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Daily News Blog

11
Jun

Switzerland to Hold Landmark Vote on Nationwide Ban of All Synthetic Pesticides June 13

(Beyond Pesticides, June 11, 2021) On Sunday, June 13, Switzerland will hold a national vote on two landmark initiatives related to pesticide use (as well as several referenda). The vote on one initiative, dubbed by advocates “For a Switzerland Free of Synthetic Pesticides” (FSFSP), will determine whether or not the country will ban synthetic pesticides. If it does, it will become the first European nation to do so. The other initiative, which aims to eliminate direct subsidies of farmers who use synthetic pesticides or antibiotics for livestock, is focused on improving the quality of Switzerland’s drinking water and food supply. Beyond Pesticides covered the grassroots origin of the Swiss “no synthetic pesticides” initiative in 2018 and sees potential passage of both it and the water quality initiative as a watershed moment in the protection of health and the environment. These measures would go a long way to protecting and improving the health of humans and ecosystems, and the food supply, as well as protecting biodiversity in Switzerland. It could also — as advocates hope — encourage other European countries to follow suit.

This vote has been scheduled, in part, as an outcome of a 2018 petition by the advocacy group, Future3, which collected more than 100,000 signatures for the FSFSP initiative. That qualified it to be considered by the Swiss federal cabinet (the Federal Council), which then gave its recommendation to Parliament to schedule the upcoming vote. The measure would ban all uses of synthetic pesticides by farmers and industry, as well as ban imported foodstuffs produced with synthetic pesticides (so as not to disadvantage Swiss farmers). The initiative provides a 10-year period during which farmers could make the transition off of synthetic pesticides.

The clean water initiative, in addition to proscribing the use of pesticides, and of antibiotics for livestock, would prevent farmers from using imported animal feed (which could easily contain pesticide residues). In addition, it would limit the numbers of cows, pigs, and chickens being raised in the country in order to reduce all the problems associated with their manure, including contaminated drinking water. Pascal Scheiwiller, an endorser of the clean water initiative — which estimates that a million Swiss residents drink contaminated water — commented, “People have been sold a romantic image of farming in Switzerland, which is far removed from reality.”

Some opponents of the initiatives appear to have a different take on the “reality of farming” in the country, calling the initiatives “extreme,” and claiming that they are based on a misunderstanding of the realities of Swiss agriculture, and would cause enormous damage to farmers. The Swiss Farmers Union opposes the measures, saying that many members feel that their way of life is “under siege.” Such identification of pesticide use with a valued “way of life” may reveal, at least in part, a different misunderstanding — of both the toll of pesticide use on health and the environment, and of the potential and benefits of non-chemical agriculture.

Switzerland is home to Syngenta, the largest pesticide manufacturer in the world. The company has opposed and derided these measures since they were brought forward three years ago, warning that passage would reduce agricultural yields by up to 40%. This scare mongering flies in the face of evidence that non-chemical-intensive, organic practices can generate yields on par with, and sometimes greater than, chemical production, and can improve profit margins. A well-kept “secret” about pesticides is that they do not actually work as well as most farmers believe they do. Should the FSFSP initiative pass, the government would likely need to create technical and economic support programs for farmers navigating the transition from intensive pesticide use to effective and practicable non-chemical and organic approaches.

Swiss organic farmer and winemaker Roland Lenz — whose vineyards are surrounded by farmers who oppose these agricultural initiatives — favors them, saying that to continue pesticide use would be “sheer lunacy,” particularly given that there are ready methods of growing successfully without them. He commented, “With a ‘Yes’ vote on both initiatives, we will finally move from the chemical age back to the organic age,” and added that passage of these measures “would allow Switzerland to become a pioneer in organic food as well as an example to the rest of the world.”

Early on in the campaign for the FSFSP initiative, Professor Edward Mitchell of the University of Neuchâtel said, “I am convinced that other countries may follow suit. Switzerland with its direct democracy system is somewhat different from other countries, making such a change perhaps more likely in the short term. This puts us in a privileged position to act proactively rather than in response to government actions, and with this goes a responsibility to do so.”

Reuters reports that the Swiss vote on these agriculture-related measures is expected to be close, following what the outlet calls “an unusually bitter debate over the initiatives. . . . A recent Tamedia [Zurich-based media company] poll showed 48% of voters favoured the drinking water initiative and 49% supported the pesticide ban.”

The use of synthetic pesticides has been a contested issue across many European countries, and the European Union (EU), in recent years. Recent developments have included a 2018 EU ban on outdoor uses of a number of commonly applied neonicotinoid pesticides; the European Parliament’s special PEST Committee’s 2019 recommendation of greatly strengthened pesticide regulation; and the EU 2020 adoption of a new strategy to evaluate synergistic impacts of multiple pesticide exposures. To date, only Bhutan has banned synthetic pesticides altogether and adopted organic farming practices.

Beyond Pesticides has spent decades laying out the risks and impacts of synthetic pesticide use — for human and ecosystem health, for organism health and biodiversity, for climate, for water and air and soil quality, for food system integrity — and the multiple solutions that lie in a wholesale transition to organic agriculture and land management. Many of these topics can be explored on the website through the “Programs” drop-down menu. A consistent focus in Beyond Pesticides coverage of pesticide issues has been impacts on human health; that universe of information can be navigated through the Daily News Blog and the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.

