Pruitt and the pes­ti­cide threat

More than 250 stud­ies have linked agro­chem­i­cals to sev­eral types of can­cers, in­clud­ing can­cers of the brain, breast, colon, liver, lungs, prostate, and thy­roid.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents - By Mo­jisola Oje­bode

Anew re­port is­sued by the United Na­tions (UN) takes a con­tro­ver­sial stance on syn­thetic pes­ti­cides. The con­ven­tional wis­dom is that they are es­sen­tial to feed the world's grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, which is ex­pected to hit nine bil­lion by 2050. But the re­port's au­thors call our re­liance on syn­thetic pes­ti­cides “a short-term so­lu­tion that un­der­mines the right to ad­e­quate food and health for present and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.” They are right.

As a sci­en­tist from Nige­ria whose work fo­cuses on con­trol­ling post-har­vest losses, I have seen first-hand what hap­pens when the use of syn­thetic pes­ti­cides is not prop­erly reg­u­lated. Yet much of the world is still fol­low­ing the con­ven­tional wis­dom, with dire con­se­quences for public health.

The United States seems poised to in­crease its al­ready ex­ten­sive pes­ti­cide use fur­ther. Last month, for­mer Ok­la­homa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Scott Pruitt was con­firmed as direc­tor of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. Pruitt, who sued the EPA many times in his pre­vi­ous job, seems in­tent on slash­ing its bud­get and dis­man­tling many of its reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing those for pes­ti­cides, which are es­sen­tial to en­sur­ing food safety.

Any­body who con­sumes food grown or pro­duced in the US should now be wor­ried. In­deed, dis­man­tling the EPA amounts to arm­ing a public-health time bomb – one that has det­o­nated re­peat­edly in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

In 1984, a pes­ti­cide-man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in Bhopal, In­dia, re­leased 27 tons of methyl iso­cyanate, a gas used to pro­duce some pes­ti­cides. The leak killed an es­ti­mated 15,000-20,000 peo­ple, and left sev­eral thou­sand more with per­ma­nent dis­abil­i­ties. The plant was un­der­staffed, and had sub­stan­dard op­er­at­ing and safety pro­ce­dures. None of the six safety sys­tems that could have pre­vented the ac­ci­dent was op­er­a­tional.

The Bhopal tragedy re­mains the world's worst in­dus­trial dis­as­ter. But it is just a small part of an enor­mous tableau of need­less suf­fer­ing. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion es­ti­mates that there are three mil­lion cases of pes­ti­cide poi­son­ing world­wide each year, lead­ing to up to 250,000 deaths.

In 1996, for ex­am­ple, in­sec­ti­cide-treated brown beans, pur­port­edly stored for plant­ing, found their way onto the mar­ket in Nige­ria, a “leak” con­nected with the deaths of a num­ber of peo­ple in the south­west re­gion of the coun­try. In 2013, in In­dia, an organophos­phate pes­ti­cide killed 23 chil­dren, who ate a lunch of tainted rice, pota­toes, and soy.

These sorts of tragedies hap­pen even when guide­lines for pes­ti­cide reg­is­tra­tion and use are in place. In Nige­ria, for ex­am­ple, the Na­tional Agency for Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion and Con­trol (NAFDAC) banned 30 agro­chem­i­cals (pes­ti­cides and fer­til­iz­ers) in 2008, af­ter a num­ber of deaths and poi­son­ings. But it was in­ad­e­quate to pre­vent the deaths from pes­ti­cide poi­son­ing of 18 peo­ple in Nige­ria's Ondo state in 2015.

And the dan­ger of in­ad­e­quate reg­u­la­tion is not lim­ited to acute dis­as­ters. The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of toxic sub­stances from chem­i­cals ap­plied both in the field and in stor­age also con­trib­utes to the con­tin­u­ous de­cline in the qual­ity of our nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment – namely, our soil, wa­ter, and air.

More than 250 stud­ies have linked agro­chem­i­cals to sev­eral types of can­cers, in­clud­ing can­cers of the brain, breast, colon, liver, lungs, prostate, and thy­roid. Chil­dren, in par­tic­u­lar, seem to be sus­cep­ti­ble to the toxic ef­fects of pes­ti­cides: re­search shows that the in­creased in­ci­dence of child­hood leukemia and brain can­cer could be the re­sult of early ex­po­sure. And ex­po­sure to such chem­i­cals has been linked to a va­ri­ety of birth de­fects.

All of this paints a grim pic­ture of what could hap­pen in the US if the EPA's op­po­nents – who now in­clude the agency's direc­tor – get their way. In 2006 and 2007, the US used more than one bil­lion pounds of pes­ti­cides an­nu­ally – and that was with EPA reg­u­la­tions in place. With­out ad­e­quate reg­u­la­tion, those quan­ti­ties are likely to rise.

Of course, the US is not the only coun­try at risk from ex­ces­sive use of organophos­phates. While pes­ti­cide use in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries is much lower than in the US, data from the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the United Na­tions (FAO) show a steady in­crease in coun­tries in Africa and Asia. Farm­ers in these re­gions are un­der­stand­ably look­ing for easy ways to re­duce crop losses and in­crease their in­come. And there are few reg­u­la­tions in place to stop them.

In fact, the FAO re­ports that most pes­ti­cide-poi­son­ing cases oc­cur in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, pre­cisely be­cause health stan­dards there tend to be in­ad­e­quate or non-ex­is­tent. The UN re­port found that only 35% of de­vel­op­ing coun­tries had reg­u­la­tory guid­ance on pes­ti­cide use, and all of them strug­gle with en­force­ment.

De­vel­op­ing coun­tries must im­ple­ment more ef­fec­tive mech­a­nisms for mon­i­tor­ing the agro­chem­i­cals that are in cir­cu­la­tion. They must also work to re­duce the use of toxic chem­i­cals to con­trol pests and in­crease yields, es­pe­cially by pro­mot­ing or­ganic al­ter­na­tives that do not pose wide­spread health and en­vi­ron­men­tal risks.

Such or­ganic meth­ods were used for cen­turies be­fore the ad­vent of mod­ern syn­thetic pes­ti­cides in the 1940s. For ex­am­ple, or­ganic ma­nure can help boost crop yields, as can biopes­ti­cides, de­rived from plants. Such nat­u­ral meth­ods, which are both ef­fec­tive and non-toxic, should be adopted not just in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, but around the world.

Syn­thetic pes­ti­cides may have a place in help­ing to feed an in­creas­ingly hun­gry world, es­pe­cially in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. But we must imag­ine how many un­nec­es­sary poi­son­ings and deaths will oc­cur un­less they are de­ployed with the ut­most care and re­straint. If Amer­i­cans can't imag­ine that, Pruitt's dream, if not re­con­sid­ered, will be­come their night­mare.

Pes­ti­cide be­ing sprayed in a farm

Direc­tor of US En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, Scott Pruit

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria

© PressReader. All rights reserved.