|Circle of poison - Pesticides and People in a Hungry World (Food First, 1981)|
STOP USING US as a dumping ground!" exclaimed Kenya's minister for water development, Dr. Gikonyo Kiano, at a U.N. Environment Program meeting. "Kenya detests the use of developing countries as experimental or dumping grounds for chemical products that have been banned or have not been adequately tested.''
Throughout the third world, activists like Kiano arc- beginning to resist chemical colonialism. They are organizing to resist the pesticide onslaught, even though dissenting can be dangerous under the repressive governments in many third world countries.
THE FARMER'S Assistance Board was organized several years ago by Filipino peasants and students to study pesticides. The group places the blame for the huge volume of pesticides used in Philippine agriculture squarely on big export producers such as Castle & Cooke and Del Monte as well as the promotional research of the International Rice Research Institute. The companies demand the highest yields and blemish-free products. Both demands contribute to dependence on pesticides.
The Farmer's Assistance Board treads a delicate, dangerous line under Marcos' martial law regime, but its description of the impact of pesticides on Philippine farms is revealing: "It may well be that the gains of modern agricultural technology are wiped out by the destruction of the material bases for food production: the land, the air, and the water, and the living beings that derive their sustenance and survival from these elements."
IN NEARBY Malaysia, pesticide residues on local food crops have galvanized local consumers into action. The Consumers Association of Penang has discovered organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, aldrin, BHC dieldrin, and chlordane - all banned in the United States - in Malaysia's rainwater, soil, drinking water, and food crops.
The Consumers Association is the largest and loudest citizens organization in the third world focusing specifically on consumer rights. For IO years the association has been monitoring industrial pollution, deforestation, war toys, flammable teddy bears, adulterated foods, and pesticide poisoning of workers and residues on food in Malaysia. It collected evidence of nearly 100 pesticide poisonings in 1975, mostly from malathion and paraquat. Heavy pesticide use is destroying the nation's fish supply, the Consumers Association points out. Dramatic decreases in the Muda River catch due to endosulfan, BHC, and malathion poisoning have led to "severe economic hardship and nutritional deficiencies among the poorer paid farmers." The association has been pressuring the Malaysian government to tighten its regulations on pesticides, with some recent success.
The United Nations
THESE EXAMPLES from the third world - along with parallel efforts in the industrial countries - represent the beginning of a worldwide attempt to regulate the flow of toxic pesticides. A symbolic step took place in December 1979, when the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution urging member states to exchange information on hazardous chemicals (and pharmaceuticals) that have been banned in their countries, and to discourage exporting chose produces to other countries.
" But simple notification is not good enough," says Noel Brown, North American representative for the U.N. Environment Program. Brown, a Jamaican, is one of the U.N.'s most articulate voices against the use of underdeveloped countries as dumping grounds for the industrialized world. "We would like to have more than simply telling a government a substance is banned," he continues. "Why is it banned? We want basic chemical information. The side effects: what dangers are there? We want full disclosure."
Brown is trying to bring the issue out in the open. The U.N. has little official power to prevent the sales of hazardous materials, he says, but focusing international attention on the sellers and producers of the materials may at lease make "dumpers" think twice.
Having seen his native Caribbean Sea heavily damaged by agricultural runoff, Brown is particularly concerned about pesticides. He is encouraging local doctors to develop labels for poisonous pesticides which use special color codes or graphics specifically oriented to the local population, with warnings in local languages.
Since there is no reliable source of information about the global movement of toxic materials, Brown would like to expand the U.N.'s International Registry of Potentially Toxic Chemicals so it could track them from the manufacturers - mostly in the industrial countries - to their destinations in the third world.
In the summer of 1980, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) asked all the industrial countries to observe the U.S. notification procedures in order to standardize the global trade in toxic chemicals. Based in Paris, the organization is just beginning a comprehensive effort to compile data on toxic chemicals and their harmful effects. It would be the first central collection of data on chemical poisons used around the world.
