Enough food without chemicals – it’s easy

20.03.2017

Chemical pesticides to combat global hunger? If you believe the agro-industry, they are absolutely vital but according to UN experts, that’s a myth and it is high time we overturned it. 

A new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food  presented to the UN Human Rights Council has some harsh words for the pesticide industry and their poisons. It accuses them of a “systematic denial of harms” and “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics”.  It also cites their “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole“, estimating that some 200,000 deaths per year are attributable to acute poisoning. The author of the report, UN Special Rapporteur Hilal Elver concludes: “It is time to create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production“.

Agro-ecology: The Solution
The report to the UN’s highest body for human rights and its 47 member states – including Switzerland - extols the virtues of agro-ecological methods as an alternative to the excessive use of pesticides. This environmentally friendly system of agriculture is a long-term key to food security. It adapts techniques to reflect local ecosystems, allowing for example small farmers in Africa to make huge economic and social gains without damaging the climate or soils. For Biovision, the experience gained from projects such as Push-Pull, the Long-term System Comparison SysCom and the recently launched Beacons of Hope, is showing how the transition to agro-ecology can be implemented in practice. Biovision used this experience – with success – in its response to the consultations on the Pesticide Report of the UN Special Rapporteur.  

Fewer pesticides, same yields
The world population is set to grow from 7 billion today to 9 million in 2050, all of whom will need healthy food. According to the agro-industry, this can only be achieved if we use chemical methods to control pests.  In contrast, Professor Elver argues that the increased use of pesticides has nothing to do with eliminating hunger. Huge quantities of pesticides are used on large-scale, commodity crops such as palm oil and soya that are not even intended for human consumption. In addition, there are numerous studies that clearly show the damaging effects of pesticides on the health of humans, animals and the environment. For example, a current study published in Nature Plants concluded that the same yields could be achieved with significantly fewer pesticides (-42%).

Strengths and weaknesses of the regulatory system
The report also highlights the major difference in regulations for pesticides: Many developed countries, particularly the EU, have a strong regulatory framework based on the “precautionary principle”. For example, the EU banned the use of neonicotinoids (highly effective insecticides) shortly after the death of huge numbers of honeybees was associated with the use of insecticide. In other parts of the world, the picture is gloomier: Only 35% of developing countries have a regulatory system for pesticides and in most cases enforcement is weak.

A Switzerland without pesticides?
The report by the UN Special Rapporteur is grist to the mill for those seeking a general ban on synthetic pesticides in Switzerland. In November 2016, a group of concerned citizens submitted a people’s initiative to the Federal Chancellery calling for “A Switzerland without synthetic pesticides”. The deadline for signatures is May 2018. The initiative can be supported here.