PART I - PESTICIDES Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine (/publications/cultural-survivalquarterly/40-4-water-life)
September 1981
CSQ Issue:
Yearly, industrial countries produce one proud of pesticides for every man, woman, and
child on earth. 75% of all pesticides arriving in the Third World, more than 600 million
pounds, come from the U.S. Between 150 and 200 million pounds of these pesticides are
either banned or not registered in this country; another 31 million pounds have been
either suspended or cancelled for use in the U.S. due to either potential hazard to
humans, wildlife, or the environment.
Meanwhile, Third World consumption of pesticides is growing. The Washington Post
reported that by 1980, 40% of the $2.6 billion U.S. pesticide industry was destined for
export markets. From 1964-74, the pesticide use in Africa quintupled. In the Philippines,
pesticide imports quadrupled between 1972 and 1978. In 1978, Colombia consumed 17
million kgs. of pesticides, including such banned items as DDT, Aldrin, and Parathion:
Colombia now uses 683 brands of banned pesticides, including 55 which contain 2, 4-d
and 2,4,5-T. In El Salvador, 1.25 tons of insecticides are used per square mile of cotton
elds. In Central America cotton crops are sprayed with pesticides as much as 28 times
per growing season.
5-3 Fall 1981
Brazil (/country/brazil)
Colombia (/country/colombia)
El Salvador (/country/el-salvador)
Many other countries now produce their own pesticides. Brazil has more than 8,000 local
India (/country/india)
companies producing pesticides in competition with multinationals such as Shell, Dow,
Malaysia (/country/malaysia)
Bayer, Sandoz and Ciba Geigy, who have all invested in plants there. In Malaysia, Aldrin,
Mexico (/country/mexico)
BHC and DDT (all banned in the U.S.) account for 75 percent of the nearly 1,000 tons of
Nicaragua (/country/nicaragua)
locally produced pesticides.
Sri Lanka (/country/sri-lanka)
Incidents of pesticide poisonings as well as macro statistics are hard to nd. The host
governments do not like to mention them. According to the supervisor of the U.S.
Government Accounting O ce's investigation of pesticides, the problem is threefold: 1) it
hurts tourism; 2) o cials don't like to admit that fellow citizens are being poisoned, and
that the government is unable or unwilling to stop it; and 3) the governments are afraid
that the U.S. will begin to examine imports more closely.
Nevertheless, pesticide poisonings have increased. World Health Organization o cials
estimate that one Third World resident is poisoned by pesticides every minute; of these
approximately 500,000 poisonings per year, 5,000 are fatal. In Brazil, between 1967 and
1975, at least 155 deaths and 1,682 illnesses were attributed to insecticide use on cotton
and soybeans in southern Brazil. In Central America, 19,300 medically certi ed
poisonings occurred from 1971-76. About 17,000 of these occurred in El Salvador and
Guatemala, a daily rate of about one case per 100,000 people. In Tiquisate, Guatemala,
30-40 people are treated daily for the toxic e ects of pesticides on their liver and other
organs. In Caliacán, Mexico, o cial reports indicate 2-3 poisonings, per week among the
workers in tomato elds, where produce is destined for U.S. markets. Most pesticide
poisonings and fatalities in Central America, where agribusinesses provide the health
services, are not reported. Uno cial reports, however, indicate that a fatality occurs
every 2-3 days.
In some cases, villagers are unaware of the danger posed by pesticides. In 1977, 44
deaths occurred in South Africa after people handled agricultural chemicals. In most
cases people did not wash themselves property, did not clean food that had been
United States (/country/unitedstates)
Lands, Resources, and Environments
Our Cultures Our Rights
sprayed, or used pesticide containers for drinking or cooking. In Iran, butchers are
reported to have sprayed carcasses with insecticides to keep the ys away. In 1972, 400
Iraqis died and 5,000 were hospitalized after consuming products made from 8,000 tons
of wheat and barley coated with an organic mercury fungicide. Initially the seed was
preferred because loaves made from it were pink. In Pakistan, Guatemala, and the US
Southwest mercury poisoning occurred after eating similarly treated seed. In Papua New
Guinea, an aide at Mt. Hagen Hospital brought an empty Paraquat bottle, clearly marked
"poison" in English, to be lled with clearly marked "poison" in English, to be lled with
cough syrup. He did not read English. Throughout the world pesticide containers are sold
as water containers, and plastic pesticide bags are used as raincoats.
Even safe pesticides are dangerous when used by uneducated workers. In the MiddleEast, peasants wrap pesticide powders in their turbans to carry them home or to the
elds. Paraquat and Parathion are often sold in Coke bottles. In Indonesia, small shops
sell pesticides alongside food items. Often reasoning that if a little bit is good, a lot is
better, individuals exceed recommended use. More important, perhaps, many
companies do not bother to include instructions in the local language. Even when they
do, as in Mexico, more than 50% of the pesticides sold are reported labeled incorrectly.
