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Exposure to pesticides worldwide has clear human rights implications

group of seedling growing from the park

Farmers, farm workers, civil society from the North and the South, and Members of the European Parliament urge the European Commission and Member States to protect our health, food systems and the environment, and pull the plug on chemical pesticides.

Every human being has the right to health, the right to food, the right to water and the right to live in a toxic-free environment. And yet, pesticides are everywhere: in the air, in water, in the ground and in foodstuffs. Chemical pesticides adversely affect human health, biodiversity, the environment, and our food systems.

“Exposure to pesticides has clear human rights implications” – said Marcos Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights.

“The European Commission and Member states must show vision and moral conviction. They must pull the plug on chemical pesticides, initiate the transition towards agroecology and put an end to the exports of pesticides banned in the EU to the Global South”- said Eva Corral, Senior Policy Officer on pesticide and water pollution at the EEB.

These are some of the conclusions of a conference on pesticides held in Brussels on March 16th, with the participation of representatives of farmers and farm workers, civil society groups, and members of the European Parliament and Commission. The conference explored the many reasons why it is necessary to pull the plug on the use of chemical pesticides and why such a model can only lead to a dead end.

The conference takes place shortly before the Commission’s publication of the revision of the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides (SUD), expected on  March 23rd. Two weeks ago, more than 70 civil society groups called on the Commission to make sure that the revision is ambitious enough and include strong legally binding reduction targets. The conference also comes at a moment where some lobby groups are using the war atrocities in Ukraine to try to derail the Farm to Fork Strategy of the European Commission, one of which objectives is to halve the use and risk of chemical pesticides by 2030.

As explained by Christophe Alliot, co-founder of BASIC, food systems relying on pesticides are far from cheap: in the EU, the costs directly attributable to pesticides and born by our societies –around 2.3 billion €/year – are twice as high as the net profits made by the industry.

“The use of chemical pesticides only creates lose-lose scenarios. It is incompatible with climate protection and with the need for land regeneration in Sub-saharan Africa” – Said Audrey S-Darko, founder of Sabon Sake, an organization based in Ghana that promotes regenerative agriculture.

“As elected representatives, we are responsible for the fair use of public money. By using pesticides, the citizen pays the bill three times: once via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a second time when shopping, and a third time via all the decontamination and public health public policies” said Benoit Biteau, Green MEP and Vice-president of the AGRI Committee in the European Parliament.

Another issue addressed during the conference is the current practice, by the EU pesticide industry, to export pesticides banned in the EU to the Global South. While the European Commission has committed to putting an end to the export of pesticides banned in the EU, it has not yet translated this commitment into a concrete piece of legislation.

“The Commission must present a legislative proposal to stop intoxicating the Global South within the briefest delays. This is a first necessary step that must be completed with international regulation tools. It is the only way to ensure that the export ban is not avoided by the pesticides industry” – said Maureen Jorand, Head of food sovereignty and climate advocacy unit at CCFD-Terre Solidaire.

“Let’s attack the problem at its source. We can no longer afford to export the health and environmental risks of pesticides for the benefit of a few multinationals” – added Green MEP Michèle Rivasi.