An on-the-ground chronicle of the kinds of health impacts that pesticide use can have arrived to us recently from someone who lives in Switzerland. Karen Cortesi contacted Beyond Pesticides earlier this year in search of help for a very challenging experience she and her family are having as a result of a neighbor’s use of pesticides that drift onto her family’s property. Ms. Cortesi provided a detailed accounting of the health impacts experienced by her, her partner Simone Roncoroni, their son, and their rabbit and chickens over the course of the past four years. (Beyond Pesticides is unable to fact check all aspects of Ms. Cortesi’s account, which were communicated to us via email; nevertheless, we present highlights of it because it offers a “real life” look at what havoc pesticide use and misuse can wreak.)

The family lives in Novaggio, near the border with Italy, in an area that is designated as both an agricultural zone and a water protection zone. The parents are both homeopaths, and the family grows and sells, at a small scale, organic eggs, fruits, and vegetables. As Ms. Cortesi recounts, pesticide use in her area is permitted for “professional” use (which we interpret to mean for commercial use by trained applicators). The family’s neighbor has been applying to his property, since April of 2020, pesticides that she says are illegal for private use, and in concentrations from three to 20 times what is legally allowed.

Initially, they did not know what pesticide products he was using; Ms. Cortesi reports that they did once spot an applicator tank hand labeled with “Karate 0.08%.” The active ingredient in this product — Karate with Zeon Technology (“Zeon Technology” meaning that it uses nanoparticles) — made by Syngenta, is lambda-cyhalothrin, which Beyond Pesticides’ database notes is a synthetic pyrethroid that is an endocrine disruptor, a skin and mucosal irritant, and a neurotoxicant; it is also toxic to at least bees and aquatic organisms. For humans exposed, it can have acute oral, dermal, and inhalation toxicity (at high exposure levels, potentially resulting in coma or death from respiratory depression). The label on this product indicates that no one should enter a treated area for 24–48 hours after application.

Once authorities finally visited the neighbor’s property, the products (some names of which are in Italian) discovered included: Karate, Switch (fludioxonil, ciprodinil); Pergado (mandipropamid); Radico (1-naftil-acetico, which we believe is 1-naphthaleneacetic acid); Rame 30 (ossicloruro di rame); Flint (trifloxystrobin, tebuconazole); Tega (trifloxystrobin); Ridomil vino (metalaxyl); Topas vino (penconazole); and Rondo (dithianon, difenoconazole). (Most of these are fungicide compounds.) Ms. Cortesi also reported that the neighbor regularly washed pesticide application equipment in an outdoor sink that discharges directly into a river that contributes to the water supply for the village of Pura.

Ms. Cortesi recounted what family members, and their animals, have experienced since the pesticide use started in 2017:

  • My rabbit lost her hair, and her skin was bright red, and as she lives with a male and never gave birth, we think that she has become sterile. 
    • My rooster had a red eye, no voice, and collapsed on the ground for hours. 
    • My hen couldn’t breathe well, and completely stopped laying eggs. 
    • For us [humans], the symptoms grew slowly from burning eyes, throat, and nose, to headaches, collapse*, and great difficulty breathing; then, neurological symptoms, such as tremors, motor weakness, and hallucinations. In April of 2020, we feared we might die because of the extreme respiratory distress. Simone has had testicular pain; recently, after [the neighbor] used some substance again, I had severe organ pain and vomiting. Another time, I had an asthma-like attack, and was on the floor for 30 minutes gasping for breath and coughing, though I have never had any respiratory issues in my life prior to this.

[* By “collapse,” Ms. Cortesi reports that she meant that Mr. Roncoroni first got a “headache, then his eyes rolled backward and he started to have hallucinations and spasms, and couldn’t speak.” Her theory about the neurological symptoms is that because Karate uses nanoparticles, some compound(s) may be crossing the blood–brain barrier.”]

Ms. Cortesi wrote about their utter frustration and cited to Beyond Pesticides their numerous attempts to get authorities to recognize what was happening to them, find out what the neighbor was spraying, and compel him to stop, as well as to get medical help with figuring out what was poisoning them. At most every turn, Ms. Cortesi says, their attempts have been met with anemic action, some level of indifference, and subtle implications that they are somehow “crazy.”

The family does not dare sell its eggs as “organic” after the hens’ exposure to the pesticides. Their health continues to be affected by this neighbor’s pesticide use, so they have decided they must move. Sunday’s vote on whether to ban synthetic pesticides, even if successful, will not be a remedy for this family. Out of their own experience, and with the hope that it might inform people prior to the June 13 vote, the couple has made a video describing what they have endured. Beyond Pesticides hopes that the two pesticide initiatives are approved in the June 13 vote so that, in time, experiences like this will become, at worst, exceedingly rare.

Beyond Pesticides reminds readers that the best ways to avoid harmful pesticides are to purchase organic food, support organic practices in landscapes and agriculture, and help educate local communities about the dangers of pesticides and the potential for organic systems. Please contact us for guidance on how to advocate for a pesticide-free world.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/china/swiss-vote-become-first-european-nation-ban-synthetic-pesticides-2021-06-07/

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

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