Many pesticides are consumed through contaminated food. Increasing quantities of food
imports in the U.S. have been contaminated by pesticides. Shipments of cacao from
Ecuador, co ee from Costa Rica, sugar and tea from India, beef from Central America,
and beans and peppers from Mexico, to name but a few, have contained such banned
chemicals as Aldrin, Chlordane, Dieldrin, and Heptachlor. Presumably, Third world
people eat similarly contaminated food, as well as that which is returned from the US.
Furthermore, pesticides are often more widely dispersed than originally intended. The
Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia, found organo-chloride pesticides (Aldrin,
BHC, Chlordane, DDT, and Dieldrin) in rainwater, soil, drinking water and food crops. A
similar situation exists in Brazil's Guaporé Valley. The wider e ects of such
environmental pollution are only beginning to surface: nevertheless, these nondegradable pesticides will be around for some time even if their use stops immediately.
Supporters of pesticide exports often state that, for Third World countries, the bene ts
of using such chemicals outweigh the costs. Insecticides, it is argued, control disease
vectors common to tropical countries. Similarly, others state that pesticides are essential
to produce. Food or export crops which generate foreign exchange. Such statements
must be viewed critically.
An obvious defense of pesticides in the control or elimination of disease vectors lies in
the use of DDT in malarial eradication programs. Globally, as late as 1955, 200 million
people contracted malaria each year; 2 million of them died. In 1952 an anti-malarial
program started in India and reduced the yearly cases from 100 million to 60,000. Within
a decade Sri Lanka launched a similar program, cutting the annual incidence of malaria
from 3 million cases to less than 25. In El Salvador malaria cases dropped from 70,000
annually to 25,000. DDT and chloroquine seemed the perfect answer to malaria.
Yet in countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran,
Turkey, Burma, Thailand, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, to name but
a few, there have been increases in malaria during the late sixties and seventies. In India
the number of cases rose from a low of 60,000 per year to at least 5 million. In Sri Lanka
the number of cases rose from a low of 25 per year to some 2 million. In El Salvador,
there are now more cases of malaria than when the eradication programs started. In
other areas of Central America, particularly Honduras and Costa Rica, malaria is now
found in areas where it had not before been a serious problem.
The explanation for current increases in malaria is straightforward. As malaria came
under control, but before it was eradicated, governments shifted funds to projects that
appeared to be more urgent and that produced less criticism. O cials were unaware
that by shifting from eradication programs to those of containment, they did not
eradicate the carriers but rather allowed them to adapt to the insecticides. Mutant
mosquitoes began to appear.
Careless spraying in Nicaragua and El Salvador, for example, are held responsible for the
spread of mutant mosquitoes into neighboring Honduras and Costa Rica. Increased use
of insecticides in agriculture also seems to have allowed mutant, resistant strains of
mosquitoes to develop. The amount of DDT and other insecticides in agricultural also
seems to have allowed mutant, resistant strains of mosquitoes to develop. The amount
of DDT and other insecticides in agricultural use has increased dramatically. In 1977 the
FAO listed 364 agricultural insects that have become resistant to important pesticides,
including mosquitoes which had become resistant to DDT and other insecticides in 62
countries. The number of resistant insects had doubled since 1965.
If DDT had been used solely for the eradication of malaria-transmitting mosquitos,
evidence suggests that it might have been successful. However, with DDT also being
used for agriculture it became less e ective. Governments, concerned at the increase in
incidents of malaria, used increasingly stronger chemicals. New pesticides kill
mosquitoes resistant to DDT, but in turn create mutants resistant to a broad range of
even untested pesticides. This promises spirialing costs and ine ectiveness in attempting
to control these pests.
Another argument for the bene cial aspects of pesticide use is for food production.
However useful pesticides might prove to be for such crops, they are rarely used on
them. Reports indicate that 50-70 percent of pesticides are used on export crops such as
co ee, sugar, and rubber. These crops are grown on large corporate farms and
plantations where foreign owners are often the largest consumers of pesticides. In
Indonesia plantations producing export crops are reported to use 20 times the quantity
of pesticides used by small farmers growing food for local consumption, even though
small farms occupy seven times the total acreage of the plantations. In Nicaragua,
increased use of pesticides between 1952 and 1967 paralleled a fourfold increase in
cotton acreage and a 50 percent reduction in food crop acreage. Throughout Central
America, despite widespread hunger and malnutrition, America, despite widespread
hunger and malnutrition, cotton displaced food crops in the mid-sixties and now 70% of
the value of agricultural production is exported.
Even on export crops the use of insecticides does not always achieve the desired results.
In 1970, cotton growers in India used 3 million kg. of DDT to produce 5 million bales; by
1976, with increased insect resistance, twice as much DDT was needed to obtain the
same yield. During the same period from 60,000 to several million people contracted
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.
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