Pesticide film depicts US callousness

Medfly Madness, made by BBC, focusses on what happens when saving a multibillion fruit and vegetable industry takes precedence over the health of human beings.

Published: Wednesday 30 June 1993

IN APRIL this year, some US communities found themselves seeking cover from helicopters spraying the pesticide malathion. This is the starting point for an investigation in the BBC series, Nature. The episode, called Medfly Madness, shows the manner in which saving a $18 billion fruit and vegetable industry takes precedence over protecting human beings from a rain of pesticide.

The medfly, a citrus-ruining pest that lays its eggs within the fruit, had to be eliminated in a large area and helicopter-spraying seemed to be the only effective solution. Children playing football were caught unawares by the spraying and suffered stomach aches and nose bleeds. Indignant citizens organised themselves, but the final word from the US environmental protection agency is that malathion is low in toxicity and has been used for 35 years without causing severe damage. So, the agency says, there is no case for halting the spraying. In 1993, with environmental consciousness come to stay, it seems a strange verdict -- and, particularly, from a first-world country.

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