Challenges and Opportunities for Pesticide Management in the Face of Climate Change and Food Security Risks

Challenges and Opportunities for Pesticide Management in the Face of Climate Change and Food Security Risks

Published: 2022.10.24
Accepted: 2022.10.21
48
Professor
Department of Financial and Economic Law; Dean, Office of International Affairs, National University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan

ABSTRACT

Climate change that results in severe drought events may accelerate soil degradation and intensify the spread of plant diseases and insect pests internationally. Legal disputes concerning the use of Roundup, a widely used herbicide to eliminate weeds produced by Monsanto, have been challenged in the courts of the United States on the grounds of severe human health concerns since 2016. The ongoing Roundups litigations have presented significant concerns regarding the increasing use of pesticides and other agrochemicals in response to climate change. This article first explores the international governance of farm chemicals and pesticides and finds that the international legal regime, such as the Rotterdam Convention provides limited oversight of some dangerous pesticides. It results in enormous hazardous pesticides being used in many developing countries. Climate change and geopolitical risks may compromise the effectiveness of existing pesticide management laws and policy frameworks regulating potentially harmful pesticides to human health and ecosystems at both international and domestic levels. This article thus explores the limits of existing pesticide regulatory regimes at both international and domestic levels in the face of global challenges. The impacts of expanding pesticide consumption globally due to climate change will be discussed. This article then provides policy suggestions for reforming the existing law and policy approaches to pesticide management at both international and domestic levels in the face of increasing climate risks.

Keywords: Roundup litigations, pesticides management, pesticide consumption, climate change, food security, Rotterdam Convention

INTRODUCTION

A longstanding legal dispute concerning Roundup, a widely used herbicide to eliminate weeds produced by Monsanto, has been legally challenged in the United States on the grounds of severe human health concerns since 2016. The claims of thousands of product liability and tort lawsuits are based on a 2015 report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) that animal tests found glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic” and potentially harmful to DNA in human cells and followed by a 2016 study concluding that Roundup presented increasing risks of skin cancer and lymphoma. (Hoffman & Gelfman Attorney of Law, 2020) In September 2016, Bayer AG purchased Monsanto for $66 billion. In 2019, the court rendered jury verdicts of $2 billion in compensation for plaintiff farmers’ alleged cancer due to Roundup for farming practice for years. Monsanto failed to warn about the product’s associated health risks. The litigations and two studies attracted global attention and were fearsome to farmers and customers. In August 2021, Bayer allocated $4.5 billion to resolve future Roundup claims. Bayer also announced that Roundup-containing glyphosate ingredients would be removed from the market in the United States.

The legal development resulting from Roundups cases has presented significant concerns regarding the increasing use of pesticides and other agrochemicals in response to climate change. The global temperature rises and severe drought events may accelerate soil degradation and intensify the spread of plant diseases and insect pests internationally. This article first explores the international governance of farm chemicals and pesticides. Further, it analyzes the effectiveness and limits in regulating potentially harmful pesticides to human health and ecosystems. The impacts of expanding pesticide consumption globally due to climate change will also be explored. This article then provides policy suggestions for establishing effective governance approaches to potentially harmful pesticides and agrochemicals in response to increasing climate risks.

THE INTERNATIONAL GOVERNANCE OF FARM CHEMICALS AIMS AT PROTECTING HUMAN HEALTH

The toxicity character of pesticides is potentially harmful to human health if farmers and consumers are exposed through various pathways. The famous book “Silent Spring” by Dr Rachal Carson in the 1970s, has led to environmental awareness of the adverse effects of pesticide use; the US and other industrial countries started to develop laws and regulations to regulate pesticide residues in food, imposing mandatory product registration requirements. Based on the scientific evidence presented, restrictions on pesticide use are set to prevent potentially adverse effects on human health.

The international governance on agrochemicals mainly focuses on ensuring the trade of pesticides and other agrochemicals, which do not present significant health risks to farmers and food customers of importing states. The Rotterdam Convention, developed in 1998, deals with international trade in certain major hazardous chemicals, mainly pesticides, to protect human health and the environment. The Rotterdam Convention adopts the Prior- Inform- Consent Procedure which was first adopted in the Basel Convention, aiming to reduce the transboundary movement of hazardous waste.  The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) was first developed in 1992 and later revised in 1997, which sets International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) to protect sustainable agriculture, environment and biodiversity from the spread and introduction of pests and promote safe trade. The institutional governing body of the IPPC is the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), which is responsible for reviewing the progress of actions taken by contracting parties to protect plant resources and control the spread of pests and their introduction into endangered areas. By monitoring the state of international protection of plants and control of pest spread, CPM promotes necessary institutional arrangements and proposes appropriate measures or procedures in implementing the ISPMs. It is also notable that the IPPC requires contracting parties to report their competent authorities in regulating pests, pests lists, and regulatory measures against the spread or introductions of problems through the National Reporting Obligations mechanism. IPPC focuses on the safe trade of plant products that may result in the international spread of pests rather than regulating the pesticides used in producing plant products.

