Around 200,000 people across the world die per year from toxic exposure to pesticides, the United Nations says, calling for stricter global regulation over the use of substances f0r controlling pests or weeds for plant cultivation.
In a yearly report to the UN Council on Human Rights, published on January 24, the organization’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Food, Hilal Elve, warned that if the problem is worse in poor and developing nations, no country is immune to these harmful substances.
She added that 99% of serious cases of accidental poisoning with pesticides occurs in developing nations, and in 80% of these cases these countries lack the required resources to enforce the norms that regulate the use of pesticides.
The report states that although pesticide use has apparently correlated with a rise in food production, it has had “catastrophic impacts” on human health and the environment.
“Equally, increased food production has not succeeded in eliminating hunger worldwide. Reliance on hazardous pesticides is a short-term solution that undermines the rights to adequate food and health for present and future generations,” the report claims.
According to the UN report, people can be exposed to dangerous levels of pesticides in a wide variety of ways, ranging from farmers who use it on their crops to babies drinking their mother’s contaminated breast milk.
“In some countries, pesticide poisoning even exceeds fatalities from infectious diseases.”
Pregnant women run the risk of abortion, premature birth, and infant congenital malformations from exposure.
The UN report also highlighted the profound damaging effects on the environment.
“Pesticides sprayed on crops frequently pollute the surrounding ecosystem and beyond, with unpredictable ecological consequences. Furthermore, reductions in pest populations upset the complex balance between predator and prey species in the food chain.
“Pesticides can also decrease biodiversity of soils and contribute to nitrogen fixation, which can lead to large declines in crop yields, posing problems for food security.”
Jay Feldman, executive director of the Washington DC-based non-profit environmental organisation Beyond Pesticides, submits the $43 billion organic food industry in the US as the best example of how the world does not need to rely on pesticides.
“There are non-toxic approaches that could meet food production goals, fight starvation, and not contaminate the environment,” said Feldman.
“Pesticides are a very expensive technology. When we are talking about subsistence agriculture, relying on pesticides becomes an economic burden for farmers largely due to growing weed and pest resistance that requires farmers to keep purchasing stronger pesticides.
“However, with organic practices, we rely on natural ecosystem services which cycle nutrients in the soil naturally, making costly synthetic fertilizers unnecessary.
“And if we want to feed the world, the attention to soil biology, organic matter in soil, and natural nutrient recycling, are the only sustainable and cost-effective approaches.”
Paul Towers, a spokesman for Pesticide Action Network North America, an environmental group, spoke of a growing movement towards “agroecology“.
“Agroecology is the science behind sustainable agriculture, from the ground up. It encourages democratic, decentralized decision-making by farmers and incorporates practical, low-cost and ecology-based technologies for productive farming.
“Not only do agroecological farming methods strengthen ecological and economic resilience in the face of today’s climate, water and energy crises, they offer a path forward for growing food to feed us all.”
- “UN: 200,000 die each year from pesticide poisoning” by Ryan Rifai, published at Al Jazeera in March 2017.
- “Pesticides Cause 200,000 Deaths A Year, UN Warns” published at Prensa Latina on March 11, 2017.