New study reveals dramatic rise in global pesticide poisonings

Worldwide poisonings up from 25 million in 1990 to 385 million today

For immediate release: December 9, 2020

In a comprehensive study, scientists report that pesticide poisonings on farms around the world have risen dramatically since the last global assessment 30 years ago. Based on an evaluation of available poisoning data from countries all over the world, the researchers conclude that there are about 385 million cases of acute poisonings each year, up from an estimated 25 million cases in 1990.

This means that about 44% of the global population working on farms — 860 million farmers and agricultural workers – are poisoned every year.

The systematic review of unintentional acute pesticide poisonings was published today in the peer-reviewed  journal BMC Public Health. The article, entitled “The global distribution of acute unintentional pesticide poisoning: Estimations based on a systematic review,” is the first such global estimate since 1990.

“These findings underscore the urgency of reducing and eliminating the use of highly hazardous pesticides,” says Kristin Schafer, coordinator of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International. “These pesticides are causing the unacceptable poisoning of those who produce our food, but also chronic health effects such as cancer and ecological impacts such as the collapse of biodiversity. Time for global action is long overdue.”

The study found that the greatest number of non-fatal poisoning cases was in southern Asia, followed by Southeast Asia and East Africa. The highest single national incidence was in Burkina Faso, where nearly 84% of farmers and farm workers experience unintentional acute pesticide poisonings annually.

Total fatalities around the world from unintended pesticide poisonings are estimated at around 11,000 deaths per year. Nearly 60% of which occur in just one country, India, indicating serious problems with pesticide use, according to the researchers.

“Pesticide poisonings are a public health crisis that must be addressed,” said Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of PAN Asia Pacific. “Beyond the immediate suffering, poisonings can also reflect exposure that cause long term, chronic health effects. It’s shocking and shameful that this problem has gotten worse rather than better over the past 30 years.”

The authors of the new study conducted a systematic review of the scientific literature published between 2006 and 2018, selecting a total of 157 papers after assessing over 800 papers for eligibility according to set criteria, and additional data from the WHO cause-of-death database. The data covered 141 countries in total. Most studies focused on occupational poisonings, particularly of farmers and agricultural workers.

“We realize there are limitations in the data on pesticide poisonings,” notes Javier Souza, PAN Latin America’s coordinator. “But this study clearly shows this as a serious, global problem that warrants immediate action. Highly hazardous pesticides must be phased out by 2030 to meet global Sustainable Development Goals, and we must shift to healthier and more resilient systems like agroecology. ”

The estimated number of global nonfatal unintended pesticide poisonings in the current study is significantly greater than previous estimates. This is in part because the current study covers a greater number of countries, and also because there has been an 81% increase in pesticide use since 1990 (an estimated 4.1 million tonnes of pesticides were used worldwide in 2017). The researchers point to underreporting to explain the relatively low estimates of fatalities. Underreporting is also an issue for pesticide poisonings overall, as many country-specific reporting systems lack a central reporting point or lack a legal mechanism requiring incident reporting.

The authors conclude that the heavy burden of non-fatal unintended pesticide poisonings, particularly for farmers and farmworkers, brings into focus the current policy bias towards focusing only on fatalities, and the need to more seriously address the overall pesticide poisoning problem in international and national policies and regulations.

Note to reporters: While this study did not cover pesticide poisoning suicides, an estimated 14 million people have died from suicide using pesticides since the Green Revolution in the 1960s. A recent systematic review of data on suicides from 2006-2015, which this review did not cover, found that pesticides accounted for 14-20% of global suicides leading to 110,000-168,000 deaths annually during the period 2010-2014.

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Media contacts:

Available for interviews:

  • Sarojeni Rengam, PAN Asia Pacific – Sarojeni.rengam@panap.net
  • Susan Haffmans, PAN Germany – Susan.haffmans@pan-germany.org
  • Javier Souza, PAN Latin America (Spanish) – javierrapal@yahoo.com.ar
  • Maimouna Diene, PAN Africa (French) – maimounadiene@pan-afrique.org

 Pesticide Action Network International (PAN) is a network of over 600 participating nongovernmental organizations, institutions and individuals in over 90 countries working to replace the use of hazardous pesticides with ecologically sound and socially just alternatives. PAN was founded in 1982 and has five independent, collaborating Regional Centers that implement its projects and campaigns. You can find more information at http://pan-international.org.




