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close this bookCircle of poison - Pesticides and People in a Hungry World (Food First, 1981)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentPreface
View the documentChapter one - The circle of poison
View the documentChapter two - A victim every minute
View the documentChapter three - Dumping: Business as usual
View the documentChapter four - The pesticide boomerang
View the documentChapter five - Pesticides to feed the hungry ?
View the documentChapter six - The global pesticides super-market
View the documentChapter seven - Lubricating the sales machine
View the documentChapter eight - With the advice and consent of government
View the documentChapter nine - Breaking the circle of poison
View the documentBureaucracy glossary
View the documentAppendix A
View the documentAppendix B
View the documentAppendix C
View the documentFor more information
View the documentAbout the institute

Chapter seven - Lubricating the sales machine

ON A HOT SUMMER day in the rice paddies of Pakistan, a portly man's loose-fitting garments flap softly in the breeze as he makes his daily rounds by motorcycle over roads too rough for automobiles. The man is an agricultural credit officer from the National Bank of Pakistan. His job is to visit remote villages, offering loans to farmers to buy the technology of modern agriculture. With the loans (averaging $187), farmers will be able to buy government-subsidized pesticides, including dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor and BHC - all banned in the U.S.

In the plush conference room at the World Bank's headquarters in Washington, D.C., top-level officials are discussing the merits of a massive development loan to Brazil which will include huge purchases of "ag-chemicals" to increase yields of a new export crop. The same pesticides banned in the U.S. and available in Pakistan are also sold in Brazil.

Off the western coast of Africa, two newly independent islands, São Tome and Principe, are attempting to convert former Portuguese plantations to diversified food crop production. To clear the land, they have applied to the U.S.

Agency for International Development (AID) for help. One of the four herbicides AID recommends for the job is paraquat, manufactured by Chevron.

Paraquat, notorious as a dangerous contaminant of Mexican marl juana, is currently under review by the Environmental Protection Agency for possible new restrictions in the United States because it is increasingly being used to commit suicide. There is no known antidote. "The hazard in paraquat is that it might be gotten by third parties," says AID's Fred Whittemore. "Once they take it they have from 12 to 20 days to live and that's that. It must be more or less kept under lock and key with very strict controls. As long as that's the case we okay its use."

In the large, well-irrigated fields of Argentina, the International Institute of Agricultural Sciences (IICA) is helping to devise a system to "improve the efficiency of the distribution of agricultural products and inputs." Until recently an arm of (and still closely allied with) the Organization of American States, the Institute maintains offices in every Latin American country. It supplies technical assistance for agricultural marketing development at the village level. "We're trying to link marketing and distribution with the grower," remarks Michael Moran, the Institute's North American representative.

Working on completely different levels, these four organizations - the National Bank of Pakistan, the World Bank, AID, and IICA - are all integral parts of a complex network of "facilitators" for worldwide pesticide trade. In the lingo of the agricultural economists who chronicle this push toward agricultural "development," these institutions help "synch" (synchronize) third world farmers into the global marketplace. This is accomplished through two commodities controlled by powerful institutions in the industrial countries - money and information.

The capital invasion

AS THEIR RELIANCE on third world markets grows, the multinational chemical producers face a vexing problem: most of the world's farmers cannot afford high technology "inputs" such as pesticides, fertilizers, tractors and high yield variety seeds. Conveniently, world bankers - who work closely with the multinationals - have stepped in, and mobile banks have begun to appear in the third world.

From Pakistan to Africa, vans and motorcycles pull into marketplace squares in small villages. Officials in the vans arrange credit for local farmers and then drive to the next village. They are local representatives of the national or regional development banks, the provincial fingertips of grand development schemes designed to integrate the farmers more completely into the global supermarket. Credit is the critical link.

The arms of the international credit system are the nine regional development banks, which supplement the World Bank's global operation. Reaching into Asia, Africa, and Latin America, their credit programs play an important role in providing capital to third world farmers to purchase pesticides and other agricultural implements. A study sponsored by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) in 1979 criticized the regional banks for completely ignoring the environmental impacts of loan projects. Spurred by UNEP, the regional banks then agreed in principle to a protocol for environmental impact review of all projects. But implementation would require the hiring of a consultant to oversee the loans; at press time no hiring date had been set.