Breaking the circle of poison
WHILE INVESTIGATING pesticide dumping we have relearned a hard fact: where a few executives from a handful of multinational corporations and their government allies are allowed to make decisions affecting entire peoples, "business as usual" will not serve the majority. The problem is not simply unethical corporate executives; the solution is not simply exchanging them for more compassionate, socially responsible types. No, we have concluded that unless all a society's important decisions - including economic decisions like the development and marketing of agricultural chemicals - are made more democratically, the majority will suffer. By "more democratically" we mean that all the people affected - in this case, factory workers' farm workers, consumers - should take part in making the key decisions.
Yet our society is moving in exactly the opposite direction - toward more and more concentration of economic power in the hands of a few corporations.
We have no blueprint for achieving this goal of greater participation. But we are confident that more and more Americans are realizing - whether the issue is food, energy or health policy - that the answer is not to make the powerful more responsible, but to redistribute the power. This realization challenges each of us. It means that our responsibility is not merely to express outrage to our "leaders," although that is clearly the beginning. Each of us must figure out how to begin to take greater responsibility for the economic system. The first step may well be learning much more about how economic decisions are made now, and then examining our roles as workers, consumers, parents, citizens. In each case we must ask if our actions serve to reinforce the highly anti-democratic concentration of economic power, or if our actions begin to challenge it.
For us, this investigation has contributed to a second important realization. Circle of Poison reveals that the problem cannot be reduced to that of the "rich countries" exploiting the "poor countries." Such a formulation turns the issue into "them versus us." But the majority in troth the industrial nations and the third world are victims of the circle. When we understood this, we began to understand our ties with third world people in a new way. The differences in our material standards of living too often obscure our similarities - a common powerlessness in facing the increasing concentration of private power in the hands of a relatively few global companies. The reality of global corporate power, here reflected in the pesticide trade, forces us to seek solutions involving new ways of working with third world people for a worldwide redistribution of economic power. We must begin to see third world people not as a burden or a threat, but as allies.
Momentum for change
BUT WHERE TO BEGIN ? Here are our suggestions as to how you can help build the momentum for change. First, your letters can be ammunition. They can inform those in power that their actions are being scrutinized - that we are not blind to the dangers of pesticide proliferation. Second, your letters can help concerned people within the government by demonstrating that there is widespread concern.
We suggest you write letters. (The addresses are in Appendix A. ) Write to your Congressperson, recommending support for the Barnes bill (H.R. 2439) which would restrict pesticide dumping. Also write to Congressman George Brown Jr. (D-California) and Jonathan gingham (D-New York) to request that their House committees hold hearings on the dumping of pesticides and other dangerous products. Write to Noel Brown of the U.N. Environment Program, stating what you think needs to be done to end pesticide dumping. And write to corporate dumpers themselves, asking them to respond to the damning evidence in this book.
In addition, you can help expose this scandal to the public. Why not try to interest your local newspaper in a story based on this investigation? Many columnists and editorial writers are looking for controversial issues. Pesticide dumping is also a good radio talk show topic. Why not suggest it?
Take this book to your or your child's classroom, to your church or study group, or to your union meeting. Since it affects all of us, it provokes discussion. Most important, it is educational, helping "demystify" economics. By learning about the proliferation of hazardous pesticides, we can learn about how our economic system works. Ask your local library to order and display it.
We also encourage those of you who may be travelling abroad to help push forward this research. You don't have to be an experienced investigator. You just have to keep your eyes open and be willing to ask questions. Much of the research for this book relied on such first-hand accounts - on pesticide labels collected, photos taken by friends, and on interviews with local farmers and pesticide promoters. Please send us what you turn up.
If this issue is one that ignites you into action, work with other people. Contact one of the action groups listed in Appendix A. See what you can do to support or extend their initiatives. We have included some third world groups there, too. They need information that we, living here, can supply about dumping practices of U.S.-based corporations.
As for us, our hope is that this book will help transform the issue from one receiving sporadic press coverage and scattered activist attention, to one that spurs an international movement. That means getting the word out. We need your financial help to be able to send out books to policy and opinion makers both here and in the third world, to mail press releases, and to place ads. If we can secure the financial support, we would also like to assemble a small group of activists from both the industrial and third world countries for a working session in 1981 to map out a more coordinated strategy for information sharing, media coverage and government pressure.
This book is but a beginning. It will only be of value if your actions give it the power to help break the pesticide circle of poison.