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Profit vs pollution


Published: Wednesday 30 June 1999

-- THE discovery of the first chemical pesticide, dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane or ddt, is merely 60 years old. In this short history of chemical pesticides, most of the time the central point of discussion is the conflicting interests of producers and consumers. Undoubtedly, pesticides have helped increase agricultural production, which enable farmers to meet the demand for food of an ever-increasing world population. On the other hand, there is also a growing unease not only among consumers, but also among producers about agricultural and public health systems exposed to toxic pollutants. Politicians, scientists, environmentalists and non-governmental organisations are becoming more and more concerned about the hazards of pesticide pollution. Nobody knows whether there is an equilibrium between benefits and damages, between gains and losses in the appliance of pesticides.

Peter Hough's The Global Politics Of Pesticides is a thorough survey of these subjects with the aim of seeking clarity and a solution to the conflicting issues. Hough deals with all relevant and controversial themes, for instance, the use of pesticides for increasing crop yields and in controlling pest-transmitted diseases, environmental pollution, food contamination through the use of pesticides and its effect on humans. International trade in pesticides is also faced with a dilemma -- profit or health.

"The Green Revolution created a dependence on pesticides produced in the North and opened a massive new trade route, flowing from North to South. Over 90 per cent of all pesticides are produced in the industrialised North and... some 20 per cent of them valued at 2.4 billion per year are sold to the South," writes Hough. Since the market for pesticides is shrinking in the North due to increased public consciousness regarding pollution and the merits of organic farming, the agrochemical firms are trying with some success to expand the markets for their products in the South. With the ban on certain hazardous chemical products, empirically proved or anticipated, being more strict in the industralised countries, agrochemical firms are directing their products to less restrictive markets in the South. The author discusses how international regulations could be enforced despite basic differences in opinions and conflicting interests of the main players.

This book provides an overview of existing international regulations and current discussion. Hough also gives suggestions on how to effectively implement these and also includes in the appendix the Food and Agricultural Organisation's "Code of Conduct".

Although the theme is complex, Hough's writing is easily understandable, even to the uninitiated. With figures, statistics, explanations and graphics, the book is worth reading for environmental or development non-governmental organisation activists and students of international affairs. It is also a must for people interested in topics such as North-South-trade relations and good governance. The book particularly highlights the point of view of developing countries.

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