BAYER PESTICIDES CAUSE POISONING IN CAMBODIA
Excerpts from a BBC documentary: www.toxictrail.org
Methyl parathion is officially banned or restricted in Cambodia, China, the US, Japan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
The situation in some Asian countries, however, is that the chemical is widely used on a frequent basis. Folidol, the BAYER brand name for methyl parathion, is perhaps the most popular insecticide on the Cambodian market. Methamidophos, which according to WHO is category Ia ("extremely hazardous"), can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Manufactured by BAYER and marketed as Monitor, methamidophos is a restricted chemical in the US and New Zealand but it manages to be another favourite of Cambodian farmers. Cambodia has over 50 kinds of dangerous pesticides: organophosphorous compounds are being illegally exported to Cambodia through Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia thus serves as a dumping ground for products that cannot be sold in its neighbouring countries. The multinational firms that manufacture the chemicals say that they are not responsible because they do not directly market to Cambodia.
A visit to the field in Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, or other poorer countries will quickly confirm that farmers are not handling, storing, or disposing of pesticides within even minimal international standards. The application of extremely hazardous chemicals such as Methyl parathion would require face shield, respirator, full-body non-permeable cover, rubber gloves, and boots. Besides being prohibitively expensive
(a farmers' yearly income) for poor farmers, such protective gear is rarely available in rural markets. Even if available and used, such gear would be difficult to use in 30-40 degree Celsius tropical heat. Research in Indonesia also found that nearly half of all spray equipment (tanks, valves, lances) leaked: onto hands, and down necks and backs. Concentrated chemicals are most often mixed into toxic 'cocktails' with bare hands. The majority of pesticide users store their pesticides near cooking and living areas and often in the reach of children. Finished bottles are often left in the field, canal or pond. Containers are used domestically after being rinsed in the nearest river or streams that are also used for bathing. Pesticides are sold among instant coffee and milk powder, medicine and vegetables in local markets. And in Cambodia only a very few of the chemicals sold have labels written in Khmer - nearly all were labelled in Thai or Vietnamese; a clear indication of the origin of the commercial pressure.
The misuse of pesticides, particularly on rice crops, has caused huge pest outbreak as the chemicals not only kill the pests, but beneficial insects as well. The insecticides do not always kill the eggs of the pests, however, so they are able to emerge and reproduce without any hindrance from predators. Incessant spraying, causing pest resistance to particular chemicals, has led to an estimated over-dosing in rice by up to 8 times the recommended rate. Various kinds of water supplies become contaminated with pesticides, not only impacting on the safety of drinking water, but also killing aquatic life and birds, and other animals which survive on these water sources.
73% of the imports into Thailand are WHO categories Ia and Ib, extremely toxic and highly toxic. In Cambodia, 84% of pesticides are moderately to extremely hazardous to human health. In developed countries these chemical are either banned, or they can only be used by licensed specialists who must carry out a number of stringent precautions. In SE Asia, however, the chemicals are freely used without precautions. Labels are often written in a foreign language or they fail to provide data on the active ingredient, application, date of manufacture or safe handling of the chemical.
The Asia Pacific Crop Protection Association represents 13 national associations and 9 multinational companies who are the 'core corporate members'. The multinational members of APCPA are: Aventis, BASF, BAYER, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences, FMC, Monsanto, DuPont and Sumitomo Chemical. During the preparations for Toxic Trail, the Community IPM Programme requested interviews with the Asia Pacific Crop Protection Association (APCPA) and a representative of a multinational company. A visit to a pesticide factory was also requested. Written requests were orginally sent via the Ministry of Agriculture which contacted APCPA. Three months later, in the absence of any response, requests were made directly to the APCPA by phone and in writing. The Association responded by saying they were unavailable for interviews but they would provide written comments if provided with a list of specific issues.
The issues submitted by the Community IPM Programme to APCPA prior to filming were as follows:
"Industry policy and activities regarding 'product stewardship', including efforts to prevent the illegal trade in pesticides and minimize the possibility of misuse by farmers;
"Industry efforts to promote Integrated Pest Management and thereby reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides in circumstances where they are not essential for crop production;
"Industry efforts to promote 'safe use' of pesticides, including the aims and impact of industry-sponsored campaigns".
During filming, the APCPA sent the producers a document titled "Industry response to issues to be covered by BBC Documentary, Toxic Trail". The one-and-half page document was headed "Draft - Not For Release". Two weeks after filming, APCPA clarified that "the industry response was intended for BBC's information and use in its production of the documentary".
On the 21st May 2001, Mr. Gerhard Prante, President of GCPF and Deputy CEO of Aventis CropScience, sent a letter to the Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in which he expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which the Toxic Trail documentary was produced. He also complained about the way in which the Toxic Trail web site had been established. No comments were made, however, about the content of either the documentary or the web site. The facts and opinions expressed in the Toxic Trail have not been questioned.
Christina Engfeldt, FAO´s director of the Information Division, replied: "The two television programmes cover very important substantive themes to which FAO attaches the highest importance" and "The resulting damage to human health and the environment was graphically documented in this film" and "The independent producer pointed out that every effort was made to contact representatives of the industry to obtain their views."
Corporations like the German company BAYER say it is their policy not to export dangerous chemicals to countries lacking proper regulations. BAYER also claims it abides by the laws of the importing country and ensures that it does not export products that are outlawed in those countries. But how are banned category Ia chemicals still available across Asia? While officials and corporations argue about who is responsible, pesticides continue to flow, poisoning millions of farmers, their families and their environment.