PAN International Webinar „Plaguicidas altamente peligrosos (HHPs) – un desafió global“

Invitación: Webinar PLAGUICIDAS ALTAMENTE PELIGROSOS (HHPS) – UN DESAFÍO GLOBAL. Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International 15 de DICIEMBRE 2020 12h00 – 13h30 CET (UTC + 1).

En este seminario web, podrá profundizar su comprensión de los pesticidas altamente peligrosos (HHPs). Obtendrá una descripción general de sus características y una idea de sus implicaciones para los derechos humanos, la salud humana y el medio ambiente. Podrá también aprender acerca de las opciones políticas para la eliminación de los HHPs. Únase a nosotros para aprender de los expertos involucrados, hacer sus preguntas y compartir sus comentarios. Para obtener más información, consulte el programa.

 



PAN International Webinaire „Pesticides extrêmement dangereux (HHPs) – un défi mondial“

Invitation: Webinaire PESTICIDES EXTRÊMEMENT DANGEREUX (HHPS) – UN DÉFI MONDIAL, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International 15 décembre 2020 12h00 – 13h30 CET (UTC + 1).

Dans ce webinaire, vous pourrez approfondir votre compréhension des pesticides extrêmement dangereux (HHP). Vous aurez une vue d’ensemble sur leurs caractéristiques et un aperçu de leurs implications pour les droits de l’homme, la santé humaine et l’environnement. Vous pourrez également apprendre quelles sont les options politiques pour l’élimination des HHP. Veuillez nous joindre pour apprendre des experts impliqués, poser vos questions et partager vos commentaires. Pour plus d’information, veuillez consulter le programme.




PAN International Webinar „Highyl Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) – a global challenge“

Invitation to: Webinar HIGHLY HAZARDOUS PESTICIDES (HHPS) – A GLOBAL CHALLENGE, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International 15 December 2020 12h00 – 13h30 CET (UTC + 1).

In this webinar, you can deepen your understanding of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). You will get an overview about their characteristics, and an insight into their implications for human rights, human health, and the environment. And you can learn about policy options for a phase-out of HHPs. Please join us to learn from the involved experts, pose your questions and share your comments. Please refer to the flyer (English) for more information on the program.




PAN International Webinar zu hochgefährlichen Pestiziden (HHPs)

Veranstaltungshinweis:

PAN International lädt ein zum Webinar „Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) – a global challenge“ am 15. Dezember 2020 von 12:00 – 13:30 Uhr.

Interessierte Teilnehmer*innen können sich hier direkt anmelden. Das Webinar findet in englischer, französicher und spanischer Sprache statt.

Original Ankündigungstext (englisch):
„In this webinar, you can deepen your understanding of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). You will get an overview about their characteristics, and an insight into their implications for human rights, human health, and the environment. And you can learn about policy options for a phase-out of HHPs. The webinar will give an overview of HHPs characteristics and the harm they cause, explain which policy instruments are already in place that address HHPs, and identify gaps and options to improve the situation and bring about the envisaged global phase-out of HHPs. Please join us to learn from the involved experts, pose your questions and share your comments.“

Find out more in the Webinar program.

 

 

 




Global Outrage at FAO Plans to Partner with Pesticide Industry

Hundreds of civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations call on the UN agency to renounce planned alliance with CropLife International

Rome – Today 350 organizations in 63 countries representing hundreds of thousands of farmers, fisherfolk, agricultural workers and other communities, as well as human rights, faith-based, environmental and economic justice institutions, delivered a letter to United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Qu Dongyu urging him to stop recently-announced plans to deepen collaboration with CropLife International by entering into a formal partnership.

CropLife is a global trade association representing the interests of companies that produce and promote pesticides, including highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs). According to the letter, HHPs “are responsible for a wide range of devastating health harms to farmers, agricultural workers and rural families around the world,” and these chemicals have “decimated pollinator populations and are wreaking havoc on biodiversity and fragile ecosystems” as well.

“This proposed alliance is deeply inappropriate and directly undermines FAO’s goals of supporting food systems that are healthy, resilient and productive while safeguarding the sustainability of the environment,” says Sarojeni Rengam, Director of Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia Pacific. “CropLife’s purpose, on the other hand, is to advocate for continued use of the pesticides that its members sell. These hazardous and antiquated chemical solutions pose deadly obstacles to the urgently needed transition to innovative, knowledge-intensive ecological approaches to farming.”