 The Rotterdam Convention, on the other hand, requires contracting parties to ensure the use of agrochemicals, mainly the pesticides, in an environmentally friendly fashion and to openly exchange health and safety information concerning these chemicals by labelling and also informing appropriate information to both importing and exporting states’ government authorities and seeking their approval to ensure safe movement of traded agrochemicals. The Stockholm Convention, developed in 2001, aims to ban or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Pesticide is one of the major categories in the Stockholm Convention that requires contracting parties to develop their domestic law and regulations to ban or restrict listed pesticides proven by strong scientific-based evidence presenting bioaccumulation effects on human health and causing cancers. The Secretariats of the Basel, Stockholm Conventions and Rotterdam Convention have merged into a single Secretariat to coordinate these Conventions' joint operations better.

The international treaty governing agrochemicals adopted a relatively informative, trade-centric, and standard-setting approach to ensure safe movement. It traded plant products and agrochemicals which do not impose health risks or spread pests internationally. Stockholm Convention has identified nine pesticides subject to a ban for use, while the Rotterdam Convention identified 35 pesticides subject to Prior-Inform-Consent procedures. Only a handful of hazardous pesticides are listed under the international legal regime that requires different levels of protection, including the ban, restrictions, and exchange of information for safe trade. In other words, global governance on pesticides is relatively informative. The national governments thus play a critical role in regulating the safe use of pesticides and providing necessary information on handling the health safety issues for approved pesticides used in their jurisdiction. There are currently over 2,000 pesticides used worldwide; the international treaty only provides less than 2% of them subject to a ban or restriction of their use based on solid scientific evidence presenting cumulative adverse effects or causing cancer to human health.

In response to growing pesticide health concerns, especially after litigation against Roundup in the US, WHO, FAO, and the joint Secretariat of three international treaties dealing with harmful chemicals actively conduct scientific evaluations of pesticides used glob for their potential health and environmental concerns. The progress of identifying potentially toxic pesticides and classification in addition to listed pesticides under international treaties, however, encounters difficulties of lacking pesticide products’ toxicity information and scientific limitations in conducting a full risk assessment. For those non-contracting parties to the Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions and those states that adopted scientific evidence-based national legal framework in tackling pesticides with public health concerns, they may allow a majority of pesticides in the market to be used without strict restrictions. 

Many pesticides and herbicides, such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and lindane, are still widely used in many developing countries to increase food production yields due to their low costs and high efficiency in controlling pests and eliminating weeds. In other words, those authorized agrochemicals may still have significant health risks when people are exposed to large quantities of these chemicals that exceed a certain safe level of exposure. (Terence J. Centner,2020) Recognizing the potential adverse effects of pesticides’ widespread use on consumers and farmers, international regulatory bodies such as the FAO must accelerate the review process based on the best available evidence and further develop international standards for pesticide residue limits for food product capacity-building programs.

THE IMPACTS OF INCREASING CONSUMPTION OF PESTICIDES AS A RESULT OF GLOBAL POPULATION GROWTH AND CLIMATE RISKS

By analyzing the statistics of global pesticide use in 2020, the global pesticide consumption was 2.66 million metric tons, and the United States was the largest pesticide-consuming country in the world at 407,800 metric tons, followed by Brazil with 377,200 tons consumed. (Statista, 2022) Pesticides can be categorized as herbicides, fungicides, bactericides, insecticides, plant growth regulators, and rodenticides. Herbicides are the most used pesticides that aim to eliminate weeds or grasses. In 2020, the global consumption of herbicides nearly reached 1.4 million metric tons, while other pesticide class consumption stood below one million. (Lucía Fernández, 2022) The increasing demands for food supply due to the growing global population (estimated to reach ten billion in mid-century) and climate risks resulted in a more than 50% global increase in pesticide consumption to increase food production yield between 1990 and 2010.  

