Pesticides: what are the risks?

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Temps de lecture : 4 minutes  

The general manager of France’s main pesticide lobby, UIPP, defends his organization and activities.

What is UIPP?

The UIPP (Association for the Crop Protection Industry), which was set up in 1918, is a very old professional organization in charge of […] promoting and defending crop protection professions for its 19 members. These are companies that invent, develop and market phytopharmacological products, “phyto” standing for crops and “pharmacological” for medicine, thus medicine for crops. These “pesticides” are first and foremost useful to the farmer or the gardener to get rid of attacking agents such as weeds, insects or diseases. […]

What are the dangers of pesticides on health?

Today, there is no conclusive scientific evidence to correlate certain emerging diseases with the exposure to phytopharmacological products. What is true, however, is that a number of revelations by various scientific publications are bothering people, the media… and have mainly arisen from experiments on cells in laboratories and specific environments. We take part in epidemiological studies, especially with the INSERM (National Institute of Health and Medical Research), to better assess the long-term health effects of products, whether from a cancer point of view or that of male fertility. When combining the results of over 1000 studies carried out on an international level regarding all aspects related to cancer research, it is still impossible today to correlate products and the emergence of certain diseases.

As we know, analysis methods evolve. Today, we are capable of detecting traces of products, either in the water or the air, and explain why recent publications have found traces of phytopharmacological products. But if we take phytopharmacological products found in the water, as specified in the French institute for the Environment’s (IFEN) penultimate report, 98% of samples met European regulations. I believe this is an important point for the consumer: Their occurrence does not equate danger, as long as it remains within the standard limit of course […].

According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), organic farming could supply the planet’s food requirements. […] At the UIPP, we do not agree with the analysis that the planet can be fed from organic farming. I believe that several experiments, especially in countries which already master agriculture to an extent, prove that organic farming can only provide 2 – 10% of the population needs. Therefore it is a utopian concept nowadays to think that organic farming can feed the planet, in view of the studies carried out on some crops which revealed that weeds, insects, diseases may cause 40% to 50% decrease in outputs. Hence, we cannot see how we would be able, from organic farming alone, to meet the food requirements of the planet, which furthermore are increasing. […]

It is obvious that at certain times, farmers are required to produce more and more thus reaching intensive farming phases which have a number of negative consequences to the environment which need modifying. Since the 1970’s/80’s, the concept of reasoned agriculture has evolved; and if we go a little beyond that, it leads to integrated agriculture, the approach prior to that of organic farming. Nowadays, if we wish to conciliate economical, environment and social conditions, we think that reasoned agriculture is the only way to achieve these objectives.

Actions initiated by the UIPP

[…] ADIVALOR is a company created in 2001, on the UIPP’s initiative: It includes farmers, distributors and members from the UIPP. Its goal is to collect and dispose of empty packaging from phytopharmacological products as well that as of NUPP (Non Useable Phytopharmacological Products, obsolete stocks that could not be used over time). As a sensible approach, we have implemented a process of disposal validated by the ADEME (Environment and Energy Management Agency) and worked with the Ministry of Ecology in this aim. This accredited scheme is currently running well and almost constitutes a model in the agricultural world as a waste collection structure.

The second important initiative as far as good practices are concerned, are what are called drainage basin studies. A drainage basin is a small valley where farmers, parks, gardens and communities are found. Once the practices used by either the farmers, or the consultants, or park stewards are identified, will help us know which require changing and improving in order to minimize the impact of pesticide treatment for both the environmental and human health. This is achieved by adjusting sprayers, setting up grass strips, avoiding the use of pesticides above rivers etc. This is common sense and good practices applied to phytosanitary products. […]

UIPP issues

The UIPP faces several different issues. The first one is a social acceptability issue. Today, the “general public” is not aware of the usefulness of our products. They are used either by the farmer, or by the gardener for a very specific aim, an agronomic need. Yet, today the consumer only sees the dangerous side of phytopharmacological products. A substantial task of educating the public is under way in this area: our products are among the most regulated within the industry, and as such, apprehension or fears regarding our sector of activity should not exist. The second issue is to do with regulation. Although it is already highly regulated, our industry continues to be subject to regulatory pressure. We demand that science-based legislation be brought in, which is more predictable and distinguishes between usefulness and risks, so that decisions are based on scientific data and not abusive enforcement of the preventive principle.

Interview by Claire Ciangura

NaturaVox – September 2007

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