The UN human rights rapporteur reacts on the glyphosate investigation

The research of Il Salvagente, in collaboration with A Sud, which has revealed that glyphosate is present in the body of 14 pregnant women, continues to be debated.

Baskut Tuncak, special Rapporteur to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Hazardous Substances and Wastes

Reading the Investigator of Il Salvagente and reacting immediately was Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur at the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Hazardous Substances and Hazardous Waste. His first comment is clear: “The results are arousing and are a source of considerable concern for the rights of children and women”.

Why Doctor Tuncak?

This is a further proof that no one can be protected from the risks of exposure to pesticides, including children, during the fundamental stages of their development. Exposure to pesticides can occur through food, water, air, direct contact with pesticides or through the womb or breast milk. The uncertainties regarding the impact of glyphosate on human health, especially on children in development, require greater caution from both states and businesses.

And doubts about the impact on children are heavy …

In general, emerging research guidelines reveal that exposure to pesticides, even at low levels, for example through residues on food, can seriously harm children’s health, harm their physical and psychological growth, and ultimately, be the source of a life characterized by illness and disorder. Recent data suggest that exposure to pesticides of pregnant women increases the risk during childhood of leukemia and other cancers, autism and respiratory diseases. Pesticides can also be transmitted through breastfeeding. This is a cause of particular concern since, for many children whose physical structure has not yet been developed to adequately defend against dangerous chemicals, breast milk is the only source of nutrition.

On the glyphosate there is a world-class battle with a high symbolic value. This is also a theme that links the relationship between science and business. Examples of different and conflicting interpretations of studies on the effects of this substance on health are enlightening, as are the cases of clamorous conflicts of interest of regulators documented by the international press.

Yes, there is a serious problem of conflict of interest between politics and the pesticide industry.

It is a problem at national, regional and, unfortunately, globally. The chemical industry’s oligopoly has enormous power. The pesticide industry has prevented reforms and has blocked the introduction of restrictions on the use of such products in various countries and globally. A recent example is the efforts made to continue to guarantee the use of glyphosate despite serious doubts about its carcinogenicity but also from attempts to prevent the introduction of restrictions on the use of pesticides to protect the pollinators necessary for Food production and the protection of children’s mental health from clorpirifos.

As for symbolic cases, the recent document that you signed with Hilal Elver on pesticides. A report that provides disturbing numbers and data on the impact of pesticides.

The report by the Special Rapporteur on Food Law presented to the UN  Council of Human Rights in March 2017 details some surprising data on the impact of pesticides. The report provides a clear account of the use of pesticides in agriculture worldwide and their impact on human rights; the negative consequences that pesticides have on human health, the environment and society, which are not fully known or remain in the shadows due to the increased focus on the issue of “food security”; And the human rights and environmental law system whose objective is to protect farmers, consumers and vulnerable groups.

It should be noted, however, that this is a downward assessment. Because of the difficulty in identifying the possible negative consequences of a single pesticide, since we are often exposed to multiple pesticides at different levels at different times and during different periods of sensitivity, the impact can only be estimated at best. This obviously involves enormous difficulties for victims who may develop diseases or disabilities due to pesticides without, however, having the means to identify who should be considered responsible and for what.

In the report deny the use (or rather the abuse) of pesticides may be useful to an agriculture that serves to accommodate growing food needs in the world. Can you explain us better?

Although food production has increased thanks to the use of agrochemicals, the sustainability of their use is more than questionable. Likewise, the increase in food production has not allowed to eliminate hunger in the world. The current use of dangerous pesticides is a short-term solution that undermines the right to nutrition and health of present and future generations.

The statement that the use of pesticides is necessary to ensure food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading. In principle, there is enough food to feed the world’s population. The existence of unfair mechanisms in production and distribution systems prevents access to those who need it. It is possible to produce more healthy and nutritious food without pesticides or with minimal use of these products, with longer-term benefits, without causing pollution and exhausting environmental resources.

The solution lies in a global approach to food law, including the phasing out of pesticides and the effective implementation of a human rights based regulatory framework, and the launch of a transition towards sustainable agriculture, Agroecology, which takes into account the challenges of scarcity of resources and climate change.

What should the international community do to prevent irreversible damage and reduce what you have documented?

There is a need for the international community to develop a treaty to gradually eliminate pesticide dependence in favor of adopting safer alternative products. For a number of reasons, an approach to this limited issue at national or regional level does not prevent the negative consequences of pesticide use being reproduced elsewhere to the benefit of the most vulnerable. A global approach is needed that encourages the development and adoption of safe alternative products. And because this can be accomplished, time is needed.

As far as the short term is concerned, the report contains a number of specific conclusions and recommendations addressed to States which would now allow a gradual transition to pesticides in favor of a safer and more secure food chain.

Developing countries that today import prohibited pesticides in production countries should adopt similar prohibitions and eliminate double standards and discriminatory practices.

In turn, through development aid, industrialized countries should support developing countries, in identifying and adopting safe alternative products. On the subject, some initiatives are underway, but there is a need to do more.

Together with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, we also recommend all states to carry out independent and impartial risk assessments and establish pesticide registration procedures with complete information requirements for producers; to consider the adoption, first and foremost, of alternative non-chemical products and to allow only the use of those registered chemicals, in cases where it is necessary to use them.

It is also important to encourage farmers to use agro-ecological practices, such as subsidies promoting the use of safe alternative products. Lastly, the introduction of taxes on the use of pesticides and import duties could be considered.




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