If the mobile village banks are the fingertips, and the regional banks the arms, then the World Bank is indisputably the head of the international lending body. The Bank provides over one-quarter of the aid loaned by all multilateral sources, with 2,100 projects in 116 developing countries. About percent of all World Bank loans go to agricultural projects. Most involve irrigation, seed improvement, chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Incredibly, the Bank's staff does not include a single pest control expert to advise on pesticide use in its agricultural projects. "Loans are too big and too insensitive to take the proper use of pesticides into account," one Bank official admits. "What happens a great deal is that the Bank will give a bulk loan to a government for 'chemicals' and not specify the specific pesticide."

Uncle Sam's credit guarantees for multinationals

AID FINANCED massive overseas shipments of banned pesticides until a 1975 lawsuit brought by environmental groups ended the practice. AID still finances pesticides exports to the third world.

Besides AID, two other U.S.-government-sponsored finance and insurance agencies have helped quadruple U.S. exports to the third world since the fare 1960s. They are the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). The Eximbank offers direct financing. Both agencies provide "political risk insurance" that guarantees U.S. corporations against losses due to war, revolution, insurrection, expropriation, or currency inconvertibility for as long as 20 years. The U.S. Treasury stands ready to cover the company's losses. Political risk insurance of this type is a key ingredient in the financial formula required by multinationals when making overseas investment decisions.

OPIC's coverage in recent years has gone mainly to a small number of huge corporations operating in a handful of third world countries with authoritarian regimes. Between 1974 and 1976, a full 60 percent of OPIC insurance went to six countries - Brazil, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Dominican Republic. Labor unions have also criticized the agency's activities as promoting the "runaway shop" movement into low-wage areas.

OPIC has singled out the chemical industry for special largesse: three of the four top recipients of OPIC support in recent years were large chemical producers. Between 1974 and 1976, Dow topped the list, receiving $181 million in U.S. taxpayer guarantees; W. R. Grace received $70 million.

The knowledge monopoly

A CALIFORNIA FARMER complained at a "Politics of Pesticides" conference in Berkeley early in 1980: "If I only had access to information on alternatives to pesticides, I wouldn't be forced to use them." The only pest control advice he gets is from pesticide salesmen or from local government agricultural officials. The government agents often cooperate closely with the industry. In fact, in California the vast majority of local pest control advisors received some form of financial sponsorship from the pesticide industry, according to a recent California Department of Food and Agriculture study.

But however scarce, information on pesticide alternatives is far more available in California - the most intensive consumer of pesticides in the world - than in the third world.

The late entomologist Robert van den Bosch dubbed the small group of pest control experts, company salesmen, and government officials the "Pesticide Mafia." Notable in this circle are scientists from land-grant universities (the University of California is a prime example) who advise farmers and governments while doing their research with funds from pesticide corporations and testifying in court on behalf of those same firms.

On the international level this Pesticide Mafia has infiltrated the United Nations and its many organizations.

The U.N.'s FAO as industry broker

HE UNITED NATIONS Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was created to provide an independent pool of experts to consult with underdeveloped countries on a wide range of issues, including pest control. The major goal was to overcome world hunger. But under relentless pressure from industry, the FAO has often operated as a critical link between underdeveloped nations and multinational agribusiness firms.

Until 1978, this link was institutionalized in the Industry Cooperative Program (ICP), a "non-profit" organization of agribusiness corporations which was granted a secretariat and official status by the FAO in 1966. For 12 years, the industry most threatened by non-chemical alternatives to pesticides was able to work in close collaboration with the FAO. A key component of the ICP was the Pesticide Working Group, whose members included BASF, Bayer, Ciba-Geigy, American Cyanamid, FMC, Hoechst, Hoffman-LaRoche, Imperial Chemical, Sandoz, Shell, and Stauffer chemical companies.

