In recognition of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) World Health Day (April 7, 2023), PAN North America and PAN Asia Pacific organized the 8th Global Day of Action for the Stop the #ToxicAlliance Campaign. Supporters of PAN and advocates for food systems that protect farmers and the planet mobilized on social media to demand an end to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) partnership with pesticide industry group CropLife International (CLI).
Members of the public and organizations such as The Farmworker Association of Florida, the Society for International Development, and FIAN International helped to amplify PANNA’s calls for the FAO to end their partnership with CLI; PANNA’s messaging on social media was retweeted and engaged with hundreds of times, with a potential reach of 440,000 people. This resounding response is representative of the strong public and civil society demand for FAO to support farmers instead of agrichemical corporations.
An inconsistent partnership for addressing global health
The FAO recognizes a comprehensive vision of health, from addressing basic hunger to reducing rural poverty and promoting biodiverse food systems. By contrast, CropLife International (CLI) makes repeated reference to a very limited definition of health; they emphasize how their products support food security, and claim that they are dedicated to supporting biodiversity.
This understanding of health not only neglects considerations of farmer well-being and food sovereignty, but CLI’s values of supporting food security and biodiversity are also undermined by the very products their members sell.
WHO has outlined a “shift from economies driven by profit and pollution to economies driven by fairness and well-being” as a priority for their 75th World Health Day. To uphold this commitment from another UN body, the FAO must renew their commitments to ecosystem, farmer, and farmworker health as the essential foundation of sustainable food systems. The FAO cannot fully commit to human and ecosystem health if it aligns with this superficial vision of “health” that ultimately prioritizes profit over well-being.
CLI products & HHPs
CLI members include prolific names in the chemical industry, including Syngenta, BASF, FMC, and Bayer (which acquired Monsanto in 2018). Many of their products are highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), a classification which indicates at least one quality of high acute toxicity, long-term toxic effects, or environmental toxicity.
A cross-section analysis of PAN reports and the product websites of Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta found that in their insecticide products alone, these CLI members manufacture at least 27 HHPs that are sold under 90 different product names in 57 countries; most of these countries are in the Global South. Despite CLI’s claims that they prioritize supporting biodiversity, 22 of the HHP active ingredients produced by members Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta are highly toxic to bees. These are sold as 81 different products in 52 countries.
What are the health impacts of CLI products?
At least 25 pesticides developed or sold by Bayer and BASF are classified as “WHO Ia” or “WHO Ib” substances, meaning they are recognized as “extremely hazardous” or “highly hazardous” to human health, respectively.
Despite their recognition as substances harmful to human or environmental health, HHPs are sold widely throughout the world, especially in the Global South. A recent PAN AP report found that, in a survey of 350 farmers in Bangladesh, India, Laos, and Vietnam, over half of the pesticides used were HHPs. In India and Bangladesh, HHPs constituted 92% of pesticides used, while in Vietnam HHPs constituted 60% of pesticides used. In Laos, HHPs accounted for 100% of pesticides used by the survey respondents.
Further, many CLI products have overlapping qualities of high acute toxicity, long-term toxic effects, and environmental toxicity. The aforementioned cross-section analysis also found that:
- Abamectin is classified as “highly hazardous” by WHO, “fatal if inhaled” by the European Union or the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), and highly toxic to bees. It is included in at least 2 CLI products that are used or sold in 11 countries.
- Fipronil is recognized by PAN as highly toxic to bees and especially hazardous for infants and young children. It is included in at least 14 CropLife International products that are sold in at least 17 countries, despite being banned in 38 countries.
How do CLI pesticide products impact farmers?
CLI emphasizes a limited definition of health that implies their products are necessary to combat hunger and food insecurity, thus supporting consumer health. CropLife America asserts that without pesticides, “farmers would not be able to grow enough food to feed a growing population” and would suffer yield losses leading to poverty. In other words, CropLife utilizes a narrative of food scarcity to promote their products.
Research on sustainable agriculture suggests that it stabilizes yields in the long-term and leads to greater total output on farms. A report prepared for the FAO found that “Yield advantages of diversified farming systems can range from 20 percent to 60 percent higher than monocultures, because polycultures usually reduce losses due to weeds, insects, and diseases and make more efficient use of the available resources of water, light, and nutrients.” Biodiverse farming systems also support ecosystem and soil health.
CLI products also present a threat in the form of the “Pesticide Treadmill,” a phenomenon in which farmers are driven deeper into debt after becoming reliant upon pesticides and the genetically modified seeds that pair with them. Seeds that require specific pesticides to grow increase costs for farmers, while the pesticides become less effective over time due to pest resistance. Farmers are then drawn into a cycle of buying new pesticide products, binding them to agrichemical corporations like the members of CLI, while realizing less profit over time.
Absent from CLI’s food insecurity narrative is a consideration of the health of farmers and farmworkers, who are an integral part of any food system and who are most at risk for pesticide exposure through the use of CLI products. Pesticide products ultimately undermine their physical well-being and their financial stability, as they can often cause devastating health impacts and contribute to farmer poverty instead of alleviating it.
What should the FAO do instead of partnering with CLI?
Instead of putting the profit of CropLife International members before farmers and consumers worldwide, the FAO must invest in solutions like agroecology and take stronger action on ending the usage of HHPs.
FAO itself, in collaboration with WHO, developed The International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management for reducing pesticide risk. Further, the FAO identifies the first step in pesticide risk reduction is to “reduce reliance on pesticides” in their Guidance on Pest and Pesticide Management Policy Development. An FAO partnership with CLI is all the more contradictory given these commitments.
Agroecology — with its adaptable principles and foundations in traditional and indigenous knowledge — is essential for ensuring food sovereignty, protecting biodiversity, and centering farmers’ lives and needs while bolstering climate resilience. FAO’s support for agroecology as a solution, such as in their Scaling Up Agroecology Initiative, is compromised by this partnership.,
CLI products that create chemical dependency, threaten human health, and endanger biodiversity have no place in sustainable food systems and a future that truly supports human health and well-being, biodiversity, and the fight against climate change. In recognition of World Health Day and its commitments to farmers, FAO must end their #ToxicAlliance with CropLife International.