Latin America Struggles to Reduce Illegal Pesticide Use as Agricultural Exports Boom, the Region Is Slow to Ban the Hazardous

Article excerpt

Farmers in the United States now face stricter controls on the pesticides they spray on fruits and vegetables.

But what about pesticides used on the hundreds of millions of dollars in grapes, apples, coffee, and other produce arriving in American grocery stores from Chile, Brazil, or Colombia?

There are moves in Latin America to gradually restrict or at least, officially, ban the use of the most hazardous pesticides. But enforcement of pesticide use in the region is spotty at best.

Experts say that in the effort to push agricultural production to ever-higher levels, many nations here have failed to create corresponding policies and programs necessary to safeguard workers and the environment from the harmful effects of pesticides.

"For all practical purposes, we don't have any norms, there is nothing to comply with. Everything is voluntary," says Patricio del Real, who worked for 15 years advising farmworker organizations on pesticides.

Moreover, many Latin American states have reduced protection at the behest of big business.

In Colombia, the hazardous insecticide endosulfan used in the cultivation of coffee was prohibited in 1995. Despite the ban, officials say it is still widely used.

In the Dominican Republic, all of the pesticides on the infamous "Dirty Dozen" list of the world's (now 18) most hazardous pesticides were banned in 1991. But nongovernmental organizations have documented that these dangerous chemicals still can be easily purchased in rural areas.

In Brazil, which has one of the most advanced pesticide laws in Latin America, some previously prohibited pesticides are now registered for use due to heavy pressure from industry.

Chile plans to ban

While on the positive side Chilean officials say this year they plan to phase out the use of chemicals that are on the Dirty Dozen list, there still are virtually no regulations on how pesticides are used in the country.

Maria Elena Rozas, coordinator of a coalition of social and environmental organizations in Chile called the Alliance for a Better Quality of Life, says that 40 of the chemicals on the "United Nations Consolidated List of Pesticides Prohibited or Severely Restricted by Governments" are being used in Chile.

"There is strong pressure from industry to permit the use of the most hazardous pesticides because they are cheaper and considered by them to be more effective," Mrs. Rozas says.

Imports of pesticides triple

In 1998, Chile's imports of pesticides nearly tripled from what it imported in 1984 to 16,583 tons. …