Guest blog: Filipino scientist speaks up for children's health
My grandson, David, stays at our house 2-3 times a week while his parents are at work, and I often have the chance to babysit when I am at home. I began to teach him about healthy diet, organic fruits and vegetables, and the dangers that pesticides bring to children's health when he was about three years old.
Today, we're launching a new international campaign to protect children from the harms of pesticides. Our collective aim is to press for policies that better protect our children from dangerous pesticides — and phase out those that we know are most harmful to children. I'm holding David and his future firmly in mind.
I taught David the scientific names of fruits and vegetables he ate and some medicinal plants. He is such a fast learner that now his knowledge of science is far advanced of his age (he is now five years old) and he knows the scientific names of at least 20 fruits and vegetables.
He is such a lovable and intelligent kid who would undoubtedly be a valuable contributor to the society of the near future to which he belongs — and which will be beyond my time.
A global children's health crisis
When I think about David's future, and the future of all children, I feel both sad and angry — and at the same time, deeply motivated and hopeful.
I feel sad because I know that despite my best efforts to protect David from toxic chemicals, he is still exposed to a variety of pesticides and other toxics, and all I can do is try to reduce that exposure. There is hardly any person or any place on earth that is not contaminated to some degree. Children are the hardest hit, and the health of children worldwide is worsening.
Children are the hardest hit by pesticides. This has serious implications for the wellbeing of children and society as a whole.
The incidence rates of developmental abnormalities, asthma, diabetes, certain cancers and other diseases in children have increased. This has serious implications for the future wellbeing not only of children, but of society as a whole. Pesticides and other toxic contaminants in air, water and food have emerged as important causal factors.
I have personally studied and observed this unfortunate situation in my 38 years of work as a medical professional in academia and in various communities in many countries. In banana plantations in Mindanao, palm oil plantations in Malaysia, a cashew plantation in India and in garbage dump communities in Manila and Cebu, I have examined children harmed by pesticides and other toxic chemicals.
I've also participated in many international meetings and negotiations pertaining to toxic chemicals, and my personal experiences have been affirmed by information exchanges and discussions with experts in toxic chemicals from governments, international agencies, research and academic institutions, public interest groups and even the chemical industry.
Corporate interests block progress...
I feel angry because big business continues the irresponsible manufacture and use of highly hazardous pesticides and other toxics with the complicity of governments, international agencies, corrupt bureaucrats and prostituted scientists that promote or allow profiteering from toxic chemicals at the expense of health and environment, putting our children's future in serious jeopardy.
Corporate interests and political expediency are too often the dominant considerations influencing regulatory decisions pertaining to pesticides and other toxic chemicals, especially in developing countries where socio-political circumstances are particularly conducive for powerful corporations to exert influence and manipulate public policy.
This mix of sadness and anger keeps me deeply motivated to continue fighting to eliminate as many highly hazardous pesticides and other toxics as possible, which is why I am so excited to participate in the launch of this new PAN campaign to protect children's health.
...but people's movements provide hope
Our new children's health campaign builds on exciting momentum, in communities and countries across the globe. People's resistance against corporate-imposed unsustainable and toxic agriculture is increasing, and offers reason for real hope and optimism.
Biodiversity-based ecological agriculture and non-pesticide approaches are being practiced more widely by tens of thousands of farmers across Asia and other parts of the world. These farmers and their children not only lead healthier lives but have improved livelihoods.
The growing movement toward ecological agriculture shows me that the future of our children may not be so bleak.
Landless peasants, consumers and other sectors are organizing themselves and coming together in broader coalitions to assert food sovereignty and to resist agrochemical corporations. This growing people's movement shows me that the future of our children may not be so bleak after all.
Which makes me more hopeful for David's future. Despite my many travels abroad, I do get to spend quite a lot of time with my grandson, and I enjoy every moment of it — playing, showing him simple tricks, singing songs, listening to music and dancing (he's such a good dancer!) and playing my mandolin for him.
Our campaign seeks to protect the joy and hopefulness of our children — by challenging the forces that bring pesticides and other toxics unnecessarily into their lives.
Dr. Quijano is president of PAN Philippines and a member of PAN AP’s steering council. He is a former co-chair of International POPs Elimination Network, and Standing Committee member of the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety. He received the Jenifer Altman Award for Science and Public Interest in 2005.