The Industry Cooperative Program itself declared, under the FAO letterhead, that its "primary objective is to stimulate agro-industrial expansion in developing countries . . . {and}to demonstrate that far-sighted and responsible international business contributes to social and economic development by means of fostering profitable enterprise."

ICP participation in the FAO inevitably led to direct industry involvement in FAO pest control programs. Hoechst, for example, became an advisor to the Tanzanian government on insecticides and spraying equipment, using a government agricultural extension officer to supervise the spraying. Hoechst was even given the power to fire an extension officer who did not supervise "properly." And according to a former U.N. official working in Bangladesh, the U.N. field representative in that country was an executive of a large European chemical company which was also a main supplier of malathion for the "malaria eradication" project there.

An example of the industry's influence on the FAO is contained in one of the Pesticide Working Group's action papers, printed on U.N. stationery. It was presented to the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome. Pesticides are necessary to solve the hunger problem in underdeveloped countries, stressed the document. It urged that public funds be used to establish an international stockpile of essential pesticides (DDT included). Corporations should work more closely in training government technical staffs in pesticide use, according to the paper. And the approval of new pesticides should be expedited.

Three years later, the FAO Plant Protection Service presented a comprehensive plan for "provisional" pesticide registration. The plan opens the door to hazardous pesticides by permitting the limited use of certain pesticides, even though not all health and environmental safety data is yet available.

By the mid-1970s, critics began to attack the cozy FAO/ industry relationship. "The cooperative relationship simply became politically untenable," recalls Don Kimmel, the FAO's North American liaison officer. Political pressure increased to the point that ICP was kicked out of the FAO in 1978.

The cozy relationship continues.

LESS THAN A YEAR after ICP's ejection from the FAO, an ostensibly new group, the Industry Council for Development (ICD) was formed to pick up where the ICP left off. Although not formally affiliated with the FAO, the Council has actually expanded the functions of the old ICP by establishing strong, informal ties with all of the U.N. agencies concerned with development and agriculture.

Funded by 32 agribusiness multinationals, the Industry Council for Development has offices in the United Nations Plaza in New York. The two chief officers of the new group were also key figures in the old: Walter Simons, executive director, was director of ICP; and J. I. Hendrie of the Shell Chemical Group, in charge of the seed development program, served as director of the ICP's environment subcommittee.

"Conceptually ICD is still the same as the old ICP," Walter Simons admits. "Only now ICD is officially independent of the U.N. It also offers its services to many different multilateral agencies, including development banks, AID, and UNDP."

The FAO's Kimmel remarks, "They {ICD}are interested in technology transfer.... They put out a lot of fancy materials - it's meant to make you buy chemicals."

A supermarket of agricultural development

KIMMEL DESCRIBES the FAO itself as a supermarket of agricultural development." Through its connection with the Industry Council for Development and other corporate groups, the FAO has often served as another link in the chain pulling third world farmers into the corporate network. The FAO publishes guides to pest control research projects around the world. It recommends to farmers which pesticides to use for particular pest problems. One FAO study cited malathion and lindane - restricted in the United States - as the most effective pesticides for stored-grain pests.

Other facilitators of sales in the global pesticide supermarket include the nine ''green revolution" research institutes in the third world responsible for developing ''miracle seeds" and adapting them to local crops and climatic conditions. Their research projects are often closely coordinated with agribusiness' need to sell chemical pesticides, fertilizers and machinery.

One of the most prominent of the nine is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), based in the Philippines. "We work pretty closely with the IRRI in developing new herbicides," says a Stauffer Chemical research official. "IRRI is doing a fantastic job. We're definitely interested in their work on herbicides and insecticides - like breeding rice resistant to an herbicide. 3' Stauffer and many other chemical companies regularly donate money to IRRI and the other international research institutes.

International banks, U.S. government agencies insuring corporate investments, a chemical industry promotion arm working closely with the U.N., and international agricultural research institutes - all these institutions comprise a network contributing to indiscriminate pesticide use in the third world and dependency on imported, often hazardous chemicals.