Monday, November 26, 2012

Mounting resistance to pesticide expansion

"PESTICIDES are like bombs being dropped in the food web creating enormous destruction," said Dr. K. L. Heong, an entomologist who once worked with the Laguna-based International Rice Research Institute.

In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the amount of pesticides marketed for argicultural use. In the European Union alone, more than 200,000 tonnes of pesticides (active ingredients) are used annually. Between 2005 and 2010, the total volume of global sales rose from US$ 31 billion to US$ 38 billion. The amount of pesticides used internationally has risen fifty-fold since 1950. China is now the country that both uses and produces the largest amounts of pesticides (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures)

Luckily there is mounting resistance to the pesticide expansion. Pesticides are not as essential as many people think, according to the  International Rice Research Institute (Irri). An Irri study on the effects of pesticides on rice productivity and health shows that farmers’ earnings from chemically-treated crops are often greatly reduced by the cost of treating pesticide-related health problems. "The value of the crops lost to pests is invariably lower than the expense of treating pesticide-caused ailments," Irri said in a statement. "When health costs are factored, the use of correct rice varieties and reliance on natural control by predators and parasites is the least expensive pest control strategy." (Sunstar 25 November).

In the UK, The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is examining the possibility of banning the controversial nerve-agent pesticides increasingly implicated in the decline of bees and other pollinating insects (Independent 22 November). And in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Gazette reports that the ministry of agriculture recently banned 30 different agricultural pesticides after research has pointed to the dangers that these harmful chemicals pose to public health. The Ministry of Agriculture has established a center with a total expenditure of SR70 million to promote organic agricultural methods throughout the Kingdom.  

Global chemical pollution impacts on both humanity and ecosystems, and includes adverse effects from long-term exposure to low or sub-lethal concentrations of single chemicals or to mixtures of chemicals. More than 90 per cent of water and fish samples from aquatic environments are contaminated by pesticides. (Global Chemicals Outlook: Towards Sound Management of Chemicals.)  

In most countries there is no systematic follow up of pesticides in nature and in no country there is monitoring of all active substances; what is found is still frightening enough. Eighty percent of all rivers in the USA contain pesticide residues. Sixty percent of all wells have residues. The proportion contaminated wells was almost as high in urbanized areas, due to use in home gardens, gravel or stone paths, golf courses etc. In France, pesticides are found in all rivers and half of all water sources had at least traces of them. Of the fifty substances that are checked in the Netherlands, two thirds were found in ground water (OECD 2001). 20 pesticides were found in groundwater used by 3.5 million people in the Santa Ana River watershed. On the great plains in the USA researchers detected two insecticides and 27 herbicides in reservoir water. Water treatment removed from 14 to 86% of individual herbicides. Drinking water contained 3–15 herbicides (average, 6.4).

Pesticide Suicides
Because of their availability, intake of these pesticides is a frequent suicide method. Many hospital records show that a high proportion of severe acute pesticide poisonings are in fact suicides, especially in Asia. The WHO estimates that there are about 2 million pesticide suicides and suicide attempts worldwide every year. The number of suicidal deaths through pesticides was estimated as being as many as 370,000 in 2007. In Asia alone, more than 300,000 people die this way each year. The numbers reported from Sri Lanka are especially alarming. In several rural areas there, pesticide suicides are the most frequent cause of death in hospitals. (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures).

In 1990, the WHO assumed that one million severe cases of unintentional pesticide poisoning occurred annually. What is remarkable is another, much higher WHO estimate from the same year that is rarely cited in the relevant literature. This figure refers to 25 million unintentional poisonings annually of farm workers in developing countries alone, with on average 3% of agricultural workers in developing countries suffering an episode of pesticide poisoning per year. A recent study by PAN International assumes that currently, of the total 1.3 billion farm workers worldwide, about 41 million suffer pesticide poisoning each year, with average poisoning rates at 32%. (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures)

Statistics on illnesses due to chronic poisoning as a result of pesticide use or pesticide contamination of food are very limited. But there is reliable evidence that the increasing incidence of cancer, hormonal effects, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease is linked to the use of certain pesticides in agricultural production. (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures)

The damage on nature and the suffering of humans also come with costs. UNEP Cost of Inaction Report (2012) reveals that the costs of injury (lost work days, outpatient medical treatment, and inpatient hospitalization) from pesticide poisonings, in Sub-saharan Africa alone, amounted to USD $4.4 billion in 2005. This is an underestimate as it does not include the costs of lost  livelihoods and lives, environmental health effects, and effects of other chemicals. Another study suggests that the major economic and environmental losses due to the use of pesticides in the United States amounted to USD $1.5 billion in pesticides resistance and USD $1.4 billion in crop losses, and USD $2.2 billion in bird losses. (Global Chemicals Outlook: Towards Sound Management of Chemicals)

Enough is enough, It is now high time to simply ban most pesticides. There are in almost all cases good alternatives available. They might be a bit more costly for the farmers, but for society it makes economic sense to ban pesticides.


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