Feeding the World without Poisons

Organic NZ Magazine: July/August 2001
Author: Meriel Watts

In May this year, Meriel Watts travelled to Senegal in West Africa to take part in Pesticide Action Network’s international conference on “Feeding the World Without Poisons”.

Meriel is a member of the Steering Council of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific. She filed this report on her return.


THE DAKAR DECLARATION – 5th International Conference 18-21 May 2000

We, 120 participants from 40 countries, representing farmers, workers, agricultural trade unions, women, scientists, and health, environmental, consumer and development activists belonging to the international Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and its partner organisations, have gathered in Dakar, Senegal for the 5th International PAN Conference from 18-21 May 2000.

We view with grave concern the developments that threaten the people’s food security, health, and livelihood and the environment all over the world. Pesticides use continues to cause havoc on people’s health and well being, and on the environment. At the same time, transnational corporations are developing and marketing genetically engineered organisms and food that threaten the environment, biodiversity and people’s health, jobs and livelihoods. This technology will consolidate corporate control over agriculture and food production, increase pesticide use and undermine farmer control over seeds and technology.

The process of globalisation promotes the corporate agenda for profit. This is undermining local food production, and increasing the practice of food dumping especially on poor countries, the sale of unnecessary and excessive agricultural inputs, the concentration of monopoly corporations in agrochemical, food and seed industries, the development of genetic engineering and corporatisation of agriculture.

We are deeply concerned with the resultant loss of access to and self-sufficiency in food, loss of local and indigenous knowledge and seeds, displacement of farming and fishing livelihood, break-up of rural communities, increased indebtedness for farmers, forced migration of people, greater misery for women, hunger and malnutrition, especially for rural populations, land concentration and marginalisation of sustainable agriculture.

We commit ourselves to fight for the elimination of pesticides, the termination of genetic engineering of organisms in food and agriculture, the end of corporate globalisation and the realisation of food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture worldwide.


We will:

  1. Advance sustainable agriculture as a holistic, scientific approach and a movement for social transformation that integrates local and indigenous knowledge, participatory research, empowerment of women, farmer control over land, water, seeds and forests, protection of workers’ rights and of rural communities, appropriate technology, biodiversity conservation, access to and equitable distribution of food, equitable sharing of benefits and food self-sufficiency respecting ecological integrity.
  2. Support alternatives to synthetic chemical pesticides, especially Organic agriculture.
  3. Continue to fight for local, national and international agreements to restrict, reduce and eliminate pesticide dependence and to phase out and ban synthetic chemical pesticides especially those that cause acute, chronic and endocrine disrupting effects.
  4. Campaign to stop the development and use of genetically modified organisms in food and agriculture through national, sub-regional and international coordinated actions.
  5. Launch and join campaigns against globalisation of agriculture, and the international institutions and instruments that promote it, like transnational corporations, International Monetary Fund, multi-lateral development banks, structural adjustment programs, and the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture and Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights.
  6. Increase protests against injustices of agrochemical, food and fibre transnational corporations and campaign for corporate and government accountability.


PAN will achieve this by:

  1. Developing participatory research and monitoring, resource base building, education and mobilisation, and advocacy work in order to strengthen grassroots and national capacity.
  2. Developing nationwide, regional and international networks and alliances and strengthening grassroots peasant and women movements as their foundation.
  3. Launching coordinated campaigns with farmers, industrial workers, waged food and agricultural workers, environmentalists, women’s, human rights and consumer movements and many others.
  4. Influencing, through coordinated actions and activities, the policies and practices of governments, inter-governmental organisations, and other institutions at national, regional and global level.

We, the participants of the 5th PAN International Conference, challenge the paradigm that the world can only be fed with pesticides and genetic engineering, we demand that our collective voice be heard and we commit ourselves to realise our goal to feed the world without poisons through sustainable agricultural practices, controlled and managed by the community.



Internationally there is a concerted move towards pesticide reduction policies. One day soon, New Zealand will have to face this reality and develop its own. This article is the fourth in the series on issues that require government attention.

It is important that we stop thinking in boxes when dealing with pesticides and Organics. The two are inextricably linked whether we like it or not, and policy development for one must involve the other. Hence, to develop a pesticide reduction policy in isolation from Organics makes no sense. Likewise to develop an Organics policy oblivious of the spray drift that rages all about us and puts paid to certification for many is equally short sighted. Thus, the two must come together, or at least touch in certain places.

