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Daily News Blog

17
Jun

Groups Worldwide Tell UN To Rescind Agreement with Chemical Industry for Human Rights Violations

(Beyond Pesticides, June 17, 2022) Hundreds of civil society groups and organizations of indigenous people worldwide have called on the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to end its nearly two-year-old partnership with CropLife International, the trade association for the world’s largest pesticide manufacturers. The organizations’ June 9 letter to the Member State Representatives of the FAO Council was signed by 430 entities, from 69 different countries. The letter asserts that the UN agency’s agreement with CropLife International (CLI) is incompatible with FAO’s obligations to uphold human rights, and urges it both to review the partnership agreement on the basis of human rights concerns, and to “consider directing the Director-General of FAO to rescind the agreement.” The call comes from this huge group of advocates, but it is also coming from “inside the house”: UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Michael Fakhri is one of the signatories; Beyond Pesticides is one among 65 U.S. signatories.

CropLife International’s corporate members — BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC, Sumitomo Chemical, and Syngenta — are huge synthetic pesticide companies with global reach. CLI also counts as members 11 subsidiary national associations in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, Canada, and the U.S. (CropLife America). The trade organization bills itself as the “voice and leading advocates for the plant science industry . . . [that] champion the role of agricultural innovations in crop protection and plant biotechnology to support and advance sustainable agriculture.”

But Beyond Pesticides asserts that CLI’s member companies make, promote, and sell chemical (and biotech) agricultural “solutions” that represent the antithesis of genuinely sustainable agriculture. The ubiquitous availability and use of toxic pesticides supports conventional, chemically intensive agricultural practices whose impacts are broad and complex, and include damage to the health of soil, ecosystems, humans, organisms, natural resources (clean water and air), farmworkers, and environmental justice communities. The use of pesticides is also a dominant factor in biodiversity loss generally, and degraded insect and pollinator populations, in particular. And, as Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International notes, at least 385 million farmers and farmworkers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning annually.

Consider the example of just one kind of pesticide damage: microbial communities in the soil contribute to plant growth and health, which is critical to the human and organismic food supply, to carbon sequestration, to insect and pollinator habitat, and more. In soil, those communities include bacteria, fungi, earthworms, and other invertebrate decomposers that break down organic matter and make nutrients available to plants; bacteria and fungi engage in reciprocal exchanges of nutrients with plants. Chemical destruction of these microbes with pesticides degrades soil health and all the services it can provide to ecosystems, growers, and all living things. According to advocates and scientists, It is the height of short-sightedness to use pesticides that destroy soil organisms when, in fact, these microbial communities — as happens in organic agriculture — support and benefit agricultural production.

In 2020, FAO issued an LOI (Letter of Intent) to cooperate with CLI in multiple areas, as part of the agency’s Private Sector Engagement Strategy. In its announcement, CLI wrote, “This new partnership with the FAO provides us with an exciting opportunity to work together and accelerate progress in areas where we share common ambitions.” But as the advocate letter notes, “FAO deepening its collaboration with CropLife International directly counters any efforts toward progressively banning Highly Hazardous Pesticides [HHPs], as recommended for consideration by the FAO Council as early as 2006.” Roughly 35% of the revenue of the corporate members of CLI is attributed to sales of HHPs.

HHPs are defined by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) as “pesticides that are acknowledged to present particularly high levels of acute or chronic hazards to health or environment. . . . In addition, pesticides that appear to cause severe or irreversible harm to health or the environment under conditions of use in a country may be considered to be and treated as highly hazardous.”

The mission of FAO is to “achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.” The FAO partnership with CropLife International undermines any modern and systemic understanding of what “high-quality food” and “healthy lives” mean, and how truly sustainable, organic production must be at the heart of that mission.

In addition to the business of these corporations, which is inherently damaging, the letter from the 430 organizations says that the six corporate members of CLI have “interfered in national policy and exert enormous pressure on governments that take measures to protect people and the environment from pesticide harms.” It adds that the “use of hazardous pesticides is inconsistent with the rights protected by the United Nations to: health; [a] clean, healthy, and sustainable environment; safe working conditions; adequate food; safe and clean water and sanitation; a dignified life; and rights of indigenous peoples, women, children, workers, and peasants and other people working in rural areas. . . . We believe that FAO’s agreement with CropLife International is incompatible with FAO’s obligations to uphold human rights.”

