UN calls for end to use of world’s most toxic pesticides

In a historic move for safer food and farming, the U.N. Environment Assembly (UNEA) March 1 called for action by 2035 to eliminate the use of the world’s most toxic pesticides globally. Called highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs), these chemicals are known to cause significant environmental damage and pose serious threats to health. Exposures to HHPs have been linked to cancer, impaired neurodevelopment in children, reproductive health effects, and endocrine disruption, among other serious conditions.

The International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) and Pesticide Action Network (PAN) have collaborated on efforts to end the use of HHPs around the world for more than a decade. An IPEN report released at UNEA outlines 83 projects by public interest groups in 43 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) focused on ending the use of HHPs and promoting safer farming practices. 

The analyses in the report were based on the PAN International List of Highly Hazardous Pesticides. The report found that while wealthier nations have banned or regulated most HHPs, the toxic pesticides are still widely used in LMICs, with some countries reporting that almost 70% of all pesticides allowed for use were HHPs.

The call for UNEA action was led by African nations, with Ethiopia taking a leading role. 

“These highly toxic chemicals continue to threaten our health and the health of millions of people where HHPs are still used,” said Dr. Tadesse Amera, Executive Director of PAN-Ethiopia, International Co-coordinator of PAN, and IPEN Co-chair. 

“We know that organic and agroecological practices are available and profitable in many countries but marketing and sales of HHPs undermines the transition to these healthier practices. We need a swift phase-out of HHPs for our health and the health of the planet.” 

The action at UNEA on HHPs reinforces the agreement last year at the Global Forum on Chemicals (GFC) to form a Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides convened as a collaborative and multi-stakeholder initiative by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the International Labor Organization (ILO). The GFC called for a target of 2035 for “stakeholders [to] have taken effective measures to phase out highly hazardous pesticides in agriculture where the risks have not been managed and where safer and affordable alternatives are available.”

Sarojeni Rengam of PAN Asia Pacific said: “I believe that this resolution is necessary to advance stronger national and multilateral actions to phase out highly hazardous pesticides.  Every year, millions of women, men, farmers, and farmworkers are acutely poisoned by pesticides and most of these poisoning happen in the Global South where most farmers are unaware of the impacts of pesticides on their health and the environment. 

“It would require financial and technical support for HHPs to be replaced by agroecology. And these alternatives should be made available to small farmers and rural people transitioning to agroecology.”

The IPEN report notes that 250 HHPs were banned or not approved for use in the EU in 2022, but only an average of 25 HHPs were banned in 31 LMICs surveyed.  This means that more than two hundred HHPs are allowed for use in these countries that have been banned elsewhere.

“The production, export, and sales of HHPs contributes to violations of human rights that harm us all and especially impacted groups such as women and children,” said IPEN Science Advisor Sara Brosché. 

“Governments should take national action to ban HHPs, prohibit the export of HHPs, and support the Global Alliance on Highly Hazardous Pesticides to effectively phase out HHPs.”

Photo credit: iStock/ Dragos Condrea

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