Paramount in achieving a reduction in use of, and risks from, pesticides, is securing a change in attitude towards pesticides. This change in attitude must encompass farmers, growers, consumers, regulators, government officials and elected representatives. Hence, all aspects of policy development should be directed towards achieving this.


Principle of Minimum Harm

This is the very first, most basic step in a pesticide risk reduction policy, and number one way to achieve attitudinal and behavioural changes. Simply put, the policy must state that no pesticide shall be registered or used if there is an effective non-chemical alternative or management system, or a less hazardous chemical, available. Please refer to the previous issue of Soil & Health (May/June) for a detailed discussion of this principle and how it can be applied.



One of the time-proven best ways to achieve the required attitudinal change with pesticides is to put before the people of a country a simple numerical goal for reduction, something tangible to strive for – such as a 50 per cent reduction in the amount of pesticides used in five years. There are problems with such a simple target, but these are easily minimised and the advantages far outweigh the residual difficulties. For discussion of these difficulties please refer to my book Reducing Reliance.

Some inputs into Organic farming systems, such as Bt and neem, are also legally defined as pesticides, so the target should specify exclusion of these. Thus the target becomes 50 per cent reduction in pesticides except those allowed in certified Organic production. The reason for this is that risks associated with Organic inputs are infinitesimally small compared to those associated with chemical pesticides.

It is important also that we keep our eye firmly on the goal: the best way to reduce use of and risk from pesticides is to switch to Organic farming. Therefore, any “negative” reduction target should also be accompanied by a “positive” target, such as ten per cent of farm land converted to Organic growing in five years. This helps prevent “phantom” reductions caused by farmers switching from high volume herbicides, such as 2,4-D, to those that are more biologically active and therefore require less quantity of chemical to cause the same effect (on the wider environment as well as on weeds). An example of such a goal is that of the UK’s Organic Food and Farming Bill, which requires 30 per cent of agricultural land and 20 per cent of food consumed to be Organic by the year 2010.


Review of old chemicals

All successful risk reduction policies incorporate a review of pesticides that have been registered for a long time and a removal of those that create the most risk – such as those that are highly toxic, cause cancer or endocrine disruption. This is a must for any risk reduction policy, and there are plenty of candidates for phase-out in New Zealand. 2,4-D is a good start (see Pesticide Watch story).

Currently, the HSNO Act does not require these old pesticides to be reviewed against the new, more stringent criteria for registration, but Sue Kedgley’s bill does. In Denmark, registration is only granted for a period of four to eight years after which it must be reviewed. This is a much more socially responsible approach than that favoured by industry-friendly New Zealand legislation, under which a pesticide stays registered forever, except under extraordinary circumstances.

Once a chemical is registered it is extremely difficult to get it de-registered, despite the accumulation of a wealth of data linking it to health and ecological problems. What is required in this review process is the legitimisation of data gathered from experience, for the voices of those who have been poisoned are seldom listed to. How much notice will the Pesticides Board take of the poisoning of Laurie Newman by 2,4-D?


Pollution tax

A polluter-pays tax placed on pesticides to reflect the damage they cause to the environment and to human health achieves a number of things. Firstly, it assists the attitudinal change by making users responsible for the cost of these chemicals to the environment and human health. Secondly, it helps to create a “level playing field” for less damaging management options such as Organic practices. Thirdly, it provides an avenue for the generation of funding for the development of more environmentally friendly farming systems from within the agricultural industry, without having to come back to the government for handouts.

This tax needs to be significant. In Sweden, it is set at US$2.30 per kg of active ingredient; in California it is a tiny fraction of this and is completely ineffective in changing behaviour. The revenue gained from this tax should not be lost to government coffers and therefore become punitive for the agricultural sector. It must be returned to agriculture and horticulture in a manner that further stimulates the reduction in use of and risk from pesticides – such as support for transition to Organic growing, research into alternatives to pesticides, funding of research into Organic growing systems, etc.

There are many other aspects to a pesticide reduction policy, too many to mention here. Many of these, such as mandatory training in pesticide use, are described in Reducing Reliance.