The Asia Pacific is a major production region in growing rice, wheat, and plant products. Thus, crop-based pesticide consumption is expected to increase due to the region's fast-growing population and climate vulnerability. China, for instance, is the third largest pesticide-consuming country in the world, with 262,700 tons consumed in 2020. (Statista, 2022) As mentioned earlier, global temperature rises and extreme weather events are expected to boost the consumption of crop-based pesticides in Asia, especially in sub-tropical or temperate zones. The progress of growing populations in China, India, and ASEAN states also imposes tremendous challenges for food security in the coming decades. The significant challenges to food security in the Asia Pacific Region, if there are no sensible and imminent solutions, are expected to increase enormously in terms of consumption of pesticides and agrochemicals to respond to the food security crisis and thus could impose adverse effects on food product consumers’ and farmers’ health.

POLICY SUGGESTIONS TO BALANCE FOOD SECURITY AND HEALTH CONCERNS

In response to climate change and increasing demands on food supply due to the growing global population, the rising use of pesticides imposes excellent health and environmental risks. International pesticide management, as well as national regulation on pesticides, thus require appropriate legal and policy-responsive approaches to protect food consumers’ and farmers’ health from increasing consumption of pesticides. This article provides the following policy suggestions that tackle the health concerns of increasing pesticide use and the challenge of ensuring sustainable food security at both the international and national levels.

REFORMING THE REGULATORY ENVIRONMENT TO PROMOTE AGRICULTURE BIOTECHNOLOGY AND SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE DEVELOPMENT

In the face of growing food demands and climate risks, there is an excellent necessity for large-scale industrial food systems to promote agriculture technology development to tackle the issues of increasing pesticide consumption in the face of climate change. This would include precision farming with the introduction of digital technology and remote sensing and genetically modified engineered crop-based innovative food products to achieve less water-consumption or pest-resistant goals. International society tends to be very cautious in regulating genetically modified food products, fearing environmental and human health concerns. Recognizing the imminent dangers of ensuring food security due to climate change and growing global demands, the need to promote genetically modified engineering to develop climate change adaptative crop-based food products has become prominent. Several national legal systems, especially the EU, adopt relatively high safety protection levels for Genetically Modified (GM) crops to protect human health and the ecosystem. The growing concerns of increasing pesticide consumption and lack of water resources due to climate change may need to consider the broader introduction of GM crops and rebooting agriculture biotechnology. Some studies have shown environmental health concerns of processing and consuming GM crops. The studies, however, lack robust scientific evidence to sustain the total ban. Instead, intense labelling and registration regulation have been imposed on GM crops in many states led by the EU. GM crops were initially developed to decrease global pesticide consumption and water consumption which is vital to coping with climate change impacts on agriculture practices. In the face of climate change, policymakers should reconsider the promise of rebooting genetically engineered crop technology development that presents water conservation and pest resistance functions while safeguarding human health and environmental protection. Some observers argue that GM crops regulation should focus on the risks of the products rather than the process of producing them. The United States government, for instance, initiated a proposal to remove the complicated and time-consuming approval process for GM crops and focus on actual risks associated with GM crops products by the Trump Administration in June 2019. (John A. Erwina & Robert Glennon, 2020) Recognizing the promise of genetic engineering for agricultural products in response to worsen climate risks that somehow outweigh the public perceptions toward the risk of consuming GM crops without strong scientific evidence, this article suggests a certain status of deregulation of national regulation on GM crops to boost technology development. Some observers suggest that GM technology law should be streamlined to regulate GM crops and products rather than have a complicated process regulation. However, the deregulation of GM crops should focus on pre-market approval requirements and product-based regulatory approaches. (John A. Erwina & Robert Glennon, 2020) It is also vital for developers to ensure the safety of innovative crops to food consumers and that it would have no negative impacts on ecosystems. The article suggests GM crops registration system could be established that requires the applicant to provide product safety testing information, primary toxicity data, and necessary documents. The post-market monitoring mechanisms also need to be found that would require government authority and GM crops developers to conduct a risk assessment within the designated time frames or by request once scientific evidence proves adverse effects are available.

A comprehensive law and policy framework for the promotion of sustainable agriculture development

There is an international consensus that changing traditional agriculture practices with sustainable agriculture practices would reduce enormous pesticide and chemical fertilizers consumption and also ensure ecological values. Thus, it is critical to promote sustainable agriculture to adapt to climate change and protect human health in the Asia Pacific region since small-scale farmers are considered significant farming workforces in many Asian countries. There are currently several sustainable agricultural practice types: the adoption of a no-tillage system to replace using animals or machinery to turn over a field that causes soil compaction and disruption of beneficial organic matter and microbes, fostering biodiversity at the edges of farmlands, multi-crop rotations, and cover crops should be promoted. Because the promotion of sustainable agriculture practice requires financial and technical assistance, it is vital to incorporate financial mechanisms in the context of the agriculture legal framework.