Ms. Rengam delivered the letter today on behalf of PAN International, ten other co-sponsoring organizations and networks, and hundreds of signatories.

The letter highlights a recent analysis of industry records that documents that CropLife member companies BASF, Bayer Crop Science, Corteva Agriscience, FMC and Syngenta make more than one-third of their sales income from highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) — the pesticides that are most harmful to human health and the environment. The proportion of HHP sales is even higher in developing countries, the letter says, where safety regulations are often less robust and harms to human health and the environment are greater.

“So many of our Yaqui children have died and suffered lifelong disabilities from exposure to toxic pesticides that were banned by the countries that exported them to be used in our territories,” said Mariano Ochoa Millan, former Board member for the International Indian Treaty Council from Rio Yaqui Sonora, Mexico. Millan, who passed away from COVID-19 on August 31, made this statement in response to the July 9, 2020 statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics calling on wealthy nations to halt the practice of exporting banned pesticides. Many of CropLife’s member companies are strong proponents of this practice.

Today’s letter was co-sponsored by a broad-based group of global networks and international organizations: 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, Tobacco and Allied Workers‘ Associations (IUF), Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International, Public Eye and Third World Network.

Marcia Ishii, senior scientist at PAN North America, explained the serious implications of the proposed collaboration: “FAO’s decision to initiate a formal partnership with CropLife is bad news for the millions of farmers whose health and livelihoods have been devastated by the highly hazardous pesticides manufactured by CropLife member companies. Unfortunately, since Mr. Qu’s arrival at FAO, the institution appears to be opening up to deeper collaboration with pesticide companies, which are likely to exploit such a relationship for bluewashing, influencing policy development, and enhancing access to global markets. It is no surprise that FAO’s recently appointed Deputy Director General, Beth Bechdol, comes to FAO with a history of close financial ties to Corteva (formerly Dow/DuPont), a Croplife member headquartered in Bechdol’s home state of Indiana, USA.”

An international group of 286 scientists and researchers have also expressed concern about the proposed alliance, delivering a letter to Director-General Qu Dongyu today, urging him not to pursue a formalization of FAO’s collaboration with CropLife.

***

Resources:

Joint letter with full list of signatories (also available here as pdf)

PAN International list of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs)

Public Eye pesticide industry analysis

IAASTD report, 10 years later

FAO’s proposed formalization of partnership with CropLife 

Additional quotes from co-sponsoring partners:

Shiney Varghese, senior policy analyst with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, notes that while FAO says it wants to minimize the harms of pesticides worldwide, CropLife members made more than a third of their income from sales of highly hazardous pesticides in 2018. “In the context of this proposed FAO-CropLife partnership, what is even more important is that many of those sales were made to farmers in low- and middle-income countries like Brazil, India and Thailand, while only 27 percent were made in high income countries. It’s not surprising that CropLife International would want to have a partnership, but why would FAO want to put these low- and middle-income countries at risk?”

„We need a strong FAO, independent of the pesticide industry and free from the market interests of global corporations, committed to safe, healthy food and sustainable farming systems for the benefit of all people,” says Susan Haffmans from PAN Germany. “With its commitment to agroecology, FAO has embarked on this sustainable path. The FAO should not jeopardize its successes in agroecology nor its integrity by cooperating with precisely that branch of industry which is responsible for the production of highly hazardous pesticides and whose products contribute to poisoning people and their environment worldwide.“

“In Latin America, we need policies that support the phasing out Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs) and scaling up of agroecology. The proposed partnership between FAO and CropLife would undermine this aim,“ said Fernando Bejarano,  Hub coordinator for the IPEN Latin America Office who supervised several HHPs country situation reports in the region.




Offener Brief an die FAO unterzeichnet von 350 Organisationen

In dem gemeinsamen offenen Brief an die FAO bringen 350 Organisationen der Zivilgesellschaft und Repräsentanten indigener Völker aus 63 Ländern, die Hunderttausende Bäuer*innen, Fischer*innen und Landarbeiter*innen vertreten, sowie Menschenrechtsorganisationen ihre tiefe Besorgnis über die jüngste Ankündigung der FAO zum Ausdruck, ihre Beziehungen zu CropLife International stärken zu wollen und fordern die FAO nachdrücklich auf, von dieser Absicht Abstand zu nehmen. (Brief in Englischer Sprache)

In this joint open letter to FAO, 350 civil society and Indigenous Peoples organizations from 63 countries representing hundreds of thousands of farmers, fisherfolk and agricultural workers, as well as human rights institutions, express their deep concern over FAO’s recent announcement to strengthen official ties with CropLife International and strongly urge FAO to step back from this intention.




