Meet PAN founding member David Chatfield | Pesticide Action Network
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Meet PAN founding member David Chatfield

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As PAN celebrates our 35th anniversary, Senior Scientist Marcia Ishii-Eiteman recently had a conversation with one of PAN’s founding members — and current board member — David Chatfield to talk about PAN’s work throughout the years.

When and for how long have you been involved with PAN? In what capacity have you worked with the organization?

I’ve been involved with PAN since the very beginning. I went to the first organizing meeting in 1982 along with Monica Moore and Gretta Goldenman. We were representing a movement that had started in the US around the book that David Weir wrote, Circle of Poison. For the next couple of years, that foursome met about every two weeks. 

Once PAN North America incorporated, I was on the board of directors until 1997, and I was very pleased to be asked back to the board just last year. So I’ve been close to the organization right through my retirement.

What brought you to working with PAN? Do you have a background in food and farming?

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), where Gretta worked, was looking for help distributing Circle of Poison; I was the international director for Friends of the Earth (FOE) in San Francisco, and had lots of contacts. The book was sent out all over the world to what turned out to be a lot of grassroots activists, and immediately requests came into CIR asking for help — farmworkers and frontline communities, especially in the Global South, were getting poisoned. 

The International Organization of Consumers Unions in Penang sponsored and organized our first meeting; we ended up with a tremendous mix of people from the South and the North. The stories from the South were heartbreaking as some people had been working on this issue for years and it’s not easy to do work, especially in places like the Philippines where they were working at the time under the Marcos dictatorship. 

What aspect of PAN's work made you excited to work with the organization?

The first thing was the unique decision that the network not have an international center, making the national or regional groups the center of activity and thinking — to create a true network rather than an organization. This meant that everyone had a voice that was of equal importance, especially the folks who were not typically leaders of already-established international organizations. That has been part of my thinking about how networks should function ever since.

My favorite thing we did was the very first campaign for PAN International  — the Dirty Dozen campaign. It was a truly collaborative global effort. The project was finished — this was all before computers and before international communications as we know it now — and it was a huge amount of work, including getting in touch back and forth with folks most affected by pesticides to decide what the Dirty Dozen should be. The campaign for a global ban of all pesticides on the list was launched in multiple countries all over the world at the same time.

Were you having lots of phone calls? Group calls? Faxes?

Monica says that this was before even faxes. I think phone calls were the main way to do it but there was a lot of mail. All the materials were mailed out, the packets were mailed out, it was an extraordinary effort, and probably took about a year to put together. 

What achievement/progress/win are you most proud of during your time working with PAN?

I was never on PAN staff, so I wasn't involved at a staff level but I did go to Rome for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) meeting for the prior informed consent (PIC) talks. The network decided that if we couldn't immediately stop the trade of these pesticides at least we could do something to force the exporters to notify the people importing them, so they know what they’re getting, and the regulatory status of these pesticides in other places. We called that prior informed consent.

It was a multi-year battle, and very exciting, and I don’t think at the time FAO was accustomed to this kind of lobbying. My memory is it didn’t work the first time around, but we went back two years later and PIC did pass. It’s now a legally binding commitment by the international community. 

What have you been doing in your time since working with PAN? How is your work now different from or similar to PAN's work? Did your time at PAN impact what you've been doing in the time since?

After FOE, I went on to work for Greenpeace for 8-9 years, and one of my jobs there was as a co-international pesticide coordinator. I couldn't have done that without having the background I got from PAN. After I left Greenpeace, I saw an ad for the director of Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR), which is a coalition/network that has PANNA as a fiscal sponsor. I said, “I'd really like to work with these folks again, it’s been a while.” I applied for the job and got it and I really loved the work. 

I think what I brought from PAN was that right from the get go I thought CPR should have serious leadership from the people who were most directly affected by pesticides in California. I left that job in 2011 to retire and I'm very happy to be back in the fold, so to speak, being on PAN’s board now. 

What current PAN work or campaigns are you excited about?

First, the commitment that has become solidly, increasingly important in the organization to work on the ground to support a transition to sustainable agriculture and to underline the justice side of sustainability. You can’t have a sustainable agriculture system without having sustainable labor, decent health conditions, etc. and an organization can’t be effective without having leadership from the communities directly impacted. 

Second, I like the fact that we're still connected with our international colleagues, some of whom are still the folks who were there in 1982. I hope PAN never loses that capacity; that international collegial work is something that is very important, it is the gut of PAN. 

And finally, effective fundraising. You think about all the work PAN does and on top of that it raises the money to make the work possible. 

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