A chilling overview of the global impacts of pesticide use on human health, the environment, and farming system choices has been issued by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
The special report (available in multiple languages here was delivered to the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council in February 2017. It contains unusually blunt language on several fronts –
- “Hazardous pesticides…have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole…”
- “Few people are untouched by pesticide exposure.”
- “In some countries, pesticide poisoning even exceeds fatalities from infectious diseases.”
- “The exposure risk of children engaged in agricultural work is particularly alarming.…about 60 per cent of child laborers worldwide work in agriculture…”
- “Pregnant women who are exposed to pesticides are at higher risk of miscarriage, pre-term delivery and birth defects.”
- “Scientists who uncover health and environmental risks to the detriment of corporate interests may face grave threats to their reputations, and even to themselves.”
- “Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure they are adequately nourished.”
The report goes on to discuss significant differences across nations in pesticide regulatory law and policy, highlighting the near-total absence of enforcement, especially in poor, rural areas.
It also addresses the power of six major, global pesticide manufacturers – Dow and DuPont, Bayer and Monsanto, and ChemChina and Syngenta. Each of the above three pairs of companies is in the process of merging into three global corporations that will control 65% of worldwide pesticide use, and 61% of seed sales.
The report is highly critical of agrochemical industry marketing and PR. For example, it states “The assertion promoted by the agrochemical industry that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading.”
An editorial in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, summarizes and endorses the report’s major conclusions and lends its support for the major recommendations. It is a yet another sign that the medical and public health communities are no longer walking in lockstep with the proponents of the pesticide status quo.
Editorial Board, “Phasing out harmful use of pesticides,” The Lancet, 2017, 389.
United Nations, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food,” January 24, 2017, Presented to the UN Human Rights Council, 34th Session, available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/017/85/PDF/G1701785.pdf?OpenElement.