This article suggests that special legislation promoting sustainable agriculture is a preferable legal approach to boost the sustainable agriculture industry, especially for smaller-scale agriculture states facing significant and imminent climate risks. In 2018, Taiwan enacted a special legislation, the “Organic Agriculture Promotion Act” (OAPA), which aims to promote sustainable agriculture practices and boost the sustainable agriculture industry. OAPA requires the Council of Agriculture to provide financial schemes, and government funding shall be raised annually on a rolling planning basis. OAPA also established an Organic Consultant Board consisting of experts and representatives from related government agencies to develop the Organic Agriculture Promotion Program. This is subject to revision every four years. The key features of the Organic Agriculture Promotion Program include setting up target organic agricultural production areas and their annual budget allocation, incentives and subsidies for conversion to organic agriculture and environment preservation, promotion of organic farm products and organic food and farming education for authorities to promote eco-friendly farming, organic agriculture (excludes the use of synthetic chemicals and GMO), and provide financial assistance for the improvement of agricultural practices, research and development of farming technologies, and personnel training programs on organic agriculture industry and products. It is also notable that the OAPA establishes a comprehensive organic product accreditation mechanism for issuing official organic product labelling. The law also provides intensive organic product management measures to regulate substances used in the production, processing, packaging, distribution and sale of organic agricultural products. The implementation of OAPA has achieved some progress in promoting organic agriculture. For instance, the organic agricultural production areas have increased by over two thousand hectares by 2020 after the enactment of the OAPA in 2018, and the annual growth rate is approximately 11%. (Agriculture and Food Agency of Taiwan, 2020).

Establishing international coordinated institutional framework and capacity-building programs

As mentioned, the international treaties for protecting human health from pesticide use suffered from trade-oriented and slow progress in promulgating listed pesticides subject to ban or restrictions of service due to lacking solid scientific evidence. This article suggests that FAO should take the lead role in establishing a coordinated institutional framework consisting of WHO, WTO, and Joint Secretariat of Stockholm, Rotterdam and Basel Conventions to accelerate the review process of certain hazardous pesticides and further enlarge the internationally accepted list of pesticides subject to a ban, restrictions of use, and safe movement based on best available evidence and the precautionary principle. It is also vital for an international organization to develop capacity programs to provide technical, financial, and educational assistance to developing countries that aim to promote small-scale farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices and affordable agriculture technology.  

CONCLUSION

In addition to climate risks, global COVID-19 pandemics and geopolitical conflicts have worsened global food security decline. There is an urgent need for global leaders to explore sensible and sustainable approaches to tackle global food security issues without compromising environmental and health protection. The deregulation of GM crops technology and promotion of sustainable agriculture may serve as sensible and timely solutions to reduce pesticide consumption and water usage. In doing so, world leaders and national decision-makers should also adopt an aggressive legal approach to provide a climate change adaptation legal environment in the context of pesticide and agrochemical management.

REFERENCES

The Rotterdam Convention Homepage, http://www.pic.int/

The Plant Protection Convention Homepage, https://www.ippc.int/en/

Statista, Leading countries in agricultural consumption of pesticides worldwide in 2020 (2022), https://www.statista.com/statistics/1263069/global-pesticide-use-by-country/

Lucía Fernández, Global pesticide agricultural use 2020, by leading country (2022), https://www.statista.com/statistics/1263069/global-pesticide-use-by-country/    

The WHO Recommended Classification of Pesticides by Hazard and guidelines to classification, 2019 edition, https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240005662

UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Pest and Pesticide Management, https://www.fao.org/pest-and-pesticide-management/en/

John A. Erwina & Robert Glennon, Feeding the World: How Changes in Biotechnology Regulation can JumpStart the Second Green Revolution and Diversify the Agriculture Industry, 44 William and Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review, 327, 389 (2020).

Union of Concerned Scientists, Sustainable Agriculture Practices (2019), https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/sustainable-agriculture-practices

Susan H. Bragdon, Global Legal Constraints: How the International System Fails Small-Scale Farmers and Agriculture Biodiversity Harming Human and Planetary Health, and What to Do About It, 36 American University International Law Review, 1, 50 (2020).

Terence J. Center, Pesticide Registration Fails to Protect Human Health: Damages from Exposure to Glyphosate-Based Herbicides, 36 Environment Law and Litigation,69, 125 (2021).

Hoffman & Gelfman Attorney of Law, The History of Roundup Litigation (2020), https://www.attorneystl.com/the-history-of-roundup-litigation/

Agriculture and Food Agency, Council of Agriculture, Taiwan, Promote Organic Agriculture for Sustainable Development of Agriculture (2022),  https://www.afa.gov.tw/eng/index.php?code=list&flag=detail&ids=476&article_id=52124

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