependent farming in place. Agricultural policies, trade systems and corporate influence over public policy must all be challenged if we are to move away from pesticide-reliant industrial food systems.
106. The international community must work on a comprehensive, binding treaty to regulate hazardous pesticides throughout their life cycle, taking into account human rights principles. Such an instrument should:
(a) Aim to remove existing double standards among countries that are particularly detrimental to countries with weaker regulatory systems;
(b) Generate policies to reduce pesticide use worldwide and develop a framework for the banning and phasing-out of highly hazardous pesticides;
(c) Promote agroecology;
(d) Place strict liability on pesticide producers.
107. States should:
(a) Develop comprehensive national action plans that include incentives to support alternatives to hazardous pesticides, as well as initiate binding and measurable reduction targets with time limits;
(b) Establish systems to enable various national agencies responsible for agriculture, public health and the environment to cooperate efficiently to address the adverse impact of pesticides and to mitigate risks related to their misuse and overuse;
(c) Establish impartial and independent risk-assessment and registration processes for pesticides, with full disclosure requirements from the producer. Such processes must be based on the precautionary principle, taking into account the hazardous effects of pesticide products on human health and the environment;
(d) Consider non-chemical alternatives first, and only allow chemicals to be registered where need can be demonstrated;
(e) Enact safety measures to ensure adequate protections for pregnant women, children and other groups who are particularly susceptible to pesticide exposure;
(f) Fund comprehensive scientific studies on the potential health effects of pesticides, including exposure to a mixture of chemicals as well as multiple exposures over time;
(g) Guarantee rigorous and regular analysis of food and beverages to determine levels of hazardous residues, including in infant formula and follow-on foods, and make such information accessible to the public;
(h) Closely monitor agricultural pesticide use and storage to minimize risks and ensure that only those with the requisite training are permitted to apply such products, and that they do so according to instructions and using appropriate protective equipment;
(i) Create buffer zones around plantations and farms until pesticides are phased out, to reduce pesticide exposure risk;
(j) Organize training programmes for farmers to raise awareness of the harmful effects of hazardous pesticides and of alternative methods;
(k) Take necessary measures to safeguard the public’s right to information, including enforcing requirements to indicate the type of pesticides used and level of residues on the labels of food and drink products;
(l) Regulate corporations to respect human rights and avoid environmental damage during the entire life cycle of pesticides;
(m) Impose penalties on companies that fabricate evidence and disseminate misinformation on the health and environmental risks of their products;
(n) Monitor corporations to ensure that labelling, safety precautions and training standards are respected;
(o) Encourage farmers to adopt agroecological practices to enhance biodiversity and naturally suppress pests, and to adopt measures such as crop rotation, soil fertility management and crop selection appropriate for local conditions;
(p) Provide incentives for organically produced food through subsidies and financial and technical assistance, as well as by using public procurement;
(q) Encourage the pesticide industry to develop alternative pest management approaches;
(r) Eliminate pesticide subsidies and instead initiate pesticide taxes, import tariffs and pesticide-use fees.
108. Civil society should inform the general public about adverse impact of pesticides on human health and environmental damage, as well as organizing training programmes on agroecology.
UN EXPERTS DENOUNCE 'MYTH' PESTICIDES ARE NECESSARY TO FEED THE WORLD
Report warns of catastrophic consequences and blames manufacturers for ‘systematic denial of harms’ and ‘aggressive, unethical marketing tactics’
The idea that pesticides are essential to feed a fast-growing global population is a myth, according to UN food and pollution experts.
A new report, being presented to the UN human rights council on Wednesday, is severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.
The report says pesticides have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole”, including an estimated 200,000 deaths a year from acute poisoning. Its authors said: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production.”
The world’s population is set to grow from 7 billion today to 9 billion in 2050. The pesticide industry argue that their products – a market worth about $50bn (£41bn) a year and growing – are vital in protecting crops and ensuring sufficient food supplies.
“It is a myth,” said Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food. “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
Elver said many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not the food needed by the world’s hungry people: “The corporations are not dealing with world hunger, they are dealing with more agricultural activity on large scales.”
The new report, which is co-authored by Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics, said: “While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions, or harm to the ecosystem, presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agroindustry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.”
Elver, who visited the Philippines, Paraguay, Morocco and Poland as part of producing the report, said: “The power of the corporations over governments and over the scientific community is extremely important. If you want to deal with pesticides, you have to deal with the companies – that is why [we use] these harsh words. They will say, of course, it is not true, but also out there is the testimony of the people.”
She said some developed countries did have “very strong” regulations for pesticides, such as the EU, which she said based their rules on the “precautionary principle”. The EU banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which harm bees, on flowering crops in 2013, a move strongly opposed by the industry. But she noted that others, such as the US, did not use the precautionary principle.
Elver also said that while consumers in developed countries are usually better protected from pesticides, farms workers often are not. In the US, she, said, 90% of farm workers were undocumented and their consequent lack of legal protections and health insurance put them at risk from pesticide use.
“The claim that it is a myth that farmers need pesticides to meet the challenge of feeding 7 billion people simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” said a spokesman for the Crop Protection Association, which represents pesticide manufacturers in the UK. “The UN FAO is clear on this – without crop protection tools, farmers could lose as much as 80% of their harvests to damaging insects, weeds and plant disease.”
“The plant science industry strongly agrees with the UN special rapporteurs that the right to food must extend to every global citizen, and that all citizens have a right to food that has been produced in a way that is safe for human health and for the environment,” said the spokesman. “Pesticides play a key role in ensuring we have access to a healthy, safe, affordable and reliable food supply.”
The report found that just 35% of developing countries had a regulatory regime for pesticides and even then enforcement was problematic. It also found examples of pesticides banned from use in one country still being produced there for export.
It recommended a move towards a global treaty to govern the use of pesticides and a move to sustainable practices including natural methods of suppressing pests and crop rotation, as well as incentivising organically produced food.
The report said: “Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.” It also highlighted the risk to children from pesticide contamination of food, citing 23 deaths in India in 2013 and 39 in China in 2014. Furthermore, the report said, recent Chinese government studies indicated that pesticide contamination meant farming could not continue on about 20% of arable land.
“The industry frequently uses the term ‘intentional misuse’ to shift the blame on to the user for the avoidable impacts of hazardous pesticides,” the report said. “Yet clearly, the responsibility for protecting users and others throughout the pesticide life cycle and throughout the retail chain lies with the pesticide manufacturer.”