Governments meeting at a recent UN world food body(1) in
Rome failed to adopt a new international code for
pesticide use aimed at renewing the fight against
pesticide hazards in developing countries.
deaths and illness from pesticides remain at an all-time
high, the urgency of taking action has been delayed over
different interpretations on patents and data
protection. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Conference meets only every two years to set policy.
Conference did not adopt a new code of conduct because
of an article that deals with the registration procedure
of intellectual property rights,’ said Niek Van der
Graaff, chief of FAO’s plant protection service. The key
stumbling block related to the interpretation of
government obligations to protect company packages of
information on the health, environment and efficacy
impacts of their products from rivals – an issue already
covered by the so-called Trade Related Intellectual
Property Rights (Trips) agreement in the World Trade
last two years, more than 50 deaths have been recorded
from cotton pesticides in Benin, 16 deaths from a
hazardous mixture of three pesticides used in groundnut
production in Senegal, and in Peru 24 children died
after a pesticide was accidentally introduced into food
distributed in a village school. Thousands more deaths
go unrecorded, or the pesticides responsible are not
traced. Ill-health is regularly misdiagnosed.
der Graaff pointed out that ‘Each pesticide has a
certain risk to human health and the environment,’ and
the Code plays a key role in setting standards in
developing countries. While the International Code of
Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides3 is
voluntary, it is supported by the major pesticide
corporations, forming part of the constitution of the
industry association, CropLife International, which has
indicated it will adopt the revised version – but only
with the inclusion of data protection recognition.
the Code has been in place since 1985, the revised
version made sweeping changes, drawing strongly on the
experience of 15 years of trying to implement it at
national level. The new Code addressed weaknesses in the
existing version – which said nothing of obsolete stocks
of pesticides, for example, and does not recognise
innovative work with farmers through Integrated Pest
Management (IPM) or organic agriculture. The revision
recommends that the most acutely toxic pesticides should
not be used in developing countries; that pesticides are
not necessarily part of an IPM system, and that
companies should not advertise their products as ‘IPM
new Conventions covering pesticides, and renewed efforts
to dispose of the enormous quantities of hazardous
obsolete stocks of pesticides leaking into the
environment – over 50,000 tonnes in Africa alone – the
new Code will recommend a ‘cradle to grave’ approach,
guiding developing countries to implement tried and
accepted standards, and establishing a vital link
between disposal and prevention.
fiasco in Rome followed an objection from Argentina –
supported by all Latin America countries – to the
guidance on protection of a company’s pesticide
registration data package, in spite of wording that
reflects the status quo in most countries, and which
recognises the over-riding role of national legislation.
The objection may have been influenced by Argentina’s
generic pesticide industry, threatened with a WTO
dispute for using data packages from research-based
agrochemical companies to register its own products.
text had been through many government consultations and
government-delegated expert-committee recommendations,
and the eleventh hour rejection by Latin American
countries took other governments by surprise. The FAO
was requested to set up meetings of
government-designated experts to find an acceptable
solution. If a compromise is found, governments
authorised the next meeting of the FAO governing council
in November 2002 to formally adopt it.
be a way ahead. But in the meantime the momentum to
drive forward a new agreement has been lost. PAN groups
will be closely monitoring progress over the next year.
1. 31st Biennial Conference of the FAO, Rome, 2-13
2. Article 37.3 of the Trips Agreement covers
3. The International Code of Conduct on the
Distribution and Use of Pesticides was first agreed
at the 1985 FAO Biennial Conference, amended in
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