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Report Documents Worldwide Pesticide Poisoning
(from February 27, 2003)

The London-based Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) released a new report this week revealing how, each year, millions of developing world farmers are poisoned by pesticides, many of which are banned or strictly controlled in the West. The report, Whats Your Poison?, documents how poor regulations and freely available dangerous chemicals, coupled with a widespread ignorance of the risks is contributing to a public health disaster on a global scale. The report describes the health threats these chemicals pose and calls for action from authorities and the pesticide industry.

Cancers linked to pesticide exposure by the studies reviewed include: brain cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, skin cancer, prostate cancer, rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, testicular cancer, soft-tissue sarcomas, multiple myeloma, leukaemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Pesticide exposures are also linked to developmental disorders, birth defects, immunological and neurological disease, and sudden death.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2002 estimated that there are 500,0000 tons of obsolete pesticides worldwide and 120,000 in Africa alone.

Children are especially at risk of pesticide poisoning because many are active in agriculture and use pesticides. Half of Cambodian farmers surveyed recently by FAO said they allowed their children to spray crops.

In 2000, Brazil's Ministry of Health estimated that there are 300,000 poisonings a year and 5000 deaths from agricultural pesticides. The cost of treatment and lost work was estimated at US$540 million.

Some pesticides are now known to disrupt the body's immune, nervous and hormone systems. Poor people in developing countries routinely face unacceptably high risks of poisoning. The range of human health problems associated with such exposure is truly frightening, said Dr Mike Shanahan of EJF. As well as the acute effects of poisoning, exposure to pesticides has been linked to birth defects, miscarriages, impacts on fertility, neurological disorders including Parkinson's disease, and a whole suite of cancers. Children are in special danger as, in many countries; they are active in agriculture and participate in crop spraying with harmful chemicals. Consumers are also at risk in a number of countries, sudden deaths have been reported following ingestion of food contaminated with pesticides.

Solutions to these problems exist, but they require concerted efforts from the agrochemical industry, governments, and the international donor community. The answer lies in reduced risk, reduced use and reduced reliance on pesticides. Consumers need to question the true cost of agricultural produce and governments need to do more to protect people from these devastating chemicals, said Steve Trent, director of EJF. The international donor community must support poor countries facing pesticide-related health problems to sign and ratify international agreements such as the Rotterdam Convention, which allows them to notify the international community of any chemicals that they do not want to receive.

EJF is also calling on the pesticide industry and governments in the West to implement initiatives that will reduce the health threats posed by pesticides. The report advocates a phase-out of production of the most dangerous (Class I) pesticides, widespread educational initiatives, and safe elimination of stockpiles of obsolete pesticides.

Considerably greater corporate involvement is necessary, according to EJF. The billion-dollar pesticide industry continues to market some of the most dangerous pesticides known to humanity and these commonly end up in the countries least capable of implementing safety measures. The industry has spent a fraction of what it could on addressing problems that have originated in its laboratories and brought such large profits, said Steve Trent. Over a decade ago, the World Health Organization estimated that around 3 million pesticide poisonings occur every year. That's over five every minute. EJF is concerned that such levels of poisoning continue today. Collaborative action between government, farmers and perhaps above all the pesticide industry must now be taken to drastically reduce this problem, said Trent.

For further information or copies of What's Your Poison?, contact info@ejfoundation.org or download the illustrated report directly from the Environmental Justice Foundation at.
http://www.ejfoundation.org/poison.html. Contact Mike Shanahan or Steve Trent at:
+ 44 (0) 20 7359 0440. Email: mshanahan@ejfoundation.org or strent@ejfoundation.org.