Aiming at a national law that prohibits the export of banned pesticides

The exports of highly hazardous pesticides banned in the European Union to countries in the Global South continue to put communities there in danger. The Yavatmal tragedy, which occurred in 2017 and where hundreds of cotton farmers were severely poisoned and many died, is one of the many cases that sadly illustrate the devastating effects of this practice.

Wealthy nations exporting their banned toxic chemicals to poorer nations is an unethical practice that has to end. This is not only the opinion of PAN groups around the globe, but is shared by experts of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

With its campaign to stop double standards in pesticide trade, PAN Germany is aiming at a national legal ban on exports of pesticides, which banned or not approved in the EU due to health or environmental reasons. France already has a similar law that prohibits – from 2022 onwards – the production, storage and sale of plant protection products containing these substances. With our campaign, we hope to make the German government follow the good example of our French neighbors. Furthermore, we support the commitment for an EU-wide solution.

Together with the INKOTA network, PAN Germany has started an online Appeal against double standards in pesticide trade and for an export stop of banned pesticides in Germany. NGOs from other countries that are interested in the issue are invited to contact us.




New academic paper condemns pesticide risk assessment practices ahead of Farm to Fork Strategy and REFIT

„Green recovery“ from COVID-19 crisis demands healthy and sustainable food system

Press release from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Europe, Brussels, Belgium, 20 April 2020.

Contact in the first instance:
Dr Angeliki Lyssimachou, PAN Europe +32 496392930; angeliki@pan-europe.info

A new peer-reviewed paper authored by a group of experts in law, policy, and toxicology has identified systemic failings in Europe’s pesticide risk assessment process.

The experts have proposed a comprehensive agenda for far-reaching reform after their paper outlined how these failings could seriously undermine ambitions for sustainable agriculture and a “green recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calls for such a “green recovery” have arisen from 13 European climate and environment ministers, from 180 policy makers, business leaders, researchers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and from WWF. On 16 April, Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the European Green Deal, added his voice, demanding an end to old, polluting models of production and a shift to a “circular, sustainable and highly competitive economy”.

These thought leaders agree that business as usual is not an option.

Regulatory failings

According to the new paper, published in the European Journal of Risk Regulation, Europe is consistently failing to implement and enforce its own regulations on pesticides. While the EU’s pesticides Regulation 1107/2009 is, in theory, one of the most stringent in the world, it has yet to achieve its aim of “an independent, objective and transparent assessment of pesticides and achieve a high level of protection for health and environment”. The paper presents a series of recommendations to resolve these problems.

Focusing on glyphosate as a case study of scientific and regulatory controversy, the paper highlights:

  • Widespread misuse and misinterpretation of scientific research, with cherry-picking of favorable studies, plagiarism and uncritical repetition of findings presented as independent validation, and misuse of statistical and analytical tools
  • Ongoing failure to address mixture effects, including of additives which, even though they can change the toxicity profile of the active ingredient, are not part of the pesticide approval process
  • Failure to properly address conflicts of interest within regulatory agencies, undermining the independence and objectivity of pesticide assessments.

As a result of these failings, multiple pesticides are passing through the regulatory process and being authorized in spite of their potential to harm human and animal health and the environment.

Proposed solutions

The authors find that for the most part, the law itself is not at fault. Instead, the problem lies with a failure on the part of regulatory bodies to implement or enforce the hard or „soft“ laws governing how pesticides are regulated.

The authors propose ways to improve the system, requiring changes in the way in which regulators carry out the risk assessment process, as well as in the way that current scientific knowledge and scientific analytical tools are applied.

These include:

  • Wider use of “systematic review” methods to ensure objectivity and transparency in evaluating scientific research results
  • Proper use of the “weight-of-evidence” approach to integrate different lines of evidence, so that, for example, different types of evidence indicating that a pesticide is carcinogenic are not evaluated and dismissed separately but are considered together in an integrated fashion
  • Evaluating the toxicity of pesticide formulations as sold and used rather than just the isolated “active” ingredients that are tested and assessed for safety in regulatory purposes – since the formulations can be far more toxic

Details of the new paper

Achieving a High Level of Protection from Pesticides in Europe: Problems with the Current Risk Assessment Procedure and Solutions

Claire ROBINSON, Christopher J. PORTIER, Aleksandra ČAVOŠKI, Robin MESNAGE, Apolline ROGER, Peter CLAUSING, Paul WHALEY, Hans MUILERMAN and Angeliki LYSSIMACHOU

DOI: European Journal of Risk Regulation, 16 April 2020

The new paper is published as the EU Commission prepares to publish its Farm to Fork (F2F) Strategy as part of the European Green Deal. F2F aims to „secure a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food system“ and will include „measures to significantly reduce the use and risk of chemical pesticides“.

