As pesticide poisoning becomes the most common method of suicide in some countries, particularly in the developing world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends abandoning the most toxic agrochemicals and replacing them with alternatives that would be less harmful for humans, with critics doubting that this “attack” on the industry would help reduce the suicide rate as there are plenty of other ways to take own life
BRUSSELS (UrduPoint News / Sputnik – 16th September, 2019) As pesticide poisoning becomes the most common method of suicide in some countries, particularly in the developing world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends abandoning the most toxic agrochemicals and replacing them with alternatives that would be less harmful for humans, with critics doubting that this “attack” on the industry would help reduce the suicide rate as there are plenty of other ways to take own life.
Days before the World Suicide Prevention Day, the UN heath watchdog published a report: “Preventing suicide: a resource for pesticide registrars and regulators,” in which it said that pesticide poisoning has become one of the topsuicide methods in certain parts of the world.
WHAT HAVE PESTICIDES TO DO WITH SUICIDE
Suicide is indeed a serious public issue, which affects not only those who kill themselves but also their friends and families, communities and whole societies.
In many countries, especially in the developing world, suicide attempters often resort to pesticide self-poisoning. From 1979-2001 in Samoa, for instance, 70 percent of suicides were through this very method. Trinidad and Tobago is similarly particularly well known for its incidence of such suicides, as well as African and Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, or Kenya.
In Kenya, several key pesticides have been linked to a number of suicide cases. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, 421 Kenyans committed suicide in 2017. Nearly half of them absorbed pesticides.
REPLACING TOXIC PESTICIDES WITH THOSE LESS HARMFUL
Pesticide control and modern farming activities have made a number of lethal pesticides easily available in rural areas but also at home.
The list of lethal products is long and their occurrence in suicides has been listed by the global watchdog. There are three types of pesticides that emerge in the relevant debate: herbicides, rodenticides and insecticides.
In their August 24 report, the WHO and the UN food and AgricultureOrganisation (FAO) describes pesticide poisoning as “one of the commonest, and most readily preventable, methods of suicide in certain parts of the world.” Overall, the watchdogs say, this self-poisoning accounts for “one in every five of the world‘s suicides.”
According to the watchdog, the overhaul of pesticide regulations, through banning some agrochemicals, could have the “potential to save thousands of lives every year.”
“We have listed the worst products, which are forbidden already in many parts of the world, but usually not in developing countries. Our goal is [that] the countries’ health authorities revise their pesticide control regulations to edge out chemicals that are commonly used in suicides. Some should be banned and when possible replaced by another less harmful pesticide for humans, which is still efficient in agriculture,” Teresa Au of the WHO’s Geneva headquarters told Sputnik.
So, now it is up to national authorities to make their decisions on such pesticides.
“It is for Member States to identify whether there are pesticides which are causing a high incidence of fatal self-poisoning in their country. Registration of pesticides is a matter for national authorities. It is recommended that countries facilitate the registration of low-risk alternative products. The evidence that countries can take action without adversely affecting agricultural output are numerous. WHO describes them in Annex 2 of the Report,” WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib told Sputnik.
“In Sri Lanka, for instance, bans are thought to have led to 93,000 fewer suicidedeaths between 1995 and 2015. There is no evidence that bans in these countries have adversely affected crop yields. Other herbicides than [toxic chemical] Paraquat were used, and their efficiency was satisfactory, without the very high level of toxicity for humans, that this herbicide implies,” Gamini Manuweera of the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva told Sputnik.
CRITICS: ANOTHER ATTACK ON THE INDUSTRY?
One of the key weed killers used across the world is Paraquat.
The main company manufacturing it is Swiss-based chemical giant Syngenta, producing it under the name Gramoxone.
Syngenta has no intention of stopping production and sales of paraquat, arguing that the herbicide is well-known, very efficient and, if used according to instructions, poses no danger.
“Paraquat is a safe and effective herbicide when used as directed on the label. However, for a number of reasons, suicide with agrochemicals is a tragic and regrettable social problem particularly in some less developed countries. Agrochemicals are also occasionally involved in cases of accidental ingestion, most often as a consequence of individuals breaching recommended practice by decanting product into unlabelled beverage bottles,” a spokesperson for Basel-based Syngenta told Sputnik.
According to the company, it is “actively working to minimize” all possible incidents with the use of its chemicals through “supporting suicide prevention and end-user training programs.” Yet, Syngenta products, especially paraquat, are “sometimes” involved in health incidents, according to the company.
“For providing information and guidance to physicians regarding diagnosis, first aid and hospital treatment after exposure to paraquat Syngenta has compiled a document summarizing the actual status of knowledge. We believe in corporate responsibility,” it added.
Brussels-based journalist Alain De Kuyssche, who closely followed the recent row between green lobbies and the manufacturer of glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup, which is also listed as a poison used for suicide by the WHO, linked the issue around suicides to politics and attacks on industry.
“In its Report, the WHO regularly mixes suicide prevention and the fact that ‘anyway,’ these pesticides are bad for the environment or could lead to other types of diseases. This is out of focus and has nothing to do with suicideprevention. It smells of politics and ways to attack the industry from a different angle,” De Kuyssche told Sputnik.
Nevertheless, speaking of heath concerns, it is noteworthy that, over the last few years, over 10,000 people have filed claims against US biotech giant Monsanto over allegations that its weed killer, Roundup, caused their cancer, with some of them already won their cases.
‘LET’S BAN BRIDGES AS PEOPLE MIGHT JUMP FROM THEM’
The De Kuyssche noted that “pesticides will always be dangerous, if you don’t follow instructions for use,” describing attempts to blame suicides on agrochemicals as “ridiculous.”
“[Pesticides] are delivered usually in concentrated quantities and need to be diluted. You cannot just forbid dangerous substances because depressed people who want to commit suicide could ingest them. This is ridiculous. If so, why doesn’t WHO ask to suppress all bridges because suicidal persons might jump from them? Why not suppress windows above the second floor, just in case people might jump? There are many common cleaning agents, that you can buy at the supermarket, and that can kill you as well,” he said.
According to the journalist, “overprotection” will not help since “suicidal people will find another way to die if there is no pesticide to swallow.”
Paraquat is, meanwhile, pummeled not only for being lethal but also allegedly causing diseases. In 2011, a US National Institutes of Health study showed a potential link between paraquat use and Parkinson’s disease (PD) among farm workers.
Syngenta, however, is on the defensive and counterattacks with studies of its own.
“All epidemiologic studies that associate paraquat exposure and Parkinson’s disease are inconclusive. A key weakness of many studies is their lack of a robust exposure assessment. The biological plausibility of such an association is also reduced by the absence of neuropathological evidence. Considering both the animal and the human epidemiologic studies, the evidence linking paraquat to Parkinson’s disease is fragmentary and does not support the existence of a causal association between paraquat and PD,” the Syngenta spokesperson told Sputnik.
The company therefore maintains that “it has not been proven that exposure to paraquat does result in the development of Parkinson’s disease in humans.”
The market for paraquat, globally estimated at hundreds of millions of Dollar at least, thereby defends itself, adding that replacement pesticides that would be harmless to humans are not readily available.