Advocates added that FAO’s own due diligence process concluded that “companies involved in human rights abuses can be excluded from potential partners[hip].” PAN International, a network of 600+ NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), institutions, and individuals across 90 countries, works to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. In June 2022, the organization published a briefing to FAO Member States, Addressing the Conflict of Interest and Incompatibility of FAO’s Partnership with CropLife International. The briefing elaborates on examples of CLI’s undue influence on policy and science:

  • “Bayer played a key role in Thailand’s decision to overturn its ban on the cancer-causing glyphosate. Communications between U.S. government officials and Thailand were largely scripted and pushed by Bayer, which lobbied support from USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture], warning of trade impacts to U.S. commodity exports.
  • Syngenta consistently refused to modify its deadly weedkiller formula of paraquat, claiming it was safe. It manipulated scientific data to circumvent a ban and keep paraquat on the market for 40 years. As a result, hundreds of people, especially in rural communities in the Global South, continue to use it and die from paraquat poisoning.
  • Bayer exerted enormous pressure against Mexico upon the Presidential decree to phase out glyphosate and GMOs. CropLife lobbied the USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] and U.S. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] which then took up industry’s concerns against Mexico to pressure them to drop the ban.”

In that briefing, PAN International also noted that FAO’s collaboration with CLI on “‘reducing pesticide risks through sound management and crop production intensification’ goes directly against the FAO and WHO’s International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management. The Code’s implementation document, Guidance on Pest and Pesticide Management Policy Development, goes beyond only reducing risks: It puts reducing reliance on pesticides as the first, and thus most critical, step towards pesticide risk reduction. The reduction in use and dependency on agrochemicals is underscored as a priority for concerted action in other UN fora, and conventions.”

The partnership also runs counter to the 2006 guidance of the FAO Council, developed through its participation in the SAICM (Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management) initiative. In its International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management Guidelines on Highly Hazardous Pesticides, FAO wrote: “the activities of FAO could include pesticide risk reduction, including the progressive banning of Highly Hazardous Pesticides.” In addition, in 2015, the SAICM International Conference on Chemicals Management adopted a resolution recognizing HHPs as an issue of concern and called for concerted action to address HHPs, with emphasis on promoting agro-ecologically based alternatives and strengthening national regulatory capacity to conduct risk assessment and risk management.”

FAO’s partnership with CropLife International is destructive to the goals the agency has identified, and to the millions of people whose health and well-being are compromised by the actions of its corporate members. In addition, the relationship and actions of these corporate CLI members undercut the FAO’s (purported) and several Member States’ support for agroecology — defined by UNEP as an ecological approach to food production that centers: minimal use of external inputs; soil health; regenerative capacity of land; adaptive latitude re: the changing climate; biodiversity; and conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. It also values the importance of the social context of agriculture, farmer empowerment, and short/local value chains. Most of these features are common to what in the U.S. we understand to be organic agriculture, as defined and managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

PAN International Chair Keith Tyrell has commented, “This [FAO–CLI) partnership has been in effect for over a year and a half now, and FAO’s efforts to push global action to phase out and ban HHPs have ground to a halt. As the signers underscore in this letter, Member States and the FAO must promote agroecology, a viable approach for generating ecologically-based food and farming systems without the use of toxic pesticides.”

FAO has no legitimate business partnering with a trade group for the pesticide industry. Here in the U.S., and globally, we urgently need a new direction for agriculture — organic, regenerative approaches and away from the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and abusive land practices. FAO should heed the call of the 430 organizations, and end this devil’s bargain.

Sources: https://pan-international.org/release/430-civil-society-and-indigenous-peoples-groups-to-fao-council-end-partnership-with-pesticide-industry/ and https://pan-international.org/wp-content/uploads/English-CSO-and-IP-Letter-to-FAO-Council-RE-Ending-CLI-Partnership.pdf

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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