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Daily News Blog

05
Jul

Environmental and Trade Groups Successfully Call for End to Pesticide Company Alliance with UN-FAO

After years of advocacy against corporate interference in global pesticide policy, FAO has ended its “strategic partnership” with CropLife International.

(Beyond Pesticides, July 5, 2024) After years of advocacy against corporate interference in global pesticide policy, the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has ended its “strategic partnership” with petrochemical pesticide and fertilizer trade association CropLife International. This decision, which allows the expiration of a 2020 Letter of Intent (LoI), was announced in a June press release by a coalition of international public interest, environmental, and trade groups. The organizations objected to the partnership from the inception of the agreement and has issued objections, including in 2022 and covered by Daily News. The signatories to the release last month believe that this severing of ties with the chemical industry will contribute to building momentum from frontline communities for “sustainable, resilient and equitable production systems under the agroecological paradigm.” The groups say, however, “We remain concerned about the FAO’s continuing informal engagements with CropLife and call for greater transparency and accountability in this regard.”

Beyond Pesticides has urged that models for change, whether advanced by FAO or other international or national institutions, must embrace clear definitions and standards that are certified and enforceable in order to reverse the existential threats to health, biodiversity, and climate from petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers. In this context, the organization advocates the adoption of certified organic practices that eliminate immediately petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers. FAO’s formal severing of ties with the petrochemical industry signals to farmers, farmworkers, pesticide applicators, and the public that the status quo is unsustainable amidst cascading crises of public health fragility, biodiversity collapse, and climate emergency. Consider writing to USDA and the U.S. Congress calling for an organic national land management plan.

Groups that signed onto this statement represent Indigenous communities and organizations’ fighting against the status quo of reliance on petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers, including the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), FIAN International, Friends of the Earth International, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF). Public Eye, and Third World Network.

“On 15 May 2024, PAN International received written confirmation from FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol that the LoI between FAO and CropLife International signed on 2 October 2020 came to an end almost exactly three years after its agreement,” the press release says. “We have been informed that the FAO concluded its LoI with CropLife on 3 October 2023 in line with a review of all LoIs entered into prior to the development of FAO’s Strategy for Private Sector Engagement (2021-25) and the related new due diligence framework.” Advocates caution that FAO’s relationship with the pesticide industry may not be over, given that FAO officials did not elaborate on future parameters for potential informal relationships with CropLife. FAO’s decision to develop more safeguards against corporate interference aligns with their commitments to the newly adopted Global Framework on Chemicals in September 2023 at the Fifth International Conference on Chemicals Management in Bonn, Germany—in coordination with UN Environmental Program and World Health Organization—through the Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Organic farmers and public interest advocates alike believe that this Framework is a welcome step in the right direction, and that there are opportunities to develop stricter targets for 2030 and beyond.

This important announcement builds on years of advocacy and campaigning through the Stop FAO-CropLife #ToxicAlliance campaign. According to a 2021 letter directed to FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu—who originally signed the 2020 LoI with CropLife International President and CEO Giulia Di Tommaso—200,000 individuals from over 107 countries, over 430 civil society and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations (including Beyond Pesticides), nearly 300 academics and scientists, and nearly 50 philanthropic groups, as well as the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, raised concerns in a report addressed to 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council. This coordinated effort was partially successful in that it prevented the LoI from moving forward into a more formal Memorandum of Understanding in 2022, however the agreement remained in place without a set expiration date (until October 2023), which would have continued to undermine the agency’s support for alternatives to generate agroecological systems without toxic pesticides. Throughout FAO’s agreement with industry, PAN International and the coalition partners remained resolute in calling for an end to this partnership. Letters on the subject were sent to Director-General Qu Dongyu on November 2020, February 2021, June 2022, and November 2022.

CropLife International (CLI) consists of 11 subsidiary national associations and six member companies (BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC, Sumitomo Chemical, and Syngenta). As an international trade association for the petrochemical pesticide and fertilizer industries, CLI has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo argument that pesticides are fundamentally necessary for global and national food security. While claiming to champion the role of agricultural innovation in crop protection to advance sustainable agriculture, instead, the pesticide industry is leveraging “agricultural innovation and digital technology” to expand market opportunities and increase their profits in the Global South. While CLI has not made any direct financial contributions to FAO since 2011, private sector investments are actively being brokered through the FAO’s Hand-In-Hand Initiative; for example, in October 2020, the Director General actively appealed to CropLife for investments in low and middle-income countries in his speech to the CLI Board of Directors. 

There is longstanding evidence of pesticide manufacturers influencing pesticide regulation in the United States, European Union, Thailand, Mexico, and Sri Lanka, among other nations. A 2022 briefing by PAN titled, Addressing the Conflict of Interest and Incompatibility of FAO’s Partnership with CropLife International, are various instances of this interference:

  • “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.”

The third point is particularly relevant given Mexico’s sudden and indefinite pause of the glyphosate ban that was slated to go into effect on April 1, 2024. This change in national policy comes as the USTR submitted a formal complaint to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) regarding Mexico’s policy of import bans on genetically engineered (GE) corn for human consumption that went into effect earlier in the President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) administration.

See Action of The Week to call on U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Thai to end its opposition to Mexico’s GE corn import ban. With the recent election of Claudia Sheinbaum, PhD, climate scientist and former mayor of Mexico City, to the presidency, advocates are optimistic and eager to see the makeup of the impending administration—particularly the Ministers of Agriculture, Environment, and Health—as these appointed cabinet members will decide the course of future policy regarding toxic pesticide use and GE commodities in Mexico through 2030.

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

Source: PAN International

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