A concept often thrown around is that pesticides are key in feeding a rapidly growing global population. According to the United Nations (UN) food and pollution sector, this is a myth! A recent report was written by Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food and Baskut Tuncak, the UN’s special rapporteur on toxics and shared with the UN human rights council was direct and critical towards pesticide producing global corporations. The report accused the corporations of systematic denials of harms, aggressive and unethical marketing strategies and persistent lobbying of governments which has affected global reforms and restrictions on the use of pesticides.
The report went on to explain the catastrophic impact pesticides have on the environment, human health and society as a whole, with an estimated 200,000 deaths from acute poisoning each year. The recommendation of the report was that a global process was undertaken to transition towards a safer and healthier global food and agriculture industry.
With a global population of 7 billion growing to 9 billion by 2050, the pesticide industry argues that its products are vital in protecting our food supply. In rebuttal to this Hilal Elver of the UN said: “It is a myth”. Elver went on to say “Using more pesticides is nothing to do with getting rid of hunger. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), we are able to feed 9 billion people today. Production is definitely increasing, but the problem is poverty, inequality and distribution.”
“Many of the pesticides are used on commodity crops, such as palm oil and soy, not food needed by the world’s hungry” Elver stated. The report read “While scientific research confirms the adverse effects of pesticides, proving a definitive link between exposure and human diseases or conditions or harm to the ecosystem presents a considerable challenge. This challenge has been exacerbated by a systematic denial, fuelled by the pesticide and agro-industry, of the magnitude of the damage inflicted by these chemicals, and aggressive, unethical marketing tactics.”.
Elver visited Poland, Morocco, Paraguay and the Philippines as part of her research for the report and found the power the global corporations had over the government's and the scientific communities was an important factor in the lack of regulations for pesticides. Elver also mentioned in her report that some developed countries such as countries in the European Union (EU) did have better regulations for pesticides banning neonicotinoid pesticides which have been known to harm bees. Other developed countries like the United States (US) were pointed out to still lack regulations.
A spokesperson for the Crop Protection Association which represents pesticide manufacturers in the United Kingdom (UK) stated: “The claim that it is a myth that farmers need pesticides to meet the challenge of feeding 7 billion people simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny”. He went on to say “The UN FAO is clear on this – without crop protection tools, farmers could lose as much as 80% of their harvests to damaging insects, weeds and plant disease.”.
Elver and Tuncak’s reported only 35% of developing countries have a pesticide regulation regime and those that do find enforcing these regimes can be problematic. Also, some countries are still producing pesticides for export which have been banned for use in their own country. Their recommendation is to take steps towards a global treaty which governs the use of pesticides and looks to move towards more sustainable practices such as organically produced food, natural pest suppression and crop rotation
Highlighted in the report was the risk pesticide contaminated foods have on children which were shown by 23 deaths in India in 2013 and 39 in China in 2014. The report found “Chronic exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility.”. The reports final comments was “The industry frequently uses the term ‘intentional misuse’ to shift the blame on to the user for the avoidable impacts of hazardous pesticides, yet clearly, the responsibility for protecting users and others throughout the pesticide life cycle and throughout the retail chain lies with the pesticide manufacturer.”.