|Circle of poison - Pesticides and People in a Hungry World (Food First, 1981)|
TEN YEARS AGO, not long after the U.S. government banned cyclamates from food products as a potential cancer risk, David Weir, then an English teacher for the U.S. Peace Corps, bought a package of Kool-Aid in a small bazaar shop in Afghanistan. Reading the label, he was surprised to find cyclamates listed among the ingredients - somehow the package had found its way to the bazaars of Central Asia after the U.S. ban. Several years later, Wall Street Journal reporter Stan Sesser solved the mystery. He reported that after the ban, U.S. corporations had deliberately dumped products containing cyclamates on overseas markets.
That Kool-Aid packet launched Weir's decade-long series of inquiries, culminating in this book, co-authored with Mark Schapiro.
Weir began to investigate the problem of banned exports while he was an editor of two small San Francisco publications, SanDance and Pacific Basin Reports. Although his attempts at that time were constrained by a lack of resources, he did gather valuable files for later use. Then, while an editor of Rolling Stone in 1975 - 76, Weir had his first real breakthrough. Through a series of interviews in New York and Washington, he developed sources in South America who supplied evidence of banned drugs and pesticides sold by U.S. corporations there. His article, "For Export Only: Poisons and Dangerous Drugs," was published in early 1977. The story was not picked up by the U.S. press. But it was noticed in countries most affected by the problem: it was translated and reprinted in Mexico and Colombia. A four-page summary of the piece also appeared in the President's weekly magazine summary.
During the summer of 1977, Weir also wrote two articles for Pacific News Service about the contamination of imported coffee with residues of banned pesticides. These attracted considerable press interest, and coincided with the first attempt to close the loophole in U.S. legislation allowing banned pesticides to be exported - an attempt spearheaded by the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C., especially attorney Jacob Scherr.
In 1978 the hazardous export issue exploded into the public arena. It was disclosed that Tris-treated baby clothes were being dumped on third world countries after the cancer-causing chemical Tris was banned by the U.S. government. Congress held hearings and issued a report about hazardous exports and President Jimmy Carter formed an inter-agency task force to assess the problem. The main impetus for Washington's interest was the fear that "Made in USA" time bombs might be ticking away throughout the third world, endangering this nation's foreign relations.
Accordingly, the State Department sponsored a conference in mid-1979 to examine the specific problem of hazardous pesticide exports to the third world. Scientists, corporate representatives, environmentalists, third world and U. S. government officials, and a small group of observers and reporters (including Weir) attended the conference, exchanging views on the subject.
In the meantime, Mother Jones magazine asked Weir, Mark Schapiro and their colleagues at the Center for Investigative Reporting to provide basic research on the hazardous exports issue, as well as write a major article on pesticides in the third world. Co-authored with Terry Jacobs of the Center staff, this article appeared as part of a package on banned exports, entitled "The Corporate Crime of the Century" in the November 1979 issue of the magazine.
This package provoked an explosive reaction both here and overseas - a reaction which has not yet subsided. The United Nations passed a resolution on hazardous exports; new, tough legislation was introduced in Congress by Rep. Michael Barnes; the press heavily reported the stories; several third world governments issued new regulatory standards for pesticides, and activists here and abroad opened new initiatives to bring pressure on government agencies and the corporations responsible for the sales of dangerous products in the third world. Simultaneously the Environmental Protection Agency enacted new regulations slightly tightening the loophole which allows banned pesticides to be exported.
The Mother Jones package won the 1980 National Magazine Award for reporting and was a finalist in the public service category. It was also named the "Best Censored" story of the year (an award the Rolling Stone story also won three years earlier) by a panel of judges selecting the most important stories ignored or underplayed by the press.
Early this year Frances Moore Lappé and Joseph Collins of the Institute for Food and Development Policy asked Weir and Schapiro to expand upon their earlier work to provide a tool for mobilizing public concern about the ongoing problem of pesticide dumping. By reinterviewing over a hundred sources, finding new reports, studies, people and documentation, Weir and Schapiro, with the editorial assistance of Frances Moore Lappé, Doug Basinger and Nick Allen, have produced this volume.
Here pesticides are the dish of the day, and one swallows more poison than food. There is not even a living hen or pig, and lately even the children are often sick. Could it be that even the gift that God gives - children - we cannot have?
ALFONSO CASTRO, COLOMBIAN FARMER
There's no problem with the ban of DBCP within the United States. In fact' it was the best thing that could have happened to us. You can't sell it here anymore but you can still sell it anywhere else. Our big market has always been exports anyway.
EXECUTIVE, AMVAC CORPORATION
Small shops in Indonesia sell pesticides right alongside the potatoes and rice. The people just collect it in sugar sacks' milk cartons, Coke bottles - whatever is at hand.
LUCAS BRADER, UN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION
Nearly half of the green coffee beans imported into the United States contain various levels - from traces to illegal residues - of pesticides that have been banned in the United States.
FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION