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Daily News Blog

19
Mar

UNEP Initiative Aims to Tackle Petrochemical Pesticide Infiltration in Global Majority Nations

Seven countries launched $379 million UNEP initiative to combat the health and environmental impacts of toxic petrochemical pesticides in agriculture.

(Beyond Pesticides, March 19, 2024) This month the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) announced the creation of a new initiative to combat the health and environmental impacts of toxic petrochemical pesticides in agriculture. Launched by seven countries—Ecuador, India, Kenya, Laos, Philippines, Uruguay, and Vietnam—the Financing Agrochemical Reduction and Management (FARM) Programme is a $379 million initiative that “will realign financial incentives to prevent the use of harmful inputs in food production.” This international cohort aims to phase out the use of “toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs)—chemicals which don’t break down in the environment and contaminate air, water, and food.” The work of FARM echoes Beyond Pesticides call for the banning of toxic petrochemical pesticides by 2032.

The program will help countries implement their commitment to eliminate POPs and plastics in agriculture. As it is described, “FARM…will support government regulation to phase out POPs-containing agrochemicals and agri-plastics and adopt better management standards, while strengthening banking, insurance and investment criteria to improve the availability of effective pest control, production alternatives and trade in sustainable produce.” The 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants requires signatories to adopt a range of measures to reduce and, where feasible, eliminate the release of POPs. All FARM members are signatories and most ratified the Convention as of 2006, with Laos being the most recent to ratify in 2013.

“The five-year programme is projected to prevent over 51,000 tons of hazardous pesticides and over 20,000 tons of plastic waste from being released,” according to the latest UNEP press release. “[W]hile avoiding 35,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and protecting over 3 million hectares of land from degradation as farms and farmers convert to low-chemical and non-chemical alternatives,” the release continues. FARM is supported by the Global Environmental Facility, UN Development Programme, UN Industrial Development Organization, and the African Development Bank. The goal of FARM is, “for banks and policy-makers to reorient policy and financial resources towards farmers to help them adopt low- and non-chemical alternatives to toxic agrochemicals and facilitate a transition towards better practices.” Beyond Pesticides applauds this important step FARM countries are taking to transition away from pesticide dependency; however advocates reiterate the importance of organic land management principles as an opportunity to adopt a systems change framework rather than a product substitution framework that replaces toxic pesticides with less toxic pesticides. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), POPs are “intentionally produced chemicals currently or once used in agriculture, disease control, manufacturing, or industrial processes” and “unintentionally produced chemicals…that result from some industrial processes and from combustion.”

There are cascading socio-ecological impacts of toxic pesticides, including POPs, that has been widely documented. (See Daily News.) Organochlorine compounds (OCs), including organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), are examples of persistent organic pollutants that cause adverse health impacts to wildlife including humpback whales and pandas. A 2021 study published in Environmental Pollution identifies, among female whale populations, “levels of POPs in blubber are higher in juveniles and subadults than in adults, primarily from the transference of contaminants from the mother to her calf.” The study goes on to report previously unknown adverse health impacts, “including reproductive toxicity, immune dysfunction, and increased susceptibility to disease.” Meanwhile, a 2021 study published in Environmental Pollution found that the “Quinling Panda species [‘the rarest subspecies of giant pandas’] are generally exposed to moderate levels of OC pollution. Higher levels of OCs are present in captive pandas relative to wild pandas. The authors identify PCB and OCP residues as coming from atmospheric transportation. At the same time, the study identifies PCBs as a cancer risk to the pandas, in fact the most notable toxicant with the highest carcinogenic risk index of PCB 126 (the most potent highly toxic industrial byproduct that incites numerous adverse physiological effects).”

Beyond individual animal species, POPs are emerging in remote ecosystems such as coral reefs and Arctic glaciers, leading to harmful impacts and long-term implications for biodiversity and human health. A 2021 study published in Chemosphere based on coral reefs in the South China Sea, “indicate[d that] 17 of the 22 OCPs are detectable in seawater, and all 22 OCPs are detectable in ambient air samples from the SCS. The most prominent chemicals found in air and water samples are CHLs, HCBs, DDTs, and Drins. Although coastal corals have higher chemical concentrations than offshore species, the chemical composition is similar, with DDT and CHL compounds dominant among tissue samples.” The presence of OCPs in the South China Sea raises serious concerns about the long-term biodiversity impacts as they cause adverse health impacts on animals and humans alike, including “respiratory issues, nervous system disorders, and birth deformities to various common and uncommon cancers.” A 2020 study published in Environmental Science and Technology found that POPs are found to be re-released after bioaccumulating in Arctic ice for decades, exacerbating the potential exposure levels facing marine animals, oceans, and humans as the climate crisis rages on and causes Arctic ice to melt in the coming decades. POPs are also found to have adverse health impacts on humans, including prenatal and early-life exposure leading to chronic illnesses such as developmental disorders to cancer. Persistent organic pollutants can also act like endocrine disruptors and studies link their exposure to female reproductive health disorders such as endometriosis.

As the U.S. EPA states, “Many POPs were widely used during the boom in industrial production after World War II, when thousands of synthetic chemicals were introduced into commercial use.” After the war, the chemical industry looked to commercialize the petrochemical pesticide products for use in pest management and public health. “Just as U.S. industry and public forged an alliance to prepare for World War II, advocates must join with farmers, public health advocates, scientists, and elected officials to demand a new regulatory approach in service of public health, environmental justice, and addressing the climate crisis,” says Max Sano, organic program associate at Beyond Pesticides. Advocates are steadfast in their belief that strengthening federal organic policy and standards will address the proliferation of toxic petrochemical pesticides into soil, waterways, and ecosystems. See Keeping Organic Stronger to learn how to engage in the National Organic Standards Board April meeting and public comment periods to engage in protecting and expanding climate-health-soil protections for the National Organic Program. See Pesticide-Induced Disease Database and Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management to view an ongoing list of scientific studies that link pesticide exposure, such as POPs, to chronic illnesses to learn how to engage with elected officials and participate in regulatory reviews with the aim of strengthening their regulation and minimizing additional exposure levels.

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

Source: United Nations Environment Programme

 

 

 

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