The Food and Agriculture Organization and World Health Organization have released new guidelines aimed at reducing the damage done by pesticides that are considered to pose high toxic risks to human health and the environment.
Products with high acute toxicity account for high numbers of immediate poisoning cases, particularly in developing countries, while products with chronic toxicity effects may cause cancer or developmental disorders among growing children, according to the organizations.
In industrialized countries, such so-called "highly hazardous pesticides" may be no longer permitted or subject to strict use limitations, yet they often remain widely available in developing countries. Even hazardous products that still are permitted in industrialised countries can cause severe problems in the developing world, where use circumstances can be very different.
Small-scale farmers in developing countries in particular often do not have, or use, the necessary protective gear and mostly use back-pack sprayers that pose high risk of exposure.
Restriction on the use of such highly hazardous products often prove hard to enforce, leading to widespread use by untrained persons. High numbers of poisoning cases, contaminated food and environmental damage can be the result.
Focusing on the culprits
A relatively small group of highly hazardous pesticides is often the cause of the majority of poisoning cases. In many cases, these can be replaced by less hazardous products or, even better integrated pest management (IPM) approaches that aim at reducing reliance on pesticides.
The Guidelines offer a road map to help countries identify and deal with highly hazardous pesticides. This involves inventory taking, assessing risks and actual needs, and then taking appropriate risk mitigation measures. In many cases, this will be phasing out of the product, but in cases where there are no good alternatives, other risk mitigation actions may be considered.
The local conditions of use and feasibility of control measures should be an important factor in decision taking.
FAO has also launched a Pesticide Registration Toolkit to assist governments in conducting hazard and risk assessments as part of their national pesticide approval process. This toolkit can also be used to re-assess products that have been approved in the past, but are now identified as highly hazardous.
Concerted global action
The push for improved governance of pesticides accelerated last year when the SAICM International Conference on Chemicals Management adopted a resolution calling for concerted action to address HHPs. The Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization now provide the guidance to move forward on this.
Governments are encouraged to use the new guidelines and the toolkit to review their existing lists of approved pesticides in order to identify HHPs and take the necessary measures to reduce the risks to users, consumers and the environment. This also implies the strengthening of IPM as a recognized pillar in the design of sustainable crop protection systems.