To be effective, pesticides need to kill or inactivate (control) organisms that pathologically infect, parasitize, consume or compete with crop plants, leading to a reduction in quantity and quality of crop yield. It is therefore not unexpected that in some cases pesticide substances are of high inherent toxicity. Indeed it would be surprising were that not the case.
What then becomes the key consideration is evaluating whether the use would lead to exposure levels to humans or non-target wildlife that could lead to unacceptable adverse effects. Regulations for the commercialization of pesticides require that the potential for pesticide products to cause unacceptable effects on operators, consumers and the environment is evaluated. Generally, this evaluation includes a risk assessment procedure for decision-making. Increasingly, however, there are moves, pushed strongly by NGOs, to make such decisions purely based on hazard rather than risk. One consequence of this development is the campaign to eliminate “Highly Hazardous Pesticides”, which is led by the FAO and, more recently, supported by UNEP/SAICM.
CropLife supports the development of an approach that allows the identification of products which can be considered to have a high potential inherent hazard (highly hazardous pesticides, HHPs). Identifying such products then allows them to be prioritized for an assessment of the potential risk of their uses and an action plan to be developed to mitigate any unacceptable risks, if such unacceptable risk is identified. Any risks should also be weighed against the need for the product, the benefits that its use secures, and the availability and risk/benefits of alternatives.
The criteria that CropLife has proposed to prioritize this process take into account a number of issues. These include:
- The inherent acute oral and dermal toxicity of the product, whereby swallowing or skin contact of the undiluted product could lead to serious harm to humans;
- Products that contain substances at levels that are known or presumed to cause cancer in humans or affect the unborn child;
- Pesticide active ingredients that have already been identified as being unacceptable by society because they have the potential for long-range transport and accumulation in the food chain (persistent organic pollutants (POPs)) or because they damage the ozone layer;
- Products where there is credible evidence that their use is causing widespread adverse effects on either humans or the environment.
By prioritizing careful assessment of the use of products which have such properties, CropLife’s aim is to ensure that society can enjoy the substantial benefits of pesticides (addressing food security and quality needs, underpinning sustainable economic growth through agricultural development, supporting societal development of agricultural communities by increasing profitability of agriculture), whilst managing the potential for harm by carefully assessing, managing and mitigating the risks.