As well as the F2F, the Commission will publish its long overdue REFIT evaluation of the EU pesticide legislation assessing “if the regulations meet the needs of citizens, businesses and public institutions in an efficient manner“ and giving recommendations on future actions. Concerns have been raised that REFIT appears to be focused on making EU regulations „better“ for industry and that the pesticides regulations will be deliberately weakened as a result.

The publication of F2F as well as the REFIT of the pesticide Regulation has been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis, and the farmers‘ association COPA-COGECA has lobbied for the publication to be delayed until autumn – or for an impact assessment to be carried out first.

But Claire Robinson, editor at GMWatch and first author of the new paper commented, „COVID-19 has shown us that human health must be the priority and that sustainable food production is crucial. We cannot afford more delays in implementing a healthy, sustainable, and resilient food system.“

This call is backed by an open letter signed by 40 NGOs, asking the Commission not to further delay the F2F publication and “to show that it is actively steering the EU towards a greener future, of which sustainable and resilient food systems are an essential part”.

 

Quotes from the authors

Dr Apolline Roger, Law and Policy Advisor, ClientEarth, Brussels, Belgium, said: „The pesticides Regulation has great elements. For the most part, it is not the law that needs to be reformed, but the way it is implemented. We detail the reforms that are needed in our recommendations.“

Prof Christopher Portier, Senior Contributing Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, and former Director, US National Center for Environmental Health, USA, said: “Scientific rigour and complete transparency are critical to both the evaluation of data used in regulatory decision making and to the trust the public will have in those evaluations. This article describes improvements that will strengthen both scientific rigor and transparency.”

Paul Whaley, an academic at Lancaster University in the UK specializing in novel methods for evaluating health risks from chemical exposures, said: “The European Food Safety Authority has been a world-leading agency in proposing reforms to how scientific research is used in pesticide risk assessment, particularly in applying systematic review methods to analyze evidence of potential health risks. The problem is, these reforms are being implemented too slowly and too unevenly, leaving too many chemicals being assessed with methods which are obsolete, opaque, and produce unreliable results.”

Dr Peter Clausing, toxicologist at the Pesticide Action Network Germany, said: „The ‚weight-of-evidence‘ approach is an important concept to consolidate scientific data. Our paper shows that there is considerable room for improvement in the way the European authorities make use of this concept during risk assessment of pesticides.“

Professor Aleksandra Čavoški, University of Birmingham, said: “EFSA has made significant strides in improving its independence policy with the aim of preventing the revolving door effect. However, EFSA’s independence policy does not go far enough to prevent conflicts of interest that may result from the provision of research funding.”

 

 




Gemeinsame Stellungnahme: JAHRESBILANZ AGRARÖKOLOGIE – Analyse ein Jahr nach Veröffentlichung des Positionspapiers „Agrarökologie stärken“ 2019

Im Januar 2019 – vor einem Jahr – haben 59 Organisationen und Verbände aus Umwelt, Entwicklung, bäuerliche Landwirtschaft,
Ökolandbau und Lebensmittelhandwerk ihren Forderungskatalog an die Bundesregierung veröffentlicht.2 Die dramatischen
Entwicklungen zeigen: Eine grundlegende Transformation der Agrar- und Ernährungssysteme durch holistische Ansätze wie
Agrarökologie ist weltweit dringend erforderlich. Im Folgenden sollen nun – ein Jahr später – Licht und Schatten der Regierungspolitik
des Jahres 2019 aufgezeigt werden. Damit ist kein Anspruch auf eine umfassende Bewertung des Regierungshandelns verbunden. Auch wenn vereinzelt positive Entwicklungen sichtbar sind, kann noch nicht von einer Trendumkehr in der Regierungspolitik gesprochen werden. Ein kohärenteres Regierungshandeln zur Stärkung holistischer Ansätze, wie der Agrarökologie, ist bisher nicht erkennbar.