Deadly and still free

An international meeting on phasing out deadly pesticides has just come a cropper

Published: Monday 15 May 2000

The recently-concluded meeting held in the German capital of Bonn has failed to address the issue of persistent organic pollutants ( pop ), deadly chemical pollutants that can enter the foodchain and play havoc with life forms. It has also failed to address the issue of setting up a mechanism for the safe handling of these chemicals. The bone of contention between the North and the South was once again money. There was also no desire on the part of the North to apply the polluter-pays principle in working out the details. The interests of the transnational chemical giants seemed to override the interests of the world's poorer inhabitants. In fact, the us government made it very clear that they would strongly oppose any measure that would allow the conference of parties to impose financial obligations on certain countries or place restrictions on the way transnational corporations now do business. This completely undermines the polluter-pays principle. For example, any move to impose a reparation on, say, the company that originally made and profited from Dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane ( ddt ) sales would be thwarted by such strong opposition.

Then there are other concerns that remain to be addressed. The participants have also given a fresh lease of life to ddt by allowing nation states to use it for purposes of public health. The South really needs to deal with malaria but we have to address the issue of chemicals in our enviroment.

There is more than the issue of banning a few chemicals here. The proposed treaty has the potential to be the facilitator of a toxin-free world. Governments can use it to create a new paradigm for chemical management which calls for the elimination of pop s and develops an alternative less dangerous route. But while the effects of this treaty will be beneficial for our health and the environment they threaten a multi-million dollar industry. It is time to take on this industry.

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