Along with PAN International colleagues, we'll be honoring International Day of No Pesticide Use on December 3. This anniversary — which marks the tragic disaster in Bhopal, India 33 years ago — serves as an annual reminder of how pesticides are harming communities around the world, every day.
That harm is what motivated the founding of PAN International 35 years ago. In 1982, activists gathered in Penang, Malaysia to strategize on how best to battle the "circle of poison" — the toxic trade in pesticides that was spiraling out of control. Out of that initial meeting, five regional centers were established on five continents and PAN International was born. Today, we're still going strong.
Serving "egg snacks" to delegates in Urugay, with longtime partner Dr. Paul Saoke of Kenya (left).
I've had the privilege of being part of PAN for more than 20 years, collaborating with many of the amazing activists in our international network. In my new role as director here at PAN North America, I'm excited to step back into our global work, reconnecting with these inspiring colleagues from around the world. Together, we've made some incredible progress on the international stage — and there is still much to do.
Grassroots action, global impact
The first PAN global effort was the "Dirty Dozen" campaign, with activists in dozens of country working together to press for phaseout of the most dangerous pesticides. Progress was tracked and reported worldwide without the benefit of email or even fax machines. Looking back, the creativity, passion and persistence of these organizers is astonishing.
This PAN campaign planted the seeds of what became the Stockholm Convention, a global treaty targeting persistent chemicals for international phaseout (nine of PAN's original "Dirty Dozen" pesticides are on the Stockholm list). PAN's work on pesticide trade also had global impact, laying groundwork for the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent.
Meanwhile each regional center has pursued programs to address the most pressing problems in their region, from promoting pesticide-free malaria control in Africa to battling the invasion of GE crops (and the pesticides that go with them) in Latin America. European PAN offices have tackled endocrine disrupting pesticides, worked with PAN Africa to promote organic cotton, and have most recently been front and center in the fight over renewal of Monsanto's glyphosate in the EU.
PAN Asia-Pacific's awe-inspiring "people's caravans" traverse dozens of villages in countries across the region to share information on the health harms of pesticides and farmer-to-farmer wisdom on sustainable practices.
And always, in every region, PAN colleagues are calling out the dangerous influence of the powerful pesticide industry.
One of PAN's unique roles on the global stage has been to bring frontline realities into UN discussions and proceedings. My first campaign at PAN involved pressing for global action on the fumigant methyl bromide under the Montreal Protocol. As UN delegates debated the fate of this toxic pesticide, PAN dove into the science to make our case. We then stepped out of the box, and brought our farmworker partners to the UN table to share, in person, how methyl bromide was harming their families.
Then came creative actions at various Stockholm Convention meetings. At one session, PAN helped organize a "pregnant belly vigil," where dozens of PAN activists stood silently at the conference hall entrance to remind participants that their decisions on chemicals that day would impact future generations of children. At a meeting in Budapest, I worked with my colleague Medha Chandra and PAN partners from Africa, Asia and Europe to pull together a "Why DDT?" action and press event, calling for investment in nonchemical malaria control.
In Uruguay, we collaborated with our IPEN partners to serve egg snacks to delegates, highlighting the results of a 17-country study that had found persistent pesticides and other chemicals in chicken eggs. And we held events at various sessions in Geneva, including an "Annex A Cafe," featuring endosulfan-free foods, and offering lindane-free "Food for Thought" chocolate to the governmental officials in the UN hallways.
All this creative organizing had real impact, speeding and strengthening decisions on dangerous chemicals. And the work continues; as I write, my dear colleagues Sarojeni Rengam and Abou Thiam are representing PAN at a UN meeting in Nairobi, promoting global action on a target list of "highly hazardous pesticides."
With PAN colleagues Maru Acosta of PAN Mexico and Sarojeni Rengam and Meriel Watts of PAN Asia-Pacific.
Here in the U.S. and around the world, awareness of the problems with pesticides and the need for better solutions is now growing quickly. And as we have for decades, PAN and our partners will be right there making the urgent case for action, and pressing for safe, sustainable food and farming for all.