By Chela Vázquez
The enforcement of an international mechanism for Prior Informed Consent when trading with a dangerous herbicide, paraquat dichloride, was blocked by India, Guatemala, and Indonesia at the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention.
“People in Africa have felt the impact of paraquat dichloride and have paid dearly with their health and lives. This acutely toxic chemical impairs people for life. Listing paraquat dichloride 20% and above in the Rotterdam Convention would empower governments in the exercise of their duty to protect human health and the environment” said Dr. Paul Windinpsidi Savadogo, Director General of the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Burkina Faso. He added “This is a missed opportunity and it is regrettable that a few countries prevented the majority from being able to take measures to protect human health, particularly of farmers and agricultural workers, who are the most exposed with this chemical.”
In 2010 Burkina Faso proposed adding the herbicide paraquat dichloride 20% to the Rotterdam Convention in order to have information about potential imports of this herbicide and take pertinent measures, which could include placing restrictions or banning. Burkina Faso reported serious health impacts linked to this chemical among farmers. The scientific body of the Rotterdam Convention reviewed Burkina Faso’s proposal and recommended the inclusion of paraquat dichloride to the convention.
Paraquat dichloride, an acutely toxic chemical
Omara Amuko, based in Uganda, from the International Union of Food and Allied Workers Africa said “Paraquat dichloride has caused serious harm to farmers and agricultural workers in Africa. This chemicals needs to be under the scrutiny of governments, already CILSS countries have prohibited the use of paraquat in the region.” The Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS for its acronym in French) banned paraquat in 2011.
“Paraquat dichloride is an acutely toxic chemical that is used under high risk conditions in developing countries. In India for instance, its use poses great health risks to farmers and workers” said C. Jayakumar from PAN India.
Jayakumar was referring to a new report from India by PAN India and other groups that documented paraquat dichloride being sold in plastic carrying bags, mixed with other ingredients such as shampoo, and applied with leaking knapsack sprayers on crops where its use has not been approved.
“The use of paraquat is not allowed in Switzerland, the European Union and many other countries” said Francois Meienberg from the Berne Declaration. He added “Syngenta, the creator and main seller of paraquat, currently makes profits from its sales to developing countries, knowing that farmers and workers have no possibility to protect themselves adequately which leads to high risk conditions of use and uncounted poisoning cases.”
India and Guatemala again blocked the inclusion of paraquat dichloride to the Rotterdam Convention
The Conference of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions met in in Geneva on May 4-15, 2015 and deliberated on the listing of new hazardous chemicals to the conventions. Paraquat dichloride 20% and above was on the Rotterdam COP 7 agenda two years after COP 6 in 2013 failed to reach an agreement on its inclusion to the convention. Similar to COP 6, at COP 7, India and Guatemala obstructed the inclusion of paraquat dichloride to the convention. This time, Indonesia also joined them.
Most governments at COP 7 of the Rotterdam Convention were in favor of adding this highly hazardous pesticide to the Convention. The Prior Informed Consent procedure of the Convention would allow governments to exchange information and more effectively control the use of this chemical in order to protect the health of